We are a neurologically diverse species: the enormous innate variation among individual human bodies extends to our brains, which differ from one another like fingerprints. This diversity of brains means a diversity of cognitive styles, a diversity of innate cognitive strengths and weaknesses, gifts and peculiarities. This is what is meant by neurodiversity.
Neurodiversity thus refers both to the fact of variation among “fully healthy”* brains and to the fact that many brains function differently from such “fully healthy” brains in some way or another (sometimes called neurodivergence). For instance, persons may process visual or auditory stimuli in ways that are different enough from the average to be noteworthy. Persons may be inclined to pay attention to different things, or for different lengths.
Consciously thinking about neurodiversity is fairly new to me, and I am no expert on its implications for teaching and learning. But I invite us to ask questions similar to ones that my colleagues on this blog have often raised:
Does the neurodiversity in our Latin classes and programs mirror the neurodiversity of our schools and neighborhoods at large? If not, should we want it to? Why or why not? What do we do or could we do to take the fact of neurodiversity seriously?
Many of us have developed close relationships with our schools’ guidance counselors, special education teachers, and occupational therapists to learn about how we can help the students they work with thrive, and to emphasize our eagerness to do so.
In parallel with these efforts, we can continue to learn about and make the most of aspects of human experience and learning that may transcend many neurological differences. Some possibilities that come to mind are stories, exploration, and creativity. We can also learn more about what diverse human brains tend to have in common in how they process and create language, and work together to figure out what this may mean for how we help students learn languages in general and Latin in particular.
As I dip my toes into actively exploring a neurodiversity paradigm*, I’ve found Nick Walker’s blog Neurocosmopolitanism especially helpful. Some language teachers have also begun to blog about relevant topics. A great example is Elicia Cardenas, who has shared how she is conducting a “sensory occupational therapy experiment” in her classes.
Whatever thoughts you have or actions you take with respect to neurodiversity in your classes, there is a pertinent principle that applies to all education, but may offer special richness in a language course, given the role of language in exploring and communicating the content of our minds: Get to know your students as well as you can, as much on their own terms as you can, through interactions both with students themselves and with their supporters—guardians, teachers, counselors. And consider and enjoy the ways in which a language course in particular can thrive on students’ getting to know each other better by communicating in the target language.
I would love to hear what you learn in the process!
*Check out Nick Walker’s thoughts about shifting from a “pathology paradigm” to a “neurodiversity paradigm.”
Note: Don’t forget that it may be illegal for you to discuss openly the particular ways in which any given student contributes to neurodiversity in your class. Be sure to find out both what is legal and how specific students and families want or don’t want to talk about neurodivergence.