Neuro Affirming Model

The Relationship between a Neuro Affirming Model & Interoception

Hi, everyone. Kelly Mahler, occupational therapist, and I wanted to take the time to talk about something that’s really important to me, and that is providing neuro-affirming supports, or using a Neurodiversity Affirming Model, to guide my practice as an occupational therapist supporting neurodivergent clients. To be neuro-affirming is really, really important and interoception plays a key role as it provides us with a scientific lens for appreciating inner diversity, teaching us that we all have different feels and that there is no wrong way to feel.  As with neurodivergence, interoception is not something to be fixed, but rather to be explored and validated.

Before we talk a little bit more about what neuro affirming means and how interoception fits into that model, I think it’s important to be very transparent. I am not getting this right all the time, and I am still growing in my ability to provide the most neuro affirming supports. I make mistakes a lot, and I am continually reflecting and challenging myself to grow and to learn and to keep moving forward.

I’m thankful to have many neurodivergent family members and really dear friends and colleagues that are willing to help me grow and teach me how to be a better human every single day. And to our online communities, I’ve learned so much from you over the years. Thank you for your willingness to vulnerably ask your questions, share your experiences, and support other community members. Let’s keep shifting together.

What is a Neuro Affirming Model?

So, first, let’s talk about what a Neurodiversity Affirming Model means. There are many people out there that are talking about this topic. If you do a quick Google search, you’ll find a lot of people that are speaking on this more eloquently than I am. But if you’re new to this topic, I’ll give you a quick overview. A neuro affirming model is about operating in a way that embraces the fact that there is this diversity in human neurology, in our ways of thinking and moving and feeling and being. Just because we have differences, it doesn’t mean that one neurology is right and one neurology is wrong. We’re embracing and validating the neurodivergent experience. We’re not attempting to fix someone’s experience. We’re attempting to validate that experience and help them to understand their own personal way of thriving in the world.

We Can All Be Better!

Judy Endow, one of my friends who has helped me in my continual shift to become more neuro affirming, has this amazing quote that really speaks to me. She says, “It doesn’t matter where you are, you can always move forward. You can always do better, you can always be better.”

That means that no matter where you are in your own personal journey with being neuro affirming, you can take a step forward right now! Whether you’re at the very beginning of this journey, or maybe you’ve been working on this for years, we all, no matter where we are, can continue to grow and continue to shift forward.

Get Your Shift Together

There are many people that want to grow and become a more affirming support system, but it can be really overwhelming to know where to start and even more confusing exactly what to do. Judy and I want to help make that next step forward as easy as possible.  We put together a really awesome course, and it’s all about a neuro affirming model. In this course we’re challenging us all to get our shift together and shift between a lot of different areas or concepts that are commonly discussed in the field of neurodiversity. For example:

  • One of the shifts that we’re talking about is all about shifting between a medical model of disability and a social model of disability.
  • Another shift is all about moving between ACEs–or more specifically commonly defined causes of trauma according to the ACEs–to really understanding the neurodivergent experience of trauma and how many of their lived experiences can be very traumatic.
  • A third shift involves shifting between a normalizing approach where strategies focus on teaching neurodivergent people to “fit in”, to an approach where we are nurturing self-compassion and self-understanding.
  • An additional shift suggests largely moving away from compliance-based models where the focus is on modifying a person’s behavior, to getting deeper and really supporting from a place of internal regulation.

In the course, we will be discussing these shifts plus even more important areas of shift! Best of all, the course offers practical strategies for helping us all get our shift together and work towards providing more neuro affirming supports.

Interoception & a Neuro Affirming Model

The relationship between interoception & neuro affirming models is bidrectional. They need each other:

  • Neuro affirming models support interoception learning: If we are operating in a way that is neuro affirming, we are providing a space where interoception growth is likely to happen. A space where a person feels safe and validated enough to connect to their bodies, and learn about what their bodies uniquely need for health, comfort and regulation. We are reducing the potential for trauma and gaslighting, which is found to derail the interoceptive experience. We are moving away from compliance and behavior modification approaches which chronically condition a person to ignore their interoception needs in order to please others. The list interoception-related benefits goes on.
  • Interoception science embraces inner diversity and provides an important aspect to include when providing neuro affirming supports. Our interoception supports embrace the fact that we all have different interoceptive experiences and what your body feels like is different than what my body feels like. There is no wrong way to feel. Interoception work is all about helping people to discover their own inner feels, to validate each person’s unique inner experience. As with neurodivergence, interoception is not something to be fixed, but rather to be explored and validated. It fits very precisely and very well within these neuro-affirming models. We really need interoception and we need to incorporate interoception science into the supports we are providing if we want to be neuro affirming.

Until next time.

Want to learn more about Implementing Neuro Affirming Models? Check out this On-Demand course!

NAM on demand

PLUS! We are offering 3 Q&A Sessions to accompany the above course! Check those out here.