Young Man

Unstuck and On Target for the Neurodivergent Community

Why use Unstuck?

Unstuck is a set of tools that help neurodivergent youth, and their families and their teachers better understand, support, and build executive functions. Unstuck was developed with guidance from the neurodivergent community. Its first goal is to improve understanding and recognition of appropriate supports and accommodations for people with executive function differences.  It teaches people to recognize and use their strengths and also to self-advocate for supports they may need.  

Why are Executive
Functions Important?

Executive Functions are a set of brain-based abilities that help people set and achieve goals, make plans, handle disappointment, and stay flexible in the face of unexpected events. They enable us manage lots of information at once, and to show what we know, or demonstrate our skills to others.  Executive Functions drive social skills and are more important than IQ for predicting success at school and long term happiness, relationships, employment and health.

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How does Unstuck build on strengths?

Unstuck embraces the idea that we can’t make assumptions about how people approach a problem or why they feel stuck and that people build with what they have, their strengths. In this way, Unstuck builds on each individual’s ability to decide their own goals. In addition, Unstuck provides a common language so that neurodivergent and neurotypical people can solve problems together.

Is Unstuck trying to "fix" neurodivergent people?

The purpose of Unstuck is to solve mismatches between a person's brain-based differences and their environment. Unstuck does this in two ways: accommodations and teaching new skills. Unstuck is an intervention that doesn’t tell people WHAT to do, but rather HOW to work towards their goals. Neurodivergent people are often labelled as “rigid,” when in fact they are either struggling with a different understanding of the situation or don’t know how to be flexible in that situation.  Importantly, Unstuck also recognizes that inflexibility can be adaptive, help prevent overload, and offer protection. Ari Ne’eman, the founding director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, helped us understand that “inflexibility provides order in the context of a world that is confusing and illogical for us.” Unstuck provides an algorithm for problem solving (Goal, Why, Plan, Do, Check) and ideas for how to flexibly respond to challenging situations. 

The participatory process: Including neurodivergent stakeholders

From the beginning, Unstuck authors have developed the curriculum with the guidance of neurodivergent individuals.  In its earliest forms, neurodivergent students were asked to evaluate each lesson and provide feedback. Each version of the curriculum has undergone detailed review by neurodivergent self-advocates. In his foreword to the Unstuck and On Target Curriculum (Elementary Edition), John Elder Robison said, “I was very surprised to realize that I could use ideas from Unstuck and On Target in my own life at age 53!” Recently, a neurodivergent student told us, “being stuck feels bad for everyone—so why are neurotypicals so rigid all the time?  Shouldn’t THEY learn Unstuck?” Having seen her 4th grade math teacher, she was right—the neurotypical person was the stuck person in the room!

How does Unstuck advocate for accommodations and/or supports?

At the heart of Unstuck is the idea that we accommodate and support FIRST to promote learning and participation for everyone. We encourage people, including neurodivergent people, to first think CAN’T YET rather than WON’T. This Can’t Yet not Won’t approach results in an empathic examination of what each individual is experiencing and seeks first to see what modifications can be made to make the task/environment more accessible. Unstuck curriculum is deeply-steeped in a disability rights approach that encourages universal design and the idea that often the challenge is the fit, not the task.

The high school curriculum, slated for publication in March 2023, focuses on a Self Advocacy Formula, which places neurodivergent individuals’ goals and right to obtain accommodations at its center.