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5 Things Everyone Should Know About Neurodiversity

It's Neurodiversity Celebration Week and when we think of neurodiversity, it should be just that - a celebration of all things diverse! So often, neurodiversity is spoken about in terms of deficits or what people who are neurodiverse may struggle with, but we're in the 21st century and it's about time we flipped that narrative on its head and focused on what is great about having people who are neurodiverse in our homes, schools, workplaces etc and how their different ways of thinking and experiences of the world contribute towards a better world.

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one "right" way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.

The neurodiversity movement emerged during the 1990s, aiming to increase acceptance and inclusion of all people while embracing neurological differences. Through online platforms, more and more neurodiverse people were able to connect and form a self-advocacy movement. At the same time, Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist, coined the term neurodiversity to promote equality and inclusion of "neurological minorities." While it is primarily a social justice movement, neurodiversity research and education is increasingly important in how clinicians view and address certain disabilities and neurological conditions.

Neurodiversity is now being discussed in schools, workplaces, and homes, as well as in clinical and research sectors. But how well do we actually understand neurodiversity? This post will try to unpack some of the common myths and misunderstandings surrounding it.

Neurodiversity is Beneficial

Just as biodiversity encapsulates the immense variety of plants, animals, and microorganisms found on Earth, neurodiversity refers to the many different kinds of human minds. Similarly to cultural diversity, the neurodiversity movement acknowledges that variation in our neurology and psychology is both natural in its occurrence and beneficial to the human species as a whole.

Humanity needs heterogeneity to thrive. For example, tradesmen play an important role in the workforce, such that we may assume that a greater number of tradesmen would be a good thing. But, imagine if everyone was a tradesman: We’d all have excellent plumbing, electricity and carpentry, but we would have no other job roles helping us propel as a society and everyone would be just a bit the same.

Diversity is critical to a successful society. It is often the people who have some form of neurodiversity, such as Elon Musk, Albert Einstein, Mark Zuckerberg, who have contributed some of the most world-changing ideas to our society...who can remember a time before Facebook or PayPal?! Many neurodiverse people don't go on to change the world but we can learn so much by listening to their different points of view, different ways of doing things and different experiences and then potentially implementing small changes to our routines, businesses or personal view points to optimise, change or improve the way things are done. We need to see the benefits of the natural out-of-the-box thinkers.

Neurodiversity is Inclusive of Everyone

Neurodiversity is simply a way of stating that there are infinite variations in minds in humans. It does not exclude any minds, or seek to describe any minds as superior or inferior to others. Neurodiversity is most commonly discussed in reference to more readily recognised neurotypes, such as autism and ADHD. This may simply be because these communities were early to adopt the concept and take a leading role in developing the broader neurodiversity movement.

However, it is important that neurodiversity not be seen as an umbrella term for a roll call of diagnoses defined by the medical model, nor restricted to describing just a few diagnostic categories. Neurodiversity very simply describes diversity as it relates to human minds.

Neurodiversity is NOT the Same as Neurodivergent

Neurodiverse describes more than one mind when there is some apparent, or likely, diversity. For example, a classroom or workplace is very likely to be neurodiverse, and humankind as a whole is most definitely neurodiverse. Neurodivergent, on the other hand, can describe a single mind that diverges significantly from socio-culturally constructed norms in some way. This doesn’t mean that someone must meet certain diagnostic criteria or even identify as belonging to a discrete neurotype. It simply means that there is a substantial difference in at least one dimension of how the mind operates when compared to societal norms. This can be a difference that someone was born with or a difference acquired during their life.

So, saying that an individual is neurodiverse doesn’t really make sense when you consider an accurate definition of neurodiversity. A common error is to use “neurodiverse” to describe someone who identifies with more than one neurotype. In such a case, that person is more accurately described as “multiply neurodivergent.”

neurodiverse girls

Neurodiversity does NOT just Mean ADHD or Autism

Neurodiversity is not a big label to stick over all the other labels to avoid what we perceive as pathologizing language. Professionals sometimes attempt to align their practice with neurodiversity-affirming approaches by adopting nonsense euphemisms such as “children with neurodiverse conditions.” This is not only a confusing and inaccurate use of terminology, but it perpetuates stigma by sending the message that it is not OK to use terms like autism and ADHD. As we have already explored, neurodiversity refers to so many more conditions and neurotypes apart from ADHD and autism and whilst it is important to understand what neurodiversity truly refers to, we also need to use correct terminology when referring to specific, diagnosed conditions. Take my partner for example, he is diagnosed as autistic and encounters many struggles daily as a result of sensory overload and the strong desire for order and predictability. These struggles are far more understood when you explain that he is autistic, not just 'neurodivergent' as that could mean anything and, to some, may even take away from his genuine lived experience of autism.

Neurodiversity is NOT a Childhood Condition

The amount of times I have heard people 'grow out' of being autistic, having ADHD or being neurodiverse is worrying. There is a lot of media, articles, blogs and books out there that focus on children being neurodiverse, but it suddenly appears to wane when we start looking at adults who are neurodiverse, have ADHD or are autistic. Neurodiverse children grow into neurodiverse adults, and the accommodations that they required as a child have, for the most part, stayed the same. If a child who is autistic needed a lot of direct, unambiguous instructions when being told to do something, chances ae they will need this in their place of work as well.

Educating yourself about neurodiversity, and specific conditions that fall under that umbrella term, is the first, and easiest, step that everyone can take today to ensure that you are clued up on how to support, embrace and celebrate your neurodiverse friends, family, colleagues, children, and loved ones.

group of neurodiverse people at work

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