That’s not fair! - How to explain neurodiversity and the issue of “fairness”

As teachers and parents, we may hear our children cry out sometimes, “That’s not fair!” The questions that follow may sound like this:

“Why does Johnny get extra time on the computer?”

“When I do that, I lose privileges, how come they don’t have the same consequences?”

“Why don’t I get to use a dictionary or a calculator when I take a test?”


Often our stock answer can be one that comes from a place of frustration or ignorance about the true answer. It usually sounds something like this, “Life’s not fair!” Unfortunately, this only exacerbates the problem and does nothing to resolve a child or student’s feelings or advance understanding of why some students are treated differently.


THS is a progressive and inclusive school which truly respects and welcomes families from all countries, cultures, academic and social backgrounds. It can sometimes be difficult to explain to others just what diversity and inclusion mean in our school and how it informs our school culture.


Our student body are made up of a very diverse group of students and families. Not only culturally, linguistically and socially but also neurologically.


So, what is neurological diversity? What does it mean to be neurodivergent or neurotypical?


Neurodiversity means that we are a group of people of whom some have brain chemistry and brain functioning that is the “norm” for the majority of people and some are different from what is considered the “norm”. Neurotypical (NT) means you are in the majority and share similar brain patterns, functioning and chemistry as most of society. Neurodivergent (ND) means you have neurological differences from the “typical” brain which cause you to interact with the world around you in ways that are different from the majority.


Neurodivergent people are not all the same either. It includes people who are dyslexic, autistic, bipolar or have ADHD to name a few. Although the terms may be new there is nothing new about it. It is a scientific way to describe the very real differences in the brains of some of us caused by natural variations in the human genome and/or traumatic brain injury.


If you have less than perfect vision you wear corrective lenses or glasses. If you have physical differences you may wear leg braces, a cane or use a wheelchair. Society and schools allow for those accommodations which are different from the majority in these cases quite readily. If you are neurodivergent, most of your differences are invisible so it is difficult to see or understand what types of accommodations you may need to interact with the world around you in ways neurotypical people do.


Promoting inclusion and talking about neurodiversity with typically developing kids lays a foundation for increased empathy and greater acceptance of difference.


It is important to remember in the discussion of fairness that “same” is not “equal or fair”.  Equality and fairness is when everyone gets what they need to have equal access to school, work, society, and opportunities for self improvement in general. All people need something “different” in order to have the “same” opportunities for success and a fulfilling life.



For more information about this and how to talk to children about fairness, equality, and neurodiversity see some of the following articles or come to our parent series talk about Neurodiversity in February with a panel of parents and students from our THS Community who have experiences to share. Be on the lookout for dates in our follow-up THS Bulletin and the PTA website.


Fair isn't Equal BlogPost


Teaching the difference between fairness and equality


Neurodiversity some basic terms and definitions


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