Neurodiversity

What is it? Why is it important?

Neurodiversity has become the go to word for a large part of the autistic community. It strays away from the medical model of diagnosis, which was created for the convenience of the abled rather than the support of people with disabilities.

Judy Singer, an autistic person, coined the term "neurodiversity" in a not well-read thesis in Australia in 1988. Harvey Blume popularized the word in a 1998 issue of The Atlantic and said, “Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment? Cybernetics and computer culture, for example, may favor a somewhat autistic cast of mind.”

Neurodiversity covers a multitude of neurological differences including but not limited to: Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, and others.

Eric Wagers, an autistic person, gave insight on how non-autistic people (usually parents of autistic children) receive and understand neurodiversity.

“There is a tendency for people to associate words with the people they hear use the word. Unfortunately, there is a lot of animosity among some autism parents and some adult self-advocates. The animosity comes from each side not giving the other the benefit of the doubt. Self-advocates should be more understanding of parents who have normal fears for their children. Parents should face the certainty their children will become adults who will still need a sense of belonging and to feel good about who we are. Neurodiversity is good when it brings people together and empowers. It’s not so good when becomes a rallying battle cry.”


 

Definitions to Consider

The following definitions were created by Nick Walker, of neurocosmopolitanism.com.

Neurodiversity is the diversity of human brains and minds – the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species. What It Doesn't Mean: Neurodiversity is a biological fact. It’s not a perspective, an approach, a belief, a political position, or a paradigm. Neurodiversity is not a political or social activist movement.

Neurotypical, often abbreviated as NT, means having a style of neurocognitive functioning that falls within the dominant societal standards of “normal.” Neurotypical can be used as either an adjective (“He’s neurotypical”) or a noun (“He’s a neurotypical”). Neurotypical is the opposite of neurodivergent. Neurotypicality is the condition from which neurodivergent people diverge. Neurotypical bears the same sort of relationship to neurodivergent that straight bears to queer.

Neurotypical is not synonymous with non-autistic. Neurotypical is the opposite of neurodivergent, not the opposite of autistic. Autism is only one of many forms of neurodivergence, so there are many, many people who are neither neurotypical nor autistic. Using neurotypical to mean non-autistic is like using “white” to mean “not black.”

Videos:

Daniel Obejas from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network gives a definition for the neurodiversity

Dani Bowman of Powerlight Studios made a video about the animosity between parents and self-advocates.

Elizabeth Wiklander’s TEDx talk on her experience with neurodiversity and the autistic community.

Resources/Handouts/Sources

 

Questions to Ponder

  • Where does inequality exist between neurotypical and neurodiverse people?
  • How does society view people with neurological differences?
  • Have you seen examples of neurodiverse accommodations; where and how were they used? This can be things like less intense lighting, sound-blocking headphones, fidgets, and more.