(11) NEURODIVERSITY PRACTICES FOR SENIORS

Neurodiversity practices bring seniors’ benefits especially when engaged actively through imagination.

Neurodiversity practices remind us that seniors experience and bring to life their world views in unique and significant ways! As we engage imagination, these differences can open new opportunities if we help seniors see their approaches as diverse rather than as deficits.

Neurodiversity often helps us to support seniors who experience other neurological or developmental conditions that include ADHD. These may include seniors who tell us they suffered in their youth with learning disabilities, for instance.

Before the 1990s, we lacked much ability to accept or include people who presented with neurological differences. At this time Australian sociologist, Judy Singer, offered us the term neurodiversity to foster more equality and inclusion of a group she called “neurological minorities.” Do we not see a strong place to reconsider senior neurological differences here?

What hacks would accommodate neurodevelopmental differences and allow for inclusion of seniors with any condition?  What practices currently exclude seniors from activities that would otherwise benefit them mentally and emotionally?

Hacks may be as simple as using a four foot PBS pipe to drop seeds into tiny holes made in their gardens. Or they may be as complex as gears on a wheelchair that allows a senior to move and even play a sport or dance without obstruction.

Some senior disorders such as autism may result in  communication  differences and can exclude our elders from learning through behavior or verbal inabilities.

We are reminded that autistic seniors also come with a wide range of strengths and capabilities, we are motivated to offer innovative adaptations to help overcome their needs, and support their challenges.

Only in active communication with seniors can we understand how perhaps some autistic elders cannot communicate verbally, yet may have a rather high IQ, and in this case we may help them to reach a dream of living independently.  Other seniors may suffer as a result of barricades imposed in societal norms, and this group may feel excluded and diminished from inequity.

For seniors to be fully supported we look to partner with medical evaluations and we support suggested treatments for differences such as autism or any other neurodiverse differences. We may find medical recommendations that enable seniors to access more social or medical services for instance.

Diagnostic explanations can help seniors and their families to appreciate their differences and to sustain their human connections. They may be helped to understand neurodevelopmental conditions that require regular monitoring or treatment to keep them active and involved.

Mental and emotional health relies on certain behavioral supports or interventions that promote communication or social connections for seniors. Similarly, they benefit from support to continue learning what interests them and to use common living skills in ways that maximize their quality of life and developmental potential. Not that it’s a one size fits all! It’s based on our awareness of the lack of systems we have to support senior differences, and the determination to offer new practices that include seniors with neurodevelopmental differences.

When seniors understand and embrace neurodiversity they begin to improve inclusivity in settings that welcome neurodiversity, and where people recognize and emphasize senior’s individual strengths and talents.  Does seeing their situation from seniors’ views sound like a place where we provide support for senior differences and needs?

How can we make senior settings more neurodiversity-friendly? We may …

1). start small and help to improve sensory needs by adjusting sound to include classical instrumental music in the background. Or we may offer headphones for those who prefer no sound at all. We’d avoid loud and intrusive sounds whenever possible.

2). introduce accommodations such as soft shawls on chairs, or flexible footstools that can be easily moved around and adjusted for sitting comfort.

3). introduce moveable games, building materials or sports equipment that can be used within extra movement areas that offer flexible use.

4). keep kindness at the center of all communication, reminded of Mark Twain’s words, “Kindness is a language that the blind can see and the deaf can hear.”

5). emphasize calm and clarity over sarcasm, sinister statements, or vague implications. Use a variety of seniors’ intelligences such as visual spatial in addition to verbal or written statements.

6). break down any instructions into doable smaller steps and offer guidance as much as possible.

7). address socially accepted expectations such as inclusion of all rather than assume seniors  deliberately break any rules by being rude or exclusive.

8). ease seniors into change through showing them personal benefits, offering advanced supports to help with change, and inviting their ideas for improving their situation through the changes made.

9). avoid assumptions about seniors’ ideas and insights and instead ask them questions they’d most like to answer to improve or sustain their healthiest situation.

10). encourage seniors to be patient with themselves and with one another as they adjust to accommodate neurodiverse issues in ways that benefit all. Expect mistakes, and see these as valuable lessons and stepping stones forward.

Neurodiverse practices for seniors with unique challenges may include:

When seniors …

– find it difficult to understand how others feel we might use drama to illustrate feelings.

– struggle to communicate how they feel we might offer examples from other seniors.

– meet challenges in trying to make friends, we might help them to value their times alone.

– fight to maintain the same routine each day, we might help them to plan ahead for change.

– find bright lights, certain smells or tastes overwhelming, we might offer smaller doses.

– show sensitivity to noise, we might escort them to a quieter or more comfortable settings.

– shun bright lights, or certain smells or overwhelming tastes we might help alter their setting.

– cringe at intense interest in one thing only, we might help them relate it to other things.

– choose one very particular way, we might show the fun of creativity and play.

– feel anxious and overemphasize small details and obsessive  patterns we might widen their references.

– feel unable to make eye contact, we might help dramatize similar scenes to overcome.

– present with mental disorders such as depression, or bipolar we might seek medical help

– say the wrong thing, or blurt out inappropriate words we might help them rethink meanings without shaming them.

Session 11 – NEURODIVERSITY TO BENEFIT SENIORS’ MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL HEALTH

Two – Footed Questions to Address Mita Growth Mindset Senior Sessions

1). How do seniors differ most in their abilities that need supports for sustainability?

2). What hacks would accommodate neurodevelopmental differences and allow for inclusion of seniors with any condition?

3). What practices currently exclude seniors from activities that would otherwise benefit them mentally and emotionally?

4). How can we make senior settings more neurodiversity-friendly through imagination?

5). What changes would help neurodiverse seniors stay more actively engaged in their own growth?

6). How does mental and emotional health rely on certain behavioral supports or interventions for improved communication or social connections for seniors?

7). What is the most important thing to know about neurodevelopmental differences among seniors if we are to support their mental and emotional growth?

FINAL Question:  What’s one activity we can do to remove a fixed mindset and add a growth mindset for this topic?

Play with and have fun with imagination! Devise an exercise where one senior sees and describes a unique or typical senior situation through imagining another senior’s viewpoint and then ask that other senior about its accuracy. Discuss the differences between assumptions and actual realities here. Make the interactions fun and encouraging by valuing differences and supporting new understandings about seniors.

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