Neurodiversity is a term which was first coined in the late 1990s to describe conditions such as Dyslexia, Autism and ADHD as not deficits or disorders but rather more like variations or differences of the human brain. For both children and their parents the concept of neurodiversity can have benefits as this can frame their challenges as being differences, rather than as deficits.
Although the approach has its critics the concept of neurodiversity has some factual basis. We know from brain imaging studies that there are numerous differences between individuals with neuro-typical pathways and those individuals with neurodiversity. This is relevant when considering specific tasks such as tests of attention and impulse control. Those differences appear to show how the brain is “wired” differently and how it functions to support thinking and learning.
The term itself originates from the late 1990s when Judy Singer, a Sociologist on the Autism spectrum, rejected the idea that people with Autism were disabled and proposed that their brains simply worked differently from others. As a result, the term was quickly embraced by activists in the Autism community and beyond to help fight the stigma of conditions such as ASD and ADHD and promote inclusion in schools and in the workplace.
The movement emphasizes that the goal shouldn’t be to “cure” people whose brain works differently but to embrace diversity so they can fully participate as members of the community.
This approach remains controversial. Those that support the medical model of disability argue that mental differences which cause impairments in many areas of life need to be treated as well as being embraced as differences.
Some individuals with Autism actively advocate the disability approach rather than being regarded as having neuro differences. They criticise the term of neurodiversity for trying to dilute the effects of the condition on the overall quality of their lives.
In considering both viewpoints perhaps the compromise position is not to concentrate on the labels of Dyslexia, ASD and ADHD but to consider specific symptoms or “traits” of these terms.
The key issue to consider is that when these traits become impairment in terms functioning in learning, behaviour and socialisation skills that is when we need to look at offering specific support both in schools and in the workplace.
Though it is imperative to reduce stigma and not to focus on what some people can’t do it is also important to recognise what they “can do”. There are many strengths and advantages of the neurodiverse brain and we need people who think differently in order to help us evolve as a society.
It is important therefore to recognize both “differences and disabilities” as both viewpoints and this approach can help every individual to be part of an inclusive society while also receiving additional support when necessary.