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What Is: Neurodiversity, Neurodivergent, Neurotypical

Updated/Revised Date: 2023/09/29
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Synopsis: Information and definitions that explain the meaning of neurodiversity, including the neurodiverse movement, neurodivergent and neurotypical descriptions. Neurodiversity is an approach to learning and disability that argues diverse neurological conditions are a result of normal variations in the human genome. Neurodiverse refers to a group where some members are neurodivergent. Neurodiversity activists reject the idea that autism should be cured.


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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 were to shift the focus of discourse about ways of thinking and to learn away from the usual litany of deficits, disorders, and impairments.

Neurodiversity is an approach to learning and disability that argues diverse neurological conditions result from 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. defines Neurodiversity as:

"...the diversity of human brains and minds - the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species."

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 whom 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 promoting support systems that allow people with autism to live as someone with autism.

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 neurodivergent 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 neurodevelopmental and all the forms by which humans can express themselves and contribute to their world."

Article continues below image.

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.

Gender Identity in Autism and Neurodiversity

Gender identities that differ from biological sex (non-cisgender identities) appear to be more common in autism and neurodiversity. The study found that part of the non-cisgender identities could be related to having behavioral preferences of the opposite sex, but this failed to explain the higher prevalence of neurodiversity. Non-cisgender identities in neurodiversity could better be explained by having neurodiverse relationship preferences or lacking specific relationship preferences. Being part of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi Transgender) community biased answers to questions about gender identity. Neurodiverse non-cisgender people, just like neurodiverse asexual people, might be better off with new communities that focus on the more relevant relationship preference differences rather than on narrow and indirect gender and sexual issues - (Ekblad, L. (2018, August 16). Gender identity in autism and neurodiversity).

What Is Neurodivergent?

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

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

The word "Neurodivergence"  - (early 21st century from neuro + divergence) - is defined as divergence in mental or neurological function from what is considered typical or normal (frequently used concerning autistic spectrum disorders).

Several "recognized" types of Neurodivergence include autism, Asperger's syndrome, dyslexia, dyscalculia, epilepsy, hyperlexia, Dyspraxia, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and Tourette syndrome (TS). Left-handedness, gender identity disorder, homosexuality, bisexuality, and asexuality are sometimes also included.

What Is Neurotypical?

The word Neurotypical (NT) is 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." Autistics most frequently uses the term and people with Asperger Syndrome.

"Neurotypical" is a dubious construct, as there is nobody who can be considered truly neurotypical. There is no such standard for the human brain.

The 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.

Some advocates believe that common therapies for the behavioral and language differences associated with autism, like applied behavior analysis, are misguided and unethical.

The 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.

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.

Neurodiversity - Two Sides of the Coin

The Neurodiversity Concept is VERY Controversial!

Author David Pollak sees neurodiversity as an inclusive term for the equality of all possible mental states. However, others reject the word because they think it sounds too medical. In 2014, a study "Autism Spectrum Disorder as Early Neurodevelopmental Disorder: Evidence from the Brain Imaging Abnormalities in 2–3 Years Old Toddlers" found there are brain structure and neurotransmitter abnormalities in autistic people.

Those proposing the medical model of disability identify mental differences as "abnormalities, disorders, deficits, or dysfunctions". From this perspective, some neurominority states are treated as medical conditions that can and should be corrected.

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.

Opinion Pieces Against the Neurodiversity Concept

Using the ever-increasing flotilla of neurodiverse-related words does little more than give you a warm fuzzy feeling, much the same as those who believe in any of the many man-made god delusions.

1 - Against Neurodiversity

"I have two kids with nonverbal autism," writes Jill Escher, founding president of the National Council on Severe Autism. "It's an extremely severe neurodevelopmental disability - they can't talk, can't read or write, can't add one plus one, and lack any capacity for abstract thought. Neurodiversity advocates trivialize this, and cherrypick naive, feel-good stories that portray autism falsely instead of grappling with the reality" - Warburton, Against Neurodiversity.

2 - 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..."

3 - Critiques of the Neurodiversity Movement - Ginny Russell

"There is no such standard for the human brain. Search as you might; no brain has been pickled in a jar in the basement of the Smithsonian Museum, the National Institute of Health, or elsewhere that represents the standard to which all other human brains must be compared. Given that this is the case, how do we decide whether any individual human brain or mind is abnormal or normal?" - Critiques of the Neurodiversity Movement by Ginny Russell

4 - Autism is a Disability, Not an Identity!

"In the online sphere, autism and neurodiversity are worn almost like fashion items by people who can often blend imperceptibly into the so-called neurotypical population." and "The 'neurodiversity' movement trivializes what can be a debilitating and life-denying disorder," says Tom Clements, autism advocate - Clements, Autism is a disability, not an identity!

5 - Neurodiversity is a load of sh@t

"No, autism and other conditions are not funny little quirks or personality traits. They are mental disorders that can be debilitating and significantly impact one's quality of life. Why don't you go to a care facility and tell the people who are so severely autistic that they can't even do basic tasks on their own that it's just a "natural human variation" and not a disorder? Or maybe tell that to all the mentally ill people who desperately try medication after trying to rid themselves of their symptoms? I'm sure plenty of autistic people would love a cure. Should we force them to live with it just for political correctness, so we don't hurt people's feelings? What next? Are we going to call people with cancer "healthdivergent" and ban chemotherapy because cancer is just a "natural variation" in humans' cell replication mechanisms?" - reddit.

6 - The Danger of Neurodiversity

"The neurodiversity movement claims that autism is not a problem. This is nonsense. People on the more extreme end sometimes can’t speak. They soil themselves, wreak havoc and break things. I have known them to chew up furniture and self-mutilate. They need lifelong care. Given this, could any reasonable person think autism is not an affliction? Could any caring person try to prevent sufferers from seeking a cure? Common sense dictates the answer should be no. The reality is that identity politics has become so deranged that a group of people (both here and in the UK) seek to prevent autistic people from getting help on the nonsensical grounds that it’s insulting to suggest they need it." - Jonathan Mitchell.

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