The DIVERSE model – 7 principles of Neurodivergent Affirming Practice

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As a neurodivergent therapist and passionate advocate of neurodivergent affirming therapy I created the “DIVERSE model of neurodivergent affirming practice” (A.Peters, 2023) which sets out the 7 principles for practitioners to become neurodivergent affirming. This model is designed for therapists, coaches, teachers, support workers, and any professionals who work directly with neurodivergent people (hint: that’s probably all of you!). Read on for my thoughts and sign up here for details of my latest training on the model.

The Diverse model of Neurodivergent affirming practice. Muliticoloured people shapes set aside the acronym DIVERSE D Diversify perspectives I intersectionality V value ND voices E embrace ND characteristics R recognise Ableism S support E empathy. copyright Amy Peters 2023

DIVERSE model of Neurodivergent Affirming Practice (Amy Peters 2023)

The DIVERSE model

The DIVERSE model is designed as a starting point for practitioners (of all neuro types) to reflect on your beliefs, training and experience in order to adopt a validating approach to your neurodivergent clients. As a therapist who specialises in neurodivergence (specifically autism and ADHD), and a neurodivergent person myself, I have found all too often than ND clients have been pathologised, stigmatised and even shamed for their natural neurodivergent responses by the very professionals who they are seeking help from. Although they are often well meaning and believe themselves to be non judgemental and validating, the reality is that without considering the 7 principles of the DIVERSE model, a neurotypical professional is likely to inadvertently cause more harm to their clients/students/service users.

Read on for more on the 7 principles…

D – Diversify Perspectives

A glass orb showing an image of a rock and blue sky

One of the fundamental things about being neurodivergent affirming is understanding what it means to be neurodivergent in our current society. Masking, late diagnosis and stigma can be just a few things that have a massive impact on how we behave in the world with others and can often mean we feel unsafe being ourselves. This can impact our life course in a way that can be unimaginable to others so, when first identifying as autistic, ADHD or otherwise neurodivergent, it can be a long emotional rollercoaster of an experience as we start to realise this impact. As a practitioner you should ensure you have the understanding of neurodivergent (ND) traits and how they can impact early life experiences so you can explore this with your clients through a neurodivergent lens. This can help reduce shame and increase their self compassion (something which is often sorely lacking for ND folks).

The Diverse model of Neurodivergent affirming practice. Muliticoloured people shapes set aside the acronym DIVERSE D Diversify perspectives I intersectionality V value ND voices E embrace ND characteristics R recognise Ableism S support E empathy. copyright Amy Peters 2023

 

DIVERSE model of Neurodivergent Affirming Practice (Amy Peters 2023)

I – Intersectionality

Busy traffic intersection/crossroads

Intersectionality (first coined by Professor Kimberle Crenshaw) is a term originally used to explain discrimination and violence against black women. Over time it has been used more broadly to provide a framework for understanding how a person’s various identities intersect to form different forms of discrimination or privilege..

“Intersectionality draws attention to invisibilities that exist in feminism, in anti-racism, in class politics, so, obviously, it takes a lot of work to consistently challenge ourselves to be attentive to aspects of power that we don’t ourselves experience.”

Kimberle Crenshaw

So an awareness of intersectionality in the context of neurodivergent affirming practice is key. Awareness of your own intersecting identities and the impact this has, and that of your clients is fundamental to be able to start to understand your client’s frame of reference.

However this is not a finite piece of work. Examining your own privileges and biases should involve continual reflection and openness to change. Start by seeking out content from different cultural, social and political backgrounds to your own and commit to going to the often uncomfortable place of challenging your long held beliefs.

V – Value Neurodivergent Voices

Lady holding a megaphone up to Her mouth

Throughout history Neurodivergent people have been discriminated against, silenced and shamed. Their voices have not been heard and a raft of neurotypical so called “experts” have dominated the discussion around diagnosis and ‘treatment’ of autism and ADHD for example. Therefore it’s so important for practitioners to actively seek out content, training and life stories from autistic, ADHD or otherwise neurodivergent people.

Start by ensuring any training/CPD you attend is neurodivergent-led and, if you are responsible for booking training for your organisation or school, seek out and value neurodivergent lived experience over neurotypical experts. Regardless of their academic background or professional acumen, there should be no substitute to learning from the people who have lived a neurodivergent life.

E – Embrace Neurodivergent Characteristics

Accept understand power written in blue ink on light blue paper

There are many traits that are associated with being neurodivergent. Some might be inherent such as the way we communicate. Others such as masking may be acquired as a survival strategy to get through our neurotypical systems.

Firstly ensure you educate yourself around neurodivergent traits and experiences and secondly help your clients to explore their own traits in an affirming way.

Use a resource like my Neuro Cards below to both educate yourself and help your clients explore ND traits in an affirming way.

R – Recognise Ableism

Image of a box of eggs, 5 white eggs with faces drawn on them and one brown egg

Ableism is the term for the discrimination in favour of people without disabilities. Ableism is embedded in many of our systems and structures in the Western world and is sadly therefore embedded in workplaces, schools and government. It is also therefore embedded in us as internalised ableism. This will also manifest for your neurodivergent clients in myriad of ways such as not wanting to make adjustments or accommodations for themselves even when they know it helps. In order to be neurodivergent affirming we need to examine and challenge the ableism we see as well as our own internalised ableism. if we are decision makers or policy makers within our work then it’s important to identify oppressive structures and ableist systems and make the necessary changes.

Neurodiversity is not about changing people. It’s about changing society’s perception of people.

Dr Nick Walker

S – Support

Two people opposite each other at a coffee table. One lady has a clipboard and pen

Providing a safe space for your clients to process their neurodivergent life experiences is one of the key tenets of neurodivergent affirming practice. This includes making accommodations or adjustments to your processes, your environment, or your approach in order to support your ND clients.

Many ND people are used to masking and adapting to neurotypical environments but this has an on cost to them and can lead to burnout, meltdowns and shutdowns. As a neurodivergent affirming practitioner you can adapt the environment to make it more ND friendly.

This can be in practical ways such as asking clients about their sensory needs and thinking about the sensory environment you are bringing them into. It can also be about ensuring your policies and procedures are clearly explained in all your marketing material and providing photos of your spaces so a client can prepare themselves ahead of time.

Support also means using strategies that make sense to a neurodivergent mind. As a neurodivergent person I’m used to the suggestions of “set more alarms” or “just write a to do list” as a solution to my executive functioning differences. But many of us will tell you these don’t work! It’s no good using neurotypical strategies for a neurodivergent mind. So work with your client to support them in a more meaningful way.

E – Empathy

Dark blue crumpled paper textured background with white bold letters on top saying Empathy

Empathy in this context is far more than just putting yourself in the client’s shoes. Understanding that there are differences in your internal and external experiences of the world (whatever your neurotype) is key. Being flexible in the way you work means you will be able to adapt the way you work to the person you’re working with.

A good start here would be to familiarise yourself with common neurodivergent needs and ensure you can accommodate these. Example would be offering movement breaks (or screen breaks if working online) or making fidget aids or stim toys freely available to help with emotional and sensory regulation.

This also includes examining your language around neurodiversity and ensuring it’s non pathologising and affirming.

The DIVERSE model

Although I have designed the DIVERSE model to be a guide for practitioners to work through, becoming neurodivergent affirming is not a finite, tick box exercise. It takes continual reflection and is a sometimes uncomfortable process as we work to recognise and unlearn problematic practices. But by doing this work, you are committing to support, validate and affirm all your clients in the way they deserve.


Amy Peters is a specialist neurodivergent therapist and creator of the DIVERSE model of Neurodivergent Affirming Practice as well as bestselling resources such as Neuro Cards. She is also the founder of Newglade Counselling – a team of neurodivergent counsellors who work online and face to face around Canterbury, Kent. Amy also provides a variety of training opportunities for practitioners around neurodivergence and the DIVERSE model.

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