In a Nutshell
Neurodiversity recognizes that each human is neurologically unique, and it is a concept that celebrates this diversity. Cultures define what brain-based traits are desirable or “normal,” and any deviation from this ideal might be considered neurodivergent. Sometimes a pathology or disability in one culture is considered normal or even a benefit in another; meanwhile, sometimes there are traits which are consistently considered to be neurodivergent and even problematic. However, even in these cases, the Neurodiversity Movement advocates for understanding, accommodation, and inclusivity.
History & Meaning
Judy Singer is a sociologist who wanted to change the conversation about autism – to move away from calling it a disability or otherwise pathologizing certain autistic traits. She coined the term neurodiversity and is considered to be the originator of the concept. Journalist Harvey Blume had been in communication with Singer about the concept, and he published an article in The Atlantic in September 1998 where he stated, “Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general.” Singer shares her own inspirations in her Sociology thesis, including Disability, Whose Handicap? by Ann Shearer (1981). Singer states that Shearer’s book was “a turning point in my understanding of disability and normality” and describes the emotional response she had to this paradigm shift.
As the term neurodiversity (and related terms neurotypical, neurodiverse, and neurodivergent – the latter attributed to Kassiane Asasumasu) began to be used more, there has been some argument of who could “claim” one term or another, or the actual meaning and intention for each term. Judy Singer has weighed in on this, including in a personal blog post (October 2019) where she offers clarification:
All humans are neurodiverse! It’s just that some of us have been excluded more than others for our divergence from the ideal. Neurodiversity is a fact. The Neurodiversity Movement is however an identity politics vehicle for people who were discriminated against for differing from the culturally-defined normal range. There are degrees of difference of course. Thus “neurodivergence” shades from difference to disability, with a grey area in between.
Activist Kassiane Asasumasu offered further clarification in a social media post that mental illnesses are included as forms of neurodivergence (Twitter, September 15, 2020). Neurodiversity includes “not born with” conditions such as Complex PTSD. No matter how or why your brain is the way it is, here you are.
The Neurodiversity Movement has increased awareness of autism and other traits that are often placed under the umbrella of Neurodivergent. Beyond this, the movement is advocating for greater understanding – not just “awareness.” This includes how we reframe research to eliminate biases. In other words, if we can truly understand each other, and build in accommodations as the norm, we might be able to reach the next level: respect and inclusivity of all people.
Open Path Education promotes happiness and peace among neurodiverse families by providing resources to educate, support, and inspire.