what is neurodiversity?
what is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity

What is Neurodiversity? Why Neurodiversity Matters

Last Updated on

April 22nd, 2024 03:52 pm

We can’t be a site about Neurodiversity without asking “What is Neurodiversity?”, can we! Or can we?

Neurodiversity as a word is less “what” and more “how” we talk about differences in the brain. It used to be that many people saw these differences as a bad thing. But today, sites like Neurodiversity Matters (that’s us – hi!) are here to teach everyone that Neurodiversity has its benefits as well as challenges.

It’s not about telling people they are wrong for saying “I’m so OCD” or “that guy with ADHD is lazy”. If you tell someone they’re wrong, they’ll only think they are more right than you are.

It’s about educating on the reasons why someone might think this way. So let’s delve deeper into the mysterious question; What is Neurodiversity?

Defining Neurodiversity

The term Neurodiversity was popularised in the 90s by Australian sociologist Judy Singer. It describes how the human brain differs in a way that is positive and doesn’t judge. It’s a general term, so people interpret the idea of neurodiversity in different ways.

The use of biased terms in a wide range of medical diagnosis (this is known as the “medical model” of neurodiversity) haven’t helped. Disorder, disabled people, deficit and hyper are all terms that are seen as negative neurological differences. If it starts with “dis”, it usually means it’s missing. If it starts with “hyper”, it’s still negative because there’s too much of it.

Of course, we aren’t going to disrupt the medical model overnight, nor do we want to. After all, we’re starting to redefine many of these characteristics as natural variations in the majority of brains. But by changing the tone of the language we use as neurodiversity advocates, we can embrace Neurodiversity, not penalise it.

What Is the Neurodiversity Movement?

The Neurodiversity Movement is a social model that embraces the concept of neurodiversity for an improvement in quality of life and social change. It’s not to be confused with the Neurodiversity Paradigm, which is an ideological or philosophical concept that all brains as a whole are neurodiverse, including neurotypical people. There is significant overlap between the two, but they are two different concepts.

A main goal of the neurodiverse social model is to highlight the benefits of this diversity in all people, including the creativity that often goes along with neurological conditions such as ADHD and Dyslexia or the unique perspectives conceptualized by the Autistic community. And while some Autistic individuals are highly sensitive to sensory input, others in the Autistic community are less so.

The so-called neurotypical brain is equally important as it has its own merits for its ability to support and work to the weaknesses of those whose brains struggle to function in modern society. The only difference is that the neurotypical brain’s strengths are the very strengths suited to modern society.

Neurotypical People vs Neurodivergent

The term “neurotypical” refers to someone who conforms to societal norms. A person who isn’t considered normal because they think differently or behave differently is “neurodivergent.”

These days, people use the term to describe human diversity as such that anyone who deviates from the normality of social conventions. Many argue that neurodiversity goes beyond the categorization of neurodevelopmental conditions and embraces alternative characteristics such as sexuality and gender identity, as well as mental health conditions and brain injury.

Where the lines blur with this take, however, is where neurodivergent becomes neurotypical. For example, suppose society was to accept that the majority are not heterosexual by nature. Then would it mean that anyone who considers themselves heterosexual is neurodivergent?

This is where neurodiversity engages in a social justice movement. We see it in other areas of everyday life where the majority are disadvantaged against the minority (wealth is a prime example of this in society).

Neurodiversity in Society

The Neurodiversity Movement is changing the way we perceive everyone from all walks of life. People with disabilities (as society sees them today) are making waves like never before. Much of this is thanks to a huge social shake-up with the global pandemic in recent years, where the neurotypical world fell apart and who lived the alternative lifestyle prior to these changes thrived.

Embracing Neurodiversity in Childhood

Many neurodivergent individuals, especially gifted students, lack access to educational resources, such as tutors and extra curricular activities despite even having a diagnosis. That’s because schools often fail to recognize their abilities. In fact, according to the organization, nearly half of all gifted students drop out of high school despite their high intellect.

In addition to being underappreciated, gifted students face additional challenges when trying to navigate the education system. For example, some teachers might struggle to understand why certain assignments aren’t working for their neurodivergent students, while others might assume that gifted children don’t want to participate in class discussions. These assumptions can lead to frustration and stress for both students and teachers.

To address these issues, the neurodiversity community aims to educate and empower individuals, especially neurodiverse students. They encourage people to embrace their differences, rather than fear them. By doing so, they hope to raise awareness about neurodiversity and promote acceptance of different types of brains so that everyone can become their best self.

Neurodiversity in Adulthood and Late Diagnosis

More and more adults are seeking diagnosis for conditions such as ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder thanks to the rise in prominence on social media. Many autistic people and neurodiverse individuals with an intellectual disability lack communication skills that have impeded their lives from a young age.

What’s more, when it comes to neurodiversity in the workplace, many businesses are behind the times. Stigma, often incorrect, plagues the working environment and often hinders progress and development not only of neurodivergent employees, but the business as a whole.

As a society, we must understand and embrace neurodiversity and brain differences in our communities, schools, healthcare systems, and workplaces. We must foster an inclusive environment where neurodiverse individuals feel valued and supported. This includes recognizing and emphasizing each person’s individual strengths, acknowledging their differences, and providing support for their specific needs.

Neurodiversity and Creativity

One of the most beautiful things about the neurodivergent brain is the ability to think outside the box and see the world differently. This leads to an outburst of creativity through all the arts. We have artists who paint, musicians who compose music, writers who write books, dancers who dance, actors who act, architects who design buildings, and scientists who discover new ideas.

This creative energy is what makes us human. It allows us to express our thoughts and feelings in ways that other animals cannot. It gives us the opportunity to learn from each other and create something new.

And, let’s not forget that such creativity of the human mind translates into the sciences too. Critical thinking is a vital component in being able to embrace progress and develop a deeper understanding of the sciences. To be able to innovate and change, it’s important to question what’s come before in ways unimaginable to anyone else.

young boy and his dad learning about science and planets at home

Nurturing neurodiversity in children can lead to academic success and a life fulfilled in the future

What Language Should I Use?

Okay, so there are times when some terms can’t be avoided. If you tell someone Executive Function is a daily struggle and you can’t focus, chances are you will end up using the term ADHD or ADD somewhere in the next five minutes you spend trying to explain to someone that you don’t have a deficit of attention, you aren’t hyperactive, and you don’t have a disorder.

Yes, that’s a real problem we face every day.

So let’s take a closer look at some of the language used to make navigating this complicated web of words easy to understand.

Neurodiverse or Neurodivergent Person?

Taking this from a language perspective, the two are misused a lot by everyone. Neurodiverse refers to a group of more than one person who is Neurodivergent. The sentence below explains it best:

“I am neurodivergent, but my whole family is neurodiverse.”

That said, many believe that the term neurodivergent prejudices because it implies there is a neurotypical. For those who strive for equality through diversity, they use the term neurodiverse people instead.

Some in the neurodiversity movement argue for a change not in the language used, but in the attitudes towards the two words in the first place. Instead of changing the terminology; turn neurodivergent into a socially positive term, not a negative.

Identity-First vs Person-First Language

Currently a hot topic of debate, it’s acknowledged that neurodiverse language is supportive, doesn’t judge, and is inclusive. The vast majority of people who are neurodivergent prefer to use identity-first language such as “autistic people”, instead of saying “people with Autism”.

That said, there are arguments for both. In many cases, it depends on the diagnosis. Some people believe this comes down to the terminology currently in existence. For example, it’s impossible “to be ADHD” grammatically. Yet, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a diagnosis of a condition where there is a known scientific cause (dopamine regulation affects how the brain functions).

Compare this with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which doesn’t have a known cause. It’s considered more a term to describe a combination of personality traits caused by a variation in the human genome. These traits result in a mindset that differs from the norms established by society.

neurodiversity multi colored brains on black background

No two brains are the same, and when it comes to being neurodivergent, creativity breeds innovation

How Can We All Support Neurodiversity?

Easy. Embrace it.

It is that simple. It doesn’t matter whether you believe you are neurodivergent yourself, or you know someone who is. What matters is that when people ask “what is neurodiversity?”, we support each other and learn to embrace neurodiversity for its strengths, as well as supporting its weaknesses.

Did you know that Ingvar Kamprad, Ikea’s owner and chairman had ADHD and Dyslexia and struggled with product codes? Instead of using random letters and numbers, he named every product range based on the names of materials used and Scandanavian locations.

Kamprad may not have known until later in life that he was neurodivergent, but his struggles didn’t hold him back. He overcame them by finding a solution to a problem that never should have been a problem in the first place.

About This Guide

We’ve tried to keep the language easy to understand for anyone neurodivergent. But also, we want to make it inspiring and informative for anyone who wants to know more, as well. So, stick with us, and we’ll work through this complicated world together so nobody is asking “What is neurodiversity?” anymore!

Keep reading for more inspiring content to learn about the wonderful world of neurodiversity!

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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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