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What is neuroaffirming care and why does it matter?

November 23rd, 2023

Aly Laube

For Everyone

Have you ever seen a care provider who just didn’t get you? It can be frustrating to experience, but for many neurodivergent folks, it can also be unfortunately common. 

In a province where many professionals in health, education, social work, and other fields are still catching up with the latest information, spreading awareness and having open conversations about neuroaffirming care is crucial. 

What is neuroaffirming care?

A stack of sticky notes below two speech-shaped pieces of paper (DS Stories on Pexels).

What exactly is neuroaffirming care? It’s all about providing support that embraces and respects the incredible diversity of neurotypes, or types of brains. This approach highlights the uniqueness of how our brains work and crafts customized plans to support individuals rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach.

Neurodivergent people’s brains process, learn and behave differently from what’s typical. Their cognitive, sensory, and social experiences likely differ from the majority. 

Neuroaffirming care highlights that these differences aren’t problems to be solved but are part of natural neurological variation or neurodivergence. This is an umbrella term that includes not just autistic folks but those with ADHD, Tourette’s, and other conditions. 

The concept of neuroaffirming care is still relatively new to the public — coined in the late 90s — so the key principles will likely evolve. Still, the more we raise awareness about neuroaffirming care, the faster it will become more widely available. 

Here are some of the fundamental principles of neuroaffirming care: 

  1. Knowledge and empowerment: Acknowledging and respecting the person’s neurodivergence, how it affects them, and what their unique experiences are that make them different from neurotypical patients 

  2. Individualized support: Tailoring the support and interventions to the specific needs and preferences of the person instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach 

  3. Reducing stigmatization: Challenging stigmas and stereotypes associated with neurodivergence and promoting a more accepting environment
  4. Appropriate communication: Adapting communication methods to suit the person’s unique needs and preferences to facilitate cooperation
  5. Promoting autonomy: Empowering people to make decisions and have agency in their own lives and care
  6. Physical accessibility: Ensuring spaces are physically accessible and considering and accommodating the person’s sensory sensitivities 

Why does neuroaffirming care matter? 

Several people's hands forming a heart shape.

In BC, neuroaffirming care can be hard to find. According to our recent survey results, many autistic adults feel like their healthcare providers don’t understand how autism affects them, which can lead to undetected health issues and worsening symptoms. 

Here’s why normalizing, teaching, and learning about neuroaffirming care matters:

  1. Better outcomes: When care is tailored to a person’s specific needs, it can lead to better outcomes for their health, wellness, learning, and overall functioning 

  2. Ethical and legal considerations: Recognizing and implementing neuroaffirming care is in line with ethical and legal obligations to provide equitable support to people with disabilities 
  3. Respect for diversity: Respecting that there are different ways of thinking, processing, experiencing, and communicating allows professionals to validate and value neurodivergent perspectives

  4. Understanding masking and unmasking: Masking impacts the way autistic people receive care, often in a big way. Neuroaffirming care providers know this and use their knowledge to meet peoples’ needs better 

  5. Enhanced social inclusion: Creating neuroaffirming environments helps reduce stigma and discrimination, fostering a more inclusive society in which neurodivergent people can fully participate 

The more we spread awareness about neuroaffirming care and have open conversations with care providers, the more we can make this powerful concept the new standard in BC. 

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