What is Neurodiversity?
The term “neurodiversity” was first pioneered in the late 1990’s by two forward-thinking individuals: journalist Harvey Blume and autism advocate Judy Singer. Blume and Singer both believed that the ‘Neurologically Different’ deserve their own political category, standing alongside the familiar ones of class, gender, and race and working to augment the rights and redefine common perceptions of the neurodiverse.
It was Blume and Singer’s wish to see the neurodiverse perceived in light of their strengths as well as their weaknesses. They noted, for example, that those with dyslexia often show above-average visual thinking abilities and entrepreneurial knack. Those with ADHD have a penchant for creative problem solving on the fly. They are typically very imaginative and excel in holistic problem processing that is based on imagination rather than working memory. People on the autism spectrum often show an unusual affinity for mathematics and computer programming. Those who struggle with mental illness, though their challenges may be many, often come up with unique and insightful ways to cope, and frequently exhibit heightened creativity.
Those who believe in the concept of neurodiversity do not advocate ignoring the many problems and hardships faced by those with aforementioned conditions, but rather that we should not frame these conditions in the negative alone. Instead, individuals who are neuroatypical ought to be respected, celebrated, and honored for their unique skills and achievements. It should be more understood by the public at large that those who fall under the umbrella of neurodiversity are every bit as capable of achieving great things as those who are not.
The Seven Key Points of Neurodiversity:
When attempting to understand what neurodiversity is and how those with it can best adapt and thrive while remaining true to their authentic selves, it’s wise to keep the following seven points in mind:
- The Human Brain Functions Like an Ecosystem more so than like a Machine. How many times have you heard the brain likened to a computer? This is, as it turns out, too simplified a view. The brain functions more like the internet, or one of the many biological ecosystems we can observe in the natural world around us. It is a complex network of interrelated systems, all working together.
- Human Brains Exist Along Spectrums of Ability. Disability categories are not discreet entities, not boxes that entirely separate people off from the mainstream of cognitive ability. Dyslexia, for example, has been shown to be part of a spectrum that includes normal reading ability. Many people on the autism spectrum may behave and function in a way that is outwardly “normal”. Cognitive abilities like literacy, sociability, attention, and learning, all exist on spectrums, and we as people are more connected in this than we realize. There is no hard line between the cognitively “normal” and the disabled. Instead, there are many shades of grey, many different mental landscapes.
- Human Competence is Defined Somewhat Subjectively via Culture. Before the ability to read was a culture value applied to the average people, dyslexia was not a disability. Autistic behavior is defined as abnormal because, as a culture, we value the innate desire to socialize and have certain social boundaries and expectations in place. Many behaviors and disabilities are judged from a place of inherent bias induced by the culture in which the “disabled” person resides. Similarly, whether a person will be considered gifted or not varies with their birthplace. Even whether or not a person will be considered mentally ill varies depending on their country and culture of residence. In India, for example, many people who would be considered schizophrenic in the western world are viewed as holy men. Diagnostic criteria are far from being world-wide absolutes.
- The Success of Any Organism is Based on How Well it Adapts to the Needs of the Surrounding Environment. Despite the aforementioned points, it’s nonetheless true that we humans, like all animals, must adapt to our immediate environment in order to survive and thrive. As such, living in today’s world, a dyslexic person must learn how to read to thrive, an autistic individual must comprehend how to relate to others socially, a schizophrenic person must learn to think rationally, etc. This is where medication and therapy comes in to aid the brain in adapting to these needs.
- Organisms Must Also be Able to Adapt Their Environments to Succeed. It would be unproductive and unjust to focus entirely on forcing the neurodiverse to adapt to their “normal” Instead, the neurodiverse should also be encouraged to change their surrounding environments to fit the unique needs of their diverse minds.
- Correct Career and Lifestyle Choices, Assistive Technologies, Human Resources, and Other Strategies to Enhance Quality of Life Ought be Employed to Alter the Environment. Only by understanding the unique needs of the neurodiverse can we continue to develop the tools, resources, and strategies needed to alter the environment so that the neurodiverse may survive and thrive optimally. Knowing that people with ADHD need a career full of physical movement, for example, or that the autistics excel in organization, enables us to ensure that the neurodiverse find niches in the human environment that fit them.
- A Healthy, Positive Environment Directly Modifies the Brain, Furthering its Ability to Adapt. Through experiments with mice, neuroscientists have demonstrated that enriching environments stimulate the development of more complex networks of neuronal connections in the brain. Brains, once enriched in this way, have an increased capacity to adapt to the environment around them.
The benefits of the neurodiversity movement are already being seen throughout society; software firms, for example, are discovering the special programming abilities held by certain people on the autistic spectrum, and as they employ this valuable resource, they are seeing their productivity rise rapidly. Those with ADHD are flourishing in adapted workplace environments and carefully selected career that make use of their dynamic energy and unique style of focusing. As those who are neurodiverse are embraced for what they can do, rather than dismissed for what they cannot do easily, a world of opportunity is opening not only for neuroatypical individuals, but for society as a whole.