what is neurodivergencewhat is neurodivergence
what is neurodivergence
Neurodiversity

What Is Neurodivergence? Am I Neurodiverse? Are you Neurodivergent? Neurodiversity Explained

Last Updated on

April 16th, 2024 03:36 pm

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.

What is Neurodiversity?

The term Neurodiversity refers to our natural state of human diversity in our brains and minds. It’s who we are to each other without any labels or assumptions. It includes all the brain differences and infinite variations in the human genome 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 conditions and personal trauma too.

However, also note that neurodiversity also includes neurotypical, a term used to define someone with no neurological conditions. Thus, the concept of neurodiversity encompasses all neurological differences, not just those with diagnosed conditions.

What is the Neurodiversity Paradigm?

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 whatever neurological conditions affect their quality of life, whether thats’s Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), dyslexia, depression, anxiety, PTSD or bipolar disorder.

Neurodiversity, on the other hand, 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 idea of neurodiversity was popularized 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 disabled people. 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’s brain functions is different, whether thats from birth or traumatic brain injuries. We should celebrate those differences, rather than try to change them.

What is the Neurodiversity Movement?

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 anyone with a developmental condition or intellectual disability 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.

Our Approach is Language-Led

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!

What Is Neurodivergence?

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.

What does Neurodiverse Mean?

Neurodiverse on the other hand, is an adjective. It describes the diversity and variation of cognitive functioning in people.

Despite this, many choose to adopt their identity as neurodiverse individuals rather than referring to themselves as 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. For others, it’s seen as grammatically incorrect to use the term “neurodiverse individual”.

What Does It Mean to Be Neurodivergent?

Neurodivergent is the term you’re likely most familiar with. It describes people who have a neurodivergence from what medicine considers normal variations. Thus, the brains in people with disabilities process information differently from the way they’re usually processed.

For example, someone with Dyslexia will struggle with processing written language. Someone with ADD/ADHD struggles with concentration. Someone with mental disorders such as a person with an anxiety disorder or OCD might find it hard to stop doing certain repetitive behaviours.

Some Autistic individuals struggle with sensory experiences, while many people with PTSD feel like they’re constantly reliving traumatic memories. All of these are examples of neurodivergences.

circle of rainbow colored stick men holding hands around the word neurodiversity

Neurodiversity means something different to everyone based on their own, valid life experiences

Reasons for Confusion

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:

Political Connotations

There are many reasons why there’s been such a rise in interest in neurodiversity over the last few years. One reason is that the word itself has become more politically charged.

The word “neurodiversity” has been hijacked by identity politics and the social justice movement. 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 by neurodiversity activists. 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.

Grammatical Differences

Aside from the political connotations, another reason for confusion stems from the grammatical differences between “neurodivergent” and “neurodiverse”.

The term “neurodivergent” is an adjective that describes an individual who has a neurodivergence. It emphasizes the divergence or deviation from what is considered typical or neurotypical. It is commonly used to to individuals with formal diagnosis of medical conditions such as autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) and other developmental and mental health conditions.

On the other hand, “neurodiverse” is an adjective that describes a group or society that includes both neurotypical individuals and those with neurodivergences. It highlights the diversity and acceptance of different neurological variations. It is often used as an umbrella term to promote inclusivity and recognition of the strengths and unique perspectives of neurodivergent individuals.

The confusion arises because “neurodivergent” and “neurodiverse” are often used interchangeably, leading to overlapping meanings and interpretations. Some individuals argue that “neurodivergent” should only be used to refer to individuals with specific conditions, while “neurodiverse” should be used to refer to the wider inclusion of these differences in society, or for people with multiple neurodivergent conditions.

Identity and Diversity

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. This is due to the medical model of diagnosing developmental disorders, using terms that the majority of society are familiar with.

Neurodiversity Matters

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 at the best of times, the need for a universal understanding of neurodiversity and its basic concepts is more important than ever.

Keep reading for more great content from our talented neurodivergent individuals and neurodiversity advocate!

Recommended Reading
NeuroDiversity: The Birth of an Idea

Judy Singer is generally credited with the coinage of the word that became the banner for the last great social movement to emerge from the 20th century.

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Rob Butler
30-Something Millennial with ADHD and suspected Autistic and Dyspraxic. Thought leader behind this website. Big visions of a better future for everyone, but forgets where he is half the time.Loves Rugby, his kids, and anything silly. Hates U2 and Marmite.

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