Neurodiversity 101 – An Explanation

Leaves by Pua Zhe Xuan, part of the The Art of Autism collaborative. Oil painting with green, red, and pink abstract leaves blowing across an open field with a cloudy sky above representing Neurodiversity.
Leaves by Pua Zhe Xuan, part of the The Art of Autism collaborative

What is Neurodiversity?

Lydia X.Z. Brown defines Neurodiversity as “the belief that differing neurologies are a natural part and form of human diversity; the belief that atypical or divergent neurologies are not indicative of disease, defect, disorder, or illness; and the philosophy that neurological difference should be celebrated and accepted as natural and normal.”

Neurodiversity arose out of the Autism Rights Movement, but has since broadened to include other neurotypes that are often pathologized, such as ADHD/ADD, bipolarity, and Down’s Syndrome.

Someone who has a diagnosis of Autism may identify as neurodiverse or neurodivergent. Someone who has a typical neurology and is considered “normal” by the standards of their society is often referred to as neurotypical.

The Neurodiversity Movement fights for a number of goals, including acceptance of differences, self-determination, ending discrimination, inclusion, and equal opportunity. A common slogan, used by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, is “Nothing about us without us.” Activists push for neurodiverse people to have active roles deciding polices that impact them, such as government initiatives, education, and research.

How can allies support the Neurodiversity Movement?

Lee, a Disabled, Autistic, Chronically Ill, Queer, & Trans artist and activist, writes at Access Culture about how to by an ally to disabled and neurodiverse people.  Zes list includes:

Make events accessible

This goes beyond the typical accommodations associated with the ADA, like wheelchair ramps or interpreters, and includes sent-free spaces, sensory-friendly events, quiet spaces, and childcare options.

Embrace different forms of communication

Always ask before touching someone. Do not force someone to engage in communication, be it eye contact or verbal conversation.

Avoid using stereotypes

Lee writes “Never ever assume that it’s our role to educate you about our Disabilities.” This means to not expect someone with a disability to answer your questions regarding their life. Don’t rely on the information you see in pop culture, as it is often incorrect or missing big parts of the story. Expand your understanding by reading works written by neurodiverse authors (check out the list below!)

Check your ableist language

“Ableism” is defined as oppression, prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination against disabled people on the basis of actual or presumed disability or the belief that people are superior or inferior, have better quality of life, or have lives more valuable or worth living on the basis of actual or perceived disability.Lydia X.Z. Brown

Far too many words in the English language have origins in outdated ideas about people with disabilities and neurodivergent people. While some are obviously offensive, there are also more insidious words that don’t seem ableist at first. “Lame,” “Moronic,” and “Crazy” are all examples of ableist words. Additionally, avoid using a diagnosis as casual descriptors or insult. Saying things like “I’m so OCD” or “She’s being schizophrenic” is very harmful to individuals with these diagnoses. These phrases should be banished from our vocabulary in order to be truly inclusive and supportive.

Learn More

I am a neurotypical ally, and therefore I cannot speak for neurodivergent people. It is important to listen to neurodivergent people’s expertise, experience, and stories. There is not one consensus on how to be neurodivergent, just as there is not a consensus on how to be human. There are a diversity of voices and intersectional viewpoints that incorporate race, gender rights, and social inequality. Below is a list of amazing blogs and resources that will get you started down the path of awareness and knowledge!