What is Neurodiversity?

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Neurodiversity is the name of a social and clinical movement built on the notion that the world is full of people representing a wide range of skill-sets and perspectives, and that this is a good thing.

The idea of Neurodiversity began as a response from the Autistic community to the “cure-culture” that treats Autism as a disease to be eradicated, rather than an important piece of the diversity of human minds. Neurodiversity believes that autistic people benefit from appropriate help and support, but at the same time advocates for the idea that the best way to help is not by seeking to elminate autism, but rather to celebrate the strengths of autistic people, and to focus on improving the life quality and skills of autistics through better teaching, support, and accommodation.

The danger in regarding autism as only as something that needs to be “cured” is that such a stance implies that an important part of the identity of autistic people is wrong and bad, rather than an inextricably intertwined part of the autistic experience of the world. Viewing autistics as people in need of a cure often results in stances like fundraising for research by capitalizing on the stereotype that autistic people are largely helpless and worthy of sympathy.

When autism is regarded only as a disease, we end up with the great imbalance in funding where organizations such as Autism Speaks spend most of their budget on programing and research and less than 3% on supports for helping autistic people live fuller, more satisfying lives.

​The Neurodiversity Movement advocates taking a more social justice stance by working to create better supports for autistics in building skills and becoming more self-sufficient and, at the same time, working at the societal level to create more acceptance and valuing of autistic differences and strengths.

​Put simply, the Neurodiversity activists advocate for greater emphasis on interventions at the level of systems rather than solely focusing intervention at the level of the individual. In other words, a neurodiversity approach seeks to adapt the environment to individual needs, rather than trying to get individuals to adapt to unsupportive environments (the “Social Model of Disability“). The Neurodiversity Movement supports improved accessibility and accommodations to improve functioning for everyone (not just neurodiverse people).

Many proponents of neurodiversity see the movement as a big tent with room for all kinds of different “neurotypes.” These include attentional differences (like ADD and ADHD), processing differences (like receptive and expressive language disorders and auditory processing disorders–APD), and anxiety disorders that involve differences in thinking or activation response (OCD and some forms of complex trauma).

A great book that gives a detailed history of the Neurodiversity movement and current state of the political landscape is Neurotribes by Steve Silberman (2017).