Neurodiversity: Definition, Etymology, and Advantages

What does neurodiversity mean?
The word neurodiversity is a response to society considering dominant neurological wiring as being normal, and therefore better. Neurodiversity celebrates that people with brains that are different from the dominant norms have their own unique skills to offer. 

What diagnoses are associated with neurodiversity?
A person with a neurodiverse brain can be referred to as neurodivergent. Although it is important to understand labels do not define a person, I do believe that they can help us understand how to treat symptoms and overcome challenges. Some (not all) of the following associated diagnoses are:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • ADHD
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Dyslexia
  • Sensory Processing Disorders
  • Learning Disabilities

What is the origin of the word neurodiversity?
The word was first used by Judy Singer,  who is a person with autism. It was seen in the chapter, Why Can’t You be Normal for Once in Your Life?” from the book “Disability Discourse.”

For me, the key significance of the Autism Spectrum lies in its call for and anticipation of a politics of neurological diversity, or ‘neurodiversity.’ The neurologically different represent a new addition to the familiar political categories of class/gender/race and will augment the insights of the social model of disability. The rise of neurodiversity takes postmodern fragmentation one step further. Just as the postmodern era sees every once too solid belief melt into air, even our most taken-for granted assumptions: that we all more or less see, feel, touch, hear, smell, and sort information, in more or less the same way, (unless visibly disabled) – are being dissolved.”

The word started to be used more when after it’s use in the 1998 atlantic article “Neurodiversity” by Harvey Blume. In this article, he advocates saying,  “Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment?”

What unique skills do neurodivergent individuals have?
Optimistically, neurodiversity is starting to be as seen as an advantage. Companies such as DELL, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Ford, IBM are all embracing hiring neurodivergent people.  For example:

  • People with autism or ADHD commonly have symptoms of perseveration. This means they can repeat a routine task of high interest many, many times, with a consistently high focus on small details. 
  • Diametrically, people with dyslexia may struggle to identify individual letters, but they have excellent bigger picture thinking. This gives them a unique perspective on bigger picture thinking. They may have excellent pattern recognition and spatial awareness.
  • People with bipolar disorder or PTSD may have high emotional intelligence, which helps with conflict resolution in the workplace. They may have strengths to see patterns in data, and spatial awareness. Neurodivergent people that have overcome challenges are incredibly resilient and have grit to push through difficult situations at work.

As I previously mentioned, no two individuals are alike. So let me know if there are any advantages you think of that I didn’t mention here!

Owner and Speech Language Pathologist
Primary Bilingual Therapies

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References

Blume, H. (2019, August 15). Neurodiversity. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1998/09/neurodiversity/305909/

Singer, J. (1999). Why can’t you be normal for once in your life?: from a “Problem with No Name” to a new category of disability. In Corker, M and French, S (Eds.) Disability Discourse Open University Press UK

Craft, S. Meet Judy Singer Neurodiversity Pioneer. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.myspectrumsuite.com/meet-judy-singer/

Walker, N. Neurodiversity: Some Basic Terms & Definitions. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://neurocosmopolitanism.com/neurodiversity-some-basic-terms-definitions/

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