Navigating neurodiversity can be a struggle at the best of times, never mind if you suspect you’re neurodivergent yourself. See, we’ve already confused you by using two different terms!
One of the biggest questions we hear over and over is “What is Neurodivergence?”. So let’s clear this up once and for all.
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The idea of Neurodiversity refers to our natural state, no matter how our brain works. It’s who we are to each other without any labels or assumptions. It includes all the neurological diversity that one would consider irrelevant of a “typical” mind. It also includes medical diagnosis of a neurodevelopmental disorder, from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). What’s more, it includes mental health and personal trauma too.
The Neurodiversity paradigm is simply the idea that everyone has their own unique way of thinking, feeling and being in the world. This is true whether they have Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), dyslexia, depression, anxiety, PTSD or bipolar disorder.
Neurodiversity is the idea that there are many different ways to think, feel and behave. It’s a way of looking at the world where we all have our own unique strengths and weaknesses. The term was coined by Dr Judy Singer in the 1990s. She defined it as “the diversity of human nature”.
It’s important to note that neurodiversity is not about making excuses for people with disabilities. That’s what many believe neurotypical people do, a practice known as ableism. Of course, this isn’t every person, but more of a social construct embedded in modern society and medicine
Instead, neurodiversity is about understanding that every person is different. We should celebrate those differences, rather than try to change them.
The neurodiversity movement is a little different to the paradigm. The movement started out as a reaction against the idea of neurotypicals trying to ‘fix’ people with autism. They were concerned that people with autism weren’t able to communicate effectively, so they wanted to help them learn to speak. However, when they realised that communication wasn’t the only thing that mattered, they realised that autistic people could still be very creative, insightful, funny, sensitive and loving.
So instead of trying to fix people, they decided to focus on helping people understand themselves better. They began to notice that autistic people had some fascinating things to say about life. And they noticed that autistic people had great ideas about how to solve problems.
To avoid any confusion, we use dictionary definitions, unless stated otherwise. That’s because some of these words are so open to interpretation, especially when it comes to any negative connotations that may arise, that it’s easier to remain unbiased by sticking to what’s already established.
That said, we may even disagree with some of the definitions ourselves, so we’ll try and be as clear as possible on this too!
Neurodivergence is a term used to describe the concept that a brain processes things differently to what’s considered “typical”.
For example, someone with ADHD might process information differently to most people. Someone with dyslexia might find reading difficult. Someone with bipolar disorder might experience extreme mood swings. These natural variations are just all aspects of brain functioning that can be classed as neurodivergence within the human brain.
Neurodiverse on the other hand, is an adjective. It describes the diversity and variation of cognitive functioning in people. Neurodiverse is typically used to describe neurodivergent people. As we’ll learn later, this tends to be the one that can cause confusion, as some believe neurodivergent still promotes ableism and a binary with the neurotypical brain.
Neurodivergent is the term you’re likely most familiar with. It describes people who have a neurodivergence. This means their brain processes information differently from the way it’s usually processed. For example, someone with dyslexia will struggle with processing written language. Someone with ADD/ADHD will struggle with concentration. Someone with mental disorders such as a person with OCD might find it hard to stop doing certain repetitive behaviours. Someone with PTSD might feel like they’re constantly reliving traumatic memories. All of these are examples of neurodivergences.
Trying to understand all the different terms can be confusing even for those of us who don’t struggle with language comprehension. So why exactly is it causing so much confusion? Here are a few reasons why:
The word “neurodiversity” has been hijacked by identity politics. Identity politics is based around the idea that there are oppressed groups of people who need special treatment. People with neurodivergences are often seen as being oppressed by society. So if you’re not part of the group, then you must be oppressing us.
Therefore, anyone who doesn’t identify as having a neurodivergence is automatically assumed to be oppressive. In reality, however, everyone is different. Some people are more sensitive than others. Some people are more creative than others. Some people have more trouble concentrating than others. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Everyone is different.
Identity-led language is prevalent within the autistic community. It can include use of the term “I am Autistic”, rather than “I have Autism”. While some choose to use Autistic Spectrum Disorder as the term, may feel this is still reflective of ableism, due to the medical nature of the term that the majority of society are familiar with.
The beauty of language is the same as the beauty behind neurodivergence – It means so many things to so many people. But when comprehension and understanding are difficult atthe best of times, the need for a universal undersanding of the basic concepts is more important than ever.
Keep reading for more great content from our talented neurodivergent individuals and neurodiversity advocate!
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