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What is Neurodiversity?

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity was first used as a positive way of describing autistic people in the late 1990s. It began as a challenge to the dominant idea that saw neurological diversity as fundamentally pathological, problematic and requiring a cure.

As well as referring to Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome the term has since has taken on a more general meaning and now neurodiversity refers to groups whose differences include, for example:

  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia (known as Developmental Coordination Disorder in some countries)Neurodiversity in Action
  • Dyscalculia
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

4 Key Components of Neurodiversity

1. It refers to the idea that neurodiverse people are those whose brains are ‘wired’ differently from ‘neurotypical’ people (those who are not part of the groups listed above).

2. Advocates of neurodiversity promote inclusion-focused support services, adjustments and accommodations through assistive technologies, occupational training, and independent living support. These adjustments are designed to allow neurodiverse individuals to live, study and work as they are, rather than being coerced into conforming to ideas of normality.

3. Groups using the term neurodiversity assert that neurological differences should be understood and valued in parity with other social categories such as gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity. This is because educators such as Thomas Armstrong have argued that neurodiversity has been, and will continue to be, necessary for human progress. Users of the term are stating that their neurodiversity is a difference, but that they are not failing or lesser in any way.

4. Those using the term are also stating that the grief experienced by parents of those born dyslexic or autistic (over their child’s lack of ‘nomality’) does not stem from the dyslexia or autism itself. Instead the grief stems from the parents’ expectation that there is a normal child hidden underneath the dyslexia or autism. The movement stesses that instead autism, dyslexia and other neurological differences should be seen as ‘ways of being’ which shape and colour every aspect of a neurodiverse person’s existence. This means that autism or dyslexia are not a separate conditions that the person ‘has’, instead they are intrinsic to that individual. An important point to the neurodiversity movement is that cures are not required or indeed achievable.

Criticisms of the Use of Neurodiversity as a Term

The use of the term is not without controversy. Supporters of the use of the medical model of disability (which can be compared with the social model) see differences such as autism, dyslexia and so on as conditions which have disorder and deficit as key features. They see the differences in functioning and processing as impairments which should be treated like any other ‘medical’ problem would be. 

The Workplace and Neurodiversity

As understanding of differences like dyslexia and autism increase, some large employers (for example Microsoft, Google and GCHQ) now actively look to recruit neurodiverse employees in order to make use of their strengths.  It is important however that employers don't miss the difficulties that neurodiverse individuals can experience in some work situations. Human Resouce departments should be ready to adapt the work environment in order to truely benefit from the skills of dyslexic or autistic workers. With minimal training and simple adjustments this readiness can be achieved and we can all benefit from the skills associated with different ways of thinking and functioning.

See our courses on Supporting Neurodiversity in Industry for more information on the training available. 


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