Embracing Neurodiversity: Empowering Students with ADHD

Neurodiversity is a powerful concept that celebrates the natural variations in the human brain, recognizing that neurological differences, like those found in students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), are not disorders or deficits to be cured or fixed. Instead, they are valuable and authentic aspects of who they are.

Rather than attempting to fit neurodivergent individuals into neurotypical expectations, the neurodiversity approach promotes acceptance, inclusion, and accommodation. It recognizes that everyone’s unique neurology contributes to a richer and more diverse world.

Neurodiversity affirming practice for ADHD

However, educating teachers about the challenges associated with ADHD in the classroom can be a complex task, especially when aiming to align with a neurodiversity affirming model.

In this post, we will delve into the concept of neurodiversity, explore ADHD using a neurodiversity affirming model, discuss strategies for approaching ADHD in schools from a neurodiversity perspective, and provide guidance on informing teachers about the functional challenges students with ADHD may experience while remaining firmly aligned with the principles of neurodiversity affirming practice.

Understanding Neurodiversity

The term “neurodiversity” was coined by Australian sociologist Judy Singer in the late 1990s. Singer, used the term to challenge the traditional medical model that pathologizes neurological differences, such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and others.

Neurodiversity is a concept that recognizes and celebrates the natural variation in human neurology. Neurodiversity proposes that neurological differences are simply variations of the human brain rather than pathologizing disorders or deficits that need to be cured or fixed.

Embracing Neurodiversity: Empowering Students with ADHD

Neurodiversity affirming practice :

  • Accepts neurodevelopmental differences as differences and NOT as DEFICITS
  • Embraces and validates the students unique way of communicating, interacting and processing information and the world around them
  • Views students through a strength based lens
  • Supports neurodiverse students with appropriate language, accommodations and goals
  • Advocates for accommodations, understanding, and respect for the rights and needs of neurodivergent individuals

Neurodiversity affirming practice seeks to create a more inclusive and supportive society that recognizes the value of all neurological differences and provides equal opportunities for individuals with diverse neurotypes.

Communicating Without Deficit-Based Language

Conveying the challenges associated with ADHD to teachers without resorting to deficit-based language can be a significant hurdle.

Unfortunately, most public schools are far from neurodiverse affirming places.  Everyone receives the same general education curriculum and is held to the same neurotypical expectations unless they have a documented disability to receive something different. 

Teachers often have limited knowledge about ADHD and its diverse characteristics, leading to a shallow understanding of the challenges students with ADHD face in the classroom. Many teachers may hold preconceived notions about ADHD, perceiving it solely as a behavioral problem or a lack of effort on the part of the student. 

Without awareness, it can be difficult for some teachers to fully appreciate the impact of the differences associated with ADHD and the need for educational modifications and accommodations without resorting to deficit-based language.

Reframing ADHD Using a Neurodiversity Affirming Model

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by differences in self regulation, executive function , attention and impulsivity. Students with ADHD’s often have substantial challenges functioning in a classroom set up for neurotypicals. When viewed through the lens of neurodiversity, we understand ADHD as a unique way of experiencing and interacting with the world, rather than a deficit or disorder of “attention”.  

Rather than solely addressing challenges, we are encouraged to embrace and capitalize on the individuals strengths to create engaging and meaningful learning experiences for students with ADHD. This mindset allows us to move away from deficit-based thinking and embrace the strengths and abilities that many individuals with ADHD possess.

ADHD Labels Empowering Students with ADHD

When we focus on the strengths of our students with ADHD we often see: ⁣

High Energy: Children with ADHD often have a great deal of energy, which can be channeled into positive outlets such as sports, dance, and other physical activities.⁣

Out-of-the-box thinking: Children with ADHD often think outside the box and have a unique perspective on the world, which can lead to innovative ideas and solutions.⁣They may think outside the box, make unique connections between ideas, and approach problems in unconventional ways.

Enthusiasm: Children with ADHD often approach new experiences and challenges with enthusiasm and a sense of adventure.⁣

Emotional Intensity: Children with ADHD often feel things more intensely, which can lead to a strong sense of empathy and a desire to help others.⁣

Sense of Humor: Many children with ADHD possess a great sense of humor and quick wit, often making others laugh and easing tension in social situations.⁣

Resilience: ADHD individuals face challenges in daily life, which builds resilience and determination. They learn to persist in the face of adversity, bounce back from setbacks, and develop a strong sense of perseverance.

Strong Imagination: Children with ADHD often have a vivid imagination, which can lead to a love of storytelling, art, and other creative endeavors.⁣

Flexibility: Children with ADHD often have a great deal of flexibility and adaptability, which can serve them well in a constantly changing world. ⁣ADHD individuals tend to thrive in dynamic and fast-paced environments. They can quickly adapt to changing circumstances, switch between tasks, and find innovative solutions to challenges.

Divergent Thinking: ADHD individuals often have a unique perspective and can think outside conventional boundaries. They can offer fresh insights, alternative approaches, and creative solutions to problems.

Intuition and Sensitivity: Many individuals with ADHD possess heightened intuition and sensitivity to their surroundings. They may pick up on subtle cues, emotions, and nonverbal communication, making them empathetic and perceptive individuals.

Entrepreneurial Spirit: The combination of creativity, high energy levels, and a willingness to take risks can contribute to an entrepreneurial mindset. Many individuals with ADHD excel in entrepreneurial ventures, bringing new ideas and enthusiasm to their work.

Quick Thinking and Problem-Solving: Individuals with ADHD often exhibit fast thinking skills and have the ability to think on their feet. They can make connections quickly, see patterns, and find innovative solutions to problems.

Passionate Interests: Individuals with ADHD tend to develop intense passions and interests in specific areas. They can become deeply knowledgeable and engaged in subjects that capture their attention, becoming experts in their chosen fields.

Approaching ADHD in Schools Using a Neurodiversity Affirming Model 

When it comes to supporting students with ADHD in schools, adopting a neurodiversity affirming practice can foster an inclusive and empowering environment. When shifting to a neurodiversity-affirming practice for ADHD , especially within a school system that has tightly woven neuro-normative expectations, there are several key considerations school based professionals need to keep in mind.

Develop Your Understanding of Neurodiversity

To develop a deeper understanding of neurodiversity, it is important to take the time to reflect on and examine your own biases, particularly as they pertain to behavioral norms.

Embracing Neurodiversity: Empowering Students with ADHD

For therapists, this introspection is crucial in order to acknowledge how their own understanding aligns or differs from the unique ways in which our students experience the world.

School based therapists can challenge neuro-normative bias, which imposes a rigid set of standards, expectations, and norms that define specific ways of functioning, thinking, feeling, behaving, learning, and communicating as the only correct approach.

Embracing Neurodiversity: Empowering Students with ADHD

By actively questioning and challenging these biases, we can create a more inclusive and accepting environment for all individuals, embracing the full spectrum of neurodiversity.

Embracing Neurodiversity: Empowering Students with ADHD

It is essential for neurotypical therapists to actively learn from individuals who have lived experiences with ADHD. By listening to and consulting with neurodivergent individuals, therapists can gain valuable insight and understanding into the meaning behind behaviors and occupations.

Use A Strength-Based Approach

In order to support students with ADHD, it is essential to adopt a strength-based approach.

Start by identifying their strengths, talents, and unique abilities. By recognizing what children excel at and enjoy, we can use those areas as a foundation to support their challenges.

Embracing Neurodiversity: Empowering Students with ADHD

One effective strategy is leveraging their strengths by pinpointing where a student already demonstrates mastery of a concept or skill, and using that strength as a bridge to support their growth in a new area of challenge.

Furthermore, it is important to encourage teachers to shift from a deficit-based language to strength-based language. Instead of labeling a student as “hyperactive,” it is more beneficial to use language that highlights their positive qualities. For instance, phrases such as “has boundless energy” can create a more empowering and supportive learning environment.

By focusing on strengths, we can foster a sense of confidence, motivation, and engagement among students with ADHD

Use A Person-Centered Collaborative Approach

Neurodiversity affirming practice embraces a person-centered approach that recognizes and respects the preferences, needs, and goals of individuals.

To implement this approach effectively, it is crucial to involve individuals with ADHD in decision-making processes and co-create strategies that align with their preferences and work best for them.

Embracing Neurodiversity: Empowering Students with ADHD

Active collaboration and attentive listening to neurodivergent voices are key in this process.

One way to achieve this is by involving students in the planning process, allowing them to share their perspectives and preferences. By actively including their input, we ensure that the strategies implemented in the classroom not only address their challenges but also honor their unique strengths and individual needs.

This collaborative approach fosters a sense of ownership and empowerment, ultimately leading to a more inclusive and effective learning environment for students with ADHD.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Neurodiversity affirming practice emphasizes the power of positive reinforcement in supporting students with ADHD. Instead of focusing on correcting behaviors or deficits, educators should actively acknowledge the efforts and achievements of students with ADHD. Recognizing their strengths and celebrating their successes helps foster a positive self-image and encourages continued growth.

Neurodiversity affirming practice for ADHD

Recognizing their strengths and celebrating their successes helps foster a positive self-image and encourages continued growth.

Identify Functional Challenges and Supports

To effectively support students with ADHD, it is important to inform teachers about the functional challenges they may face. By identifying and understanding these individual challenges, teachers can tailor their approach to provide the specific support that students need in order to learn and thrive.

It is crucial to recognize that there is a significant difference between acknowledging and understanding the challenges students face versus dismissing them as disordered or deficient.

Rather than trying to “fix” neurodivergent students to conform to neurotypical standards, our focus should be on supporting their access to education. It is not about changing who they are, but rather creating an environment that empowers them to fully participate and succeed in their educational journey. By providing appropriate support and individualized accommodations, we can ensure that all students, regardless of their neurodiversity, have equal opportunities to learn and grow.

Each student with ADHD has unique needs and preferences, and it is crucial to tailor educational strategies to suit their specific requirements.

Self-Advocacy and Empowerment

Promoting self-advocacy and empowerment among individuals with ADHD is crucial. Encourage them to develop the skills to advocate for themselves and take an active role in their education and support.

Neurodiversity affirming practice for ADHD

School-based practitioners can play a vital role in assisting students in building self-awareness, self-acceptance, and confidence as they navigate their strengths and challenges.

It is important to validate their neurodivergent experience as a difference rather than a deficit or a flawed version of neurotypicality.

Neurodiversity affirming practice for ADHD

By recognizing and embracing their unique neurodiversity, we can create an environment that values their individuality and fosters a sense of belonging.

Additionally, it is essential to educate students about their unique learning styles, strengths, and challenges. Empower them to communicate their needs effectively and seek appropriate support when necessary. By equipping students with knowledge about themselves, we empower them to navigate their educational journey with confidence and advocate for the accommodations and resources that will best support their learning and success.

Education and Awareness

Educate the broader community, including teachers, peers, and families, about ADHD and neurodiversity. Raise awareness to reduce stigma and promote understanding, acceptance, and inclusion.

Neurodiversity affirming practice for ADHD

Educate teachers about the diverse range of characteristics associated with ADHD, including both challenges and strengths. This knowledge will help them understand and support students with ADHD more effectively.

Engage in Continuous Learning and Growth

Stay up-to-date with research, best practices, and emerging strategies for supporting individuals with ADHD. Engage in continuous professional development to enhance your knowledge and skills in providing neurodiversity-affirming practices.

I continue to learn from the following therapists:


Neurodiversity offers a paradigm shift in how we understand and support students with ADHD. By embracing neurodiversity, educators can foster inclusive learning environments that celebrate the unique strengths and abilities of students with ADHD. Recognizing the diverse ways in which brains function and tailoring educational approaches to individual needs empowers students with ADHD to thrive academically and can help prevent secondary complications.

Educating teachers about the challenges associated with ADHD in the classroom can be complex, especially when striving to align with a neurodiversity affirming approach. However, by deepening our understanding of neurodiversity, reframing ADHD through a strength-based lens, and using person-centered collaboration, positive reinforcement, and tailored support, we can empower students with ADHD to thrive in their educational journey.

Shifting our perspective on ADHD from a deficit-based outlook to one that acknowledges and capitalizes on strengths opens up a wealth of opportunities. Students with ADHD bring out-of-the-box thinking, enthusiasm, emotional intensity, resilience, a strong imagination, divergent thinking, intuition and sensitivity and more to the table. By embracing these strengths, we can create engaging and meaningful learning experiences that allow students with ADHD to excel.

Neurodiversity affirming practice for ADHD

Approaching ADHD in schools with a neurodiversity affirming model involves a series of key considerations. Developing a deep understanding of neurodiversity requires reflection and examination of our own biases, challenging neuro-normative standards. Adopting a strength-based practice and language enables us to support students by recognizing their abilities and fostering confidence. A person-centered collaborative approach involves actively involving students with ADHD in decision-making and strategy development. Using positive reinforcement, we acknowledge their efforts and successes, building a positive self-image. Identifying functional challenges and providing tailored support ensures students’ needs are met while maintaining an inclusive environment.

Promoting self-advocacy and empowerment among students with ADHD is essential. By encouraging self-awareness, self-acceptance, and confidence, we enable them to navigate their strengths and challenges and advocate for themselves. Education and awareness are crucial, both within the school community and beyond, to reduce stigma, promote understanding, and foster acceptance and inclusion.

By embracing neurodiversity and adopting a neurodiversity affirming model, we can transform the educational landscape, empowering students with ADHD to reach their full potential and contribute their unique strengths to the world.


Dallman, A. R., Williams, K. L., & Villa, L. (2022). Neurodiversity-Affirming Practices are a Moral Imperative for Occupational Therapy. The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy, 10(2), 1-9.https://doi.org/10.15453/2168-6408.1937

Barbara L. Kornblau, Scott Michael Robertson; Special Issue on Occupational Therapy With Neurodivergent People. Am J Occup Ther May/June 2021, Vol. 75(3), 7503170010. doi: https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2021.753001

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