This is a a short explanatory post on what “neurodiversity” means
If you are like me, you might have heard people use the term neurodiversity often in discussions of difference or disability, especially online and in the social media sphere. If–also like me–you are disabled but not necessarily on the spectrum, you may be wondering when it’s appropriate to use such terms, or even if any of them apply to you!
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is a term and a movement to help people understand the variety of neurotypes that exist in human brains, and the differences they can present.
Neurodiversity encompasses people on the autism spectrum as well as people who have other diagnoses. In my own case, learning the many unique ways my cerebral palsy (CP) affects my own brain led me to want to explore neurodiversity more deeply, even though at this time CP, despite being a neurodevelopmental condition, is not specifically considered a part of neurodiversity.
Are neurodiverse and neurodivergent the same?
Neurodiverse and neurodivergent are both terms people use to describe themselves or other folks who are not neurotypical. Most often they are used to describe autistic people or people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD.)
Among autistic people, the term neurodivergent is more common. For the purposes of this piece and others like it, I will be using the terms neurodiverse and neurodivergent (likewise neurodiversity and neurodivergence) as synonyms.
Are neurodiverse or neurodivergent people disabled?
While neurodiversity itself is not disability, many neurodiverse folks, like many disabled folks, may need accommodations in school or at work. Accommodations for neurodivergent students or employees may include, but are not limited to:
- A work or play space that minimizes distractions or sensory input, such as one without bright lights, noise, or strong scents
- Additional time on tests and other timed tasks or assignments
- Flexible communication strategies such as making use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices
While autism and ADHD, for example, are diagnoses that often get defined and treated as disabilities, many neurodiverse or neurodivergent people may not consider themselves disabled. They may cite instead the unique strengths, insights, and abilities that their neurodivergence brings to their lives. For autistic people in particular such strengths can include:
- Approaching situations differently; thinking “outside the box”
- Embracing nonconformity and creativity
- Strengths in computer programming, mathematics, or other systems
- Musical abilities
- Above-average attention to detail
- Strong visual-spatial skills, including those in art and design
Sometimes people can acquire neurodiverse or neurodivergent traits, such as sensory sensitivities, as a result of trauma. People with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) can be considered neurodiverse for this reason, though research on this aspect of neurodiversity is still fairly new.
Folks with intellectual disabilities (ID), Tourette syndrome, or even mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia may call themselves neurodiverse as well. Not everyone in the neurodiversity movement agrees, however, on which conditions or experiences define neurodiversity. It is also worth noting that, while for some neurodiversity may be cause for celebration, for others a simple acknowledgement, recognition, or acceptance of their neurodivergent experiences may be sufficient for them to embrace and express their neurodiverse identity. Here’s an in-depth explanation on this:
So, what’s the best way to define neurodiversity?
Clearly, the definition of neurodiversity is still evolving–if for no other reason than that yes, technically, every human being has a unique brain!
Like me, you may see aspects of yourself and your life in many of the points I have raised above. Or you may have a perspective and experiences that differ profoundly from any of them. Whatever the case, our experiences are worth sharing, and the ways we define them are worth unpacking together!
Above all I am certain that as awareness and acceptance of both disability and neurodiversity grow, people will learn to describe themselves and others more inclusively, yet more accurately, than ever.
Kari Turner is a freelance writer and disability advocate from Los Angeles. She and her husband are raising their family in California’s high desert. In her spare time, of which she’s had little since her daughters were born!, she blogs about disability, spirituality, parenting, and faith at http://writingthetao.blogspot.com. Follow her on Facebook and LinkedIn.