Neurodiversity is a biological fact. It’s not a perspective, an approach, a belief, a political position, or a paradigm. That’s the neurodiversity paradigm (see below), not neurodiversity itself.
Neurodiversity is not a political or social activist movement. That’s the Neurodiversity Movement (see below), not neurodiversity itself.
Neurodiversity is not a trait that any individual possesses or can possess. When an individual or group of individuals diverges from the dominant societal standards of “normal” neurocognitive functioning, they don’t “have neurodiversity,” they’re neurodivergent (see below).NEURODIVERSITY: SOME BASIC TERMS & DEFINITIONS
Neurodiversity is the idea that all brains and connected bodyminds are diverse in how they work – no two brains or nervous systems are the sameTerminology | Critical Disability Studies Collective
The word “neurodiversity” was coined in the 1990s by an Australian sociology grad student named Judy Singer after reading a book about the social model of disability, which proposes that disability is a product of the way society is organised, rather than by limitations imposed by a person’s condition. In a world without wheelchair ramps and accessible buildings, wheelchair users have very few choices about where they can go. But in a world that accommodates wheelchair users, they have many more choices. Neurodiversity extends the social model of disability into the realm of cognitive differences like autism, dyslexia, and ADHD. How can we make the world safer and more welcoming to people with these conditions so they can lead happier, healthier, and more autonomous lives? That’s the question that the neurodiversity movement asks.Steve Silberman recommends the best books on Autism
Neurodiversity: the notion that conditions like autism, dyslexia, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) should be regarded as naturally occurring cognitive variations with distinctive strengths that have contributed to the evolution of technology and culture rather than mere checklists of deficits and dysfunctions.NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity
In recent years a new paradigm has begun to emerge, which I refer to as the neurodiversity paradigm. The term neurodiversity, coined in the 1990s, refers to the diversity of human minds—the variations in neurocognitive functioning that manifest within the human species. Within the neurodiversity paradigm, neurodiversity is understood to be a form of human diversity that is subject to social dynamics—including the dynamics of oppression and systemic social power inequalities—similar to those dynamics that commonly occur around other forms of human diversity such as racial diversity or diversity of gender and sexual orientation.
Through the lens of the neurodiversity paradigm, the pathology paradigm’s medicalized framing of autism and various other constellations of neurological, cognitive, and behavioral characteristics as “disorders” or “conditions” can be seen for what it is: a social construction rooted in cultural norms and social power inequalities, rather than a “scientifically objective” description of reality.
The choice to frame the minds, bodies, and lives of autistic people (or any other neurological minority group) in terms of pathology does not represent an inevitable and objective scientific conclusion, but is merely a cultural value judgment. Similar pathologizing frameworks have been used time and again to lend an aura of scientific legitimacy to all manner of other bigotry, and to the oppression of women, indigenous peoples, people of color, and queer people, among others. The framing of autism and other minority neurological configurations as disorders or medical conditions begins to lose its aura of scientific authority and “objectivity” when viewed in this historical context—when one remembers, for instance, that homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) well into the 1970s; or that in the Southern United States, for some years prior to the American Civil War, the desire of slaves to escape from slavery was diagnosed by some white Southern physicians as a medical “disorder” called drapetomania.AUTISM & THE PATHOLOGY PARADIGM
For me, the key significance of the “Autistic Spectrum” lies in its call for and anticipation of a politics of Neurological Diversity, or “Neurodiversity”. The “Neurologically Different” represent a new addition to the familiar political categories of class / gender / race and will augment the insights of the social model of disability. The rise of Neurodiversity takes post-modern fragmentation one step further. Just as the post-modern era sees every once too solid belief melt into air, even our most taken-for granted assumptions: that we all more or less see, feel, touch, hear, smell, and sort information, in more or less the same way, (unless visibly disabled) are being dissolved.
This word Neurodiversity did not come out of the blue, but was the culmination of my academic research and a lifetime of personal experiences of exclusion and invalidation as a person struggling in a family affected by a “hidden disability” that neither we nor society recognised for what it was. Nevertheless, we sure knew how to shield ourselves from the critical neurotypical “gaze”, and had developed plenty of strategies to try to pass for normal.
But the term “neurological diversity” was too much of a mouthful to lend itself to sloganeering, until one day I found myself saying that what the world needed was a “Neurodiversity Movement”. I wrote about it on InLv, mentioned it in my thesis, and in my essay, Why can’t you be normal for once in your life?NeuroDiversity: The Birth of an Idea by Judy Singer