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Neurodiversity: Definition and Information

Disabled World: Revised/Updated: 2019/04/09

Synopsis: Information and definitions regarding neurodiversity including the neurodiverse movement, neurodivergent and neurotypical meanings. Neurodiversity activists reject the idea that autism should be cured. Neurodiverse refers to a group where some members are neurodivergent.

Main Document

What is Neurodiversity?

In the late 1990s, Judy Singer, a sociologist, who is on the autism spectrum herself, came up with a word to describe conditions like ADHD, Autism, and Dyslexia, this word was "neurodiversity". Her hope and objective was to shift the focus of discourse about ways of thinking and learning away from the usual litany of deficits, disorders, and impairments.

Neurodiversity is an approach to learning and disability that argues diverse neurological conditions are result of normal variations in the human genome. This portmanteau of neurological and diversity originated in the late 1990s as a challenge to prevailing views of neurological diversity as inherently pathological, instead asserting that neurological differences should be recognized and respected as a social category on a par with gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability status. Neurocosmopolitanism.com defines Neurodiversity as "...the diversity of human brains and minds - the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species." - (neurocosmopolitanism.com/neurodiversity-some-basic-terms-definitions/)

According to the National Symposium on Neurodiversity (2011) held at Syracuse University, neurodiversity is:

"...a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labeled with Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, and others."

In other words, a condition such as autism is a part of who the person is and to take away the autism is to take away the person. As such, neurodiversity activists reject the idea that autism should be cured, advocating instead for celebrating autistic forms of communication and self-expression, and for promoting support systems that allow people with autism to live as someone with autism.

The Autism infinity symbol is becoming a popular alternative to the puzzle pieces autism symbols.
The Autism infinity symbol is becoming a popular alternative to the puzzle pieces autism symbols.

Today, neurodiversity is broadly defined as an approach to learning and disability that suggests diverse neurological conditions appear as a result of normal variations in the human genome.

Neurodiversity advocates promote support systems (such as inclusion-focused services, accommodations, communication and assistive technologies, occupational training, and independent living support) that allow those who are neuro-divergent to live their lives as they are, rather than being coerced or forced to adopt uncritically accepted ideas of normality, or to conform to a clinical ideal.

Different people think differently - not just because of differences in culture or life experience, but because their brains are "wired" to work differently.

"Neurodiversity is not a word about autism alone. It is a word that embraces all neurological uniqueness, all rhythms of neurodevelopment and all the forms by which humans can express themselves and contribute to their world." - newforums.com/use-term-neurodiversity/

What Is Neurodivergent?

Having an atypical neurological configuration, for example a person who has a developmental disorder and/or a mental illness. The word "Neurodiverse" refers to a group of people where some of the members of that group are neurodivergent.

A neurodivergent person is defined as one whose neurological development and state are atypical, usually viewed as abnormal or extreme. The term was coined in the neurodiversity movement as an opposite for "neurotypical" - previously the term "neurodiverse" was sometimes applied to individuals for this purpose.

Several recognised types of neurodivergence, include autism, Asperger's syndrome, dyslexia, dyscalculia, epilepsy, hyperlexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and Tourette syndrome (TS). Left-handedness, transgender and homosexuality are sometimes also included.

Some advocates even believe that common therapies for the behavioral and language differences associated with autism, like applied behavior analysis, are not only misguided but also unethical.

What Is Neurotypical?

The word Neurotypical (NT) is the the opposite of Neurodivergent. Neurotypical means being "neurologically typical" - within the typical (average) range for human neurology.

The term originated in the autistic community, as a way to refer to non-autistic people, and is used to describe a person whose neurological development and state are typical, conforming to what most people would perceive as normal. People whose neurological development is atypical are referred to as "neurodivergent". The term is most freqently used by autistics and people with Asperger Syndrome.

Neurodiversity Movement

The Neurodiversity Movement is a social justice movement that seeks civil rights, equality, respect, and full societal inclusion for the neurodivergent. For example, the autism rights movement (ARM) is a social movement within the neurodiversity movement that encourages autistic people, their caregivers and society to adopt a position of neurodiversity, accepting autism as a variation in functioning rather than a mental disorder to be cured.

Neurodiversity Paradigm

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the basic meaning of the term paradigm as "a typical example or pattern of something; a pattern or model". The historian of science Thomas Kuhn gave it its contemporary meaning when he adopted the word to refer to the set of practices that define a scientific discipline at any particular period of time.

The neurodiversity paradigm is said to have been initially embraced by people on the autism spectrum, however subsequent groups have applied the concept to conditions that aren't on the autism spectrum such as bipolar, ADHD, schizophrenia, schizoaffective, sociopathy, circadian rhythm disorders, developmental speech disorders, Parkinson's disease, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysnomia, intellectual disability, obsessive-compulsive, and Tourette syndrome.

The Neurodiversity Concept is VERY Controversial!

Those proposing the medical model of disability identify mental differences as "disorders, deficits, and dysfunctions". From this point of view, some neuro-minority states are treated as medical conditions that can and should be corrected. Author David Pollak sees neurodiversity as an inclusive term that refers to the equality of all possible mental states. Still others reject the word because they think it sounds too medical.

The concept of neurodiversity as applied to autism is criticized for being skewed towards the "high-functioning" individuals of the autistic spectrum or those with milder forms of the condition. Those with "low-functioning" autism are often significantly impaired in their everyday functioning, and may not be able to function effectively with even the extensive use of advanced assistive technologies. Because many of these low-functioning individuals are unable to communicate effectively to express their opinions and wishes, controversy surrounds the issue of who represents them and what represents their interests.

Another major point for neurodiversity opponents is that racial or sexual orientation differences do not functionally disable a person whereas neurological differences can.

Neurodiversity is Dead. Now What? - Twilah Hiari April 8, 2018 - "A cornerstone of the neurodiversity movement is the assertion that autism is an exclusively genetic condition. This position is no longer tenable in the face of statistical and epidemiological analysis..." - https://www.madinamerica.com/2018/04/neurodiversity-dead-now-what/



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