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A Discussion of Neurodiversity

Recently developed and coined terms, ‘neurodiversity, neurodiverse and neurodivergent’ have become highly important and ground-breaking descriptors when considering variations amongst the human brain. Encompassing many natural and diagnosable conditions including Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and Autism, neurodiversity has become a popular phenomenon, despite being previously unknown within contemporary society.

I first heard the term ‘neurodiversity’ whilst completing a series of training sessions around dyslexia during a previous job role. It was fascinating studying the impacts, details, characteristics and traits of dyslexia whilst myself also being dyslexic. Crucially, these sessions actually uncovered many elements of dyslexia I was previously unaware of. Examples include, the existence of the dyslexic ‘spiky profile’, its strong links and ties to mathematical difficulties and its prevalence on a global scale. This enlightening training course combined with my first hand experiences of living and breathing dyslexia (almost like possessing insider information as to speak) really helped broaden and deepen my knowledge and overall understanding of the dyslexic realm. Reflecting back on this time, I have been curious as to the origins, aetiology and grassroots of ‘neurodiversity’ and where this newly discovered term ultimately stemmed from.

At its core, being part of the neurodiverse community or identifying oneself as being neurodivergent or having a neurodiversity refers to a natural variation or difference amongst individuals. Vitally, these differences are in relation to brain functioning. This includes; memory, how one learns and processes information to name a few. Venturing away from negative connotations associated with conditions that fall into ‘neurodivergent categories’, adopting the term neurodiversity is used to promote the positive aspects, benefits and exceptional qualities a person can hold, rather than purely focussing on what an individual may struggle with (Understood, 2021). Crucially, this can promote resilience, self-confidence and achievement amongst individuals, who often may present with lower self-esteem and higher anxiety levels. Using dyslexia as an exemplar, many dyslexics possess awesome traits such as being highly creative, artistic, intuitive and extremely empathetic towards others.

Statistics stress that approximately fifteen percent, or 1/7 individuals, are thought to be neurodiverse (Acas 2021). Although all individuals may fall into particular diagnostic categories within these figures, the term neurodiverse inherently highlights that not all neurodivergents are the same. In this way neurodivergence exists on spectrum, as all will present with unique traits, idiosyncrasies and eccentricities that make them who they are. As stressed in a previous blog post, each dyslexic presents with a differing combination of ‘dyslexic characteristics’, strengths, weaknesses and personality traits which shape and impact their day to day life (Discussing The Dyslexic Brain, 2020). Because of this, each dyslexic and member of the neurodiverse community ought to be supported in a way tailored specifically to them.

One of the first to coin and use the term ‘ neurodiversity’, renowned Sociologist Judy Singer, who herself is also a member of the neurodivergent community, emphasised that this term should be used and represented as a social category; in the same way as ethnicity, gender and socio-economic status. In this way, neurodiversity becomes a social construct that is defined and created by society itself (Spectrum Suite, 2021). Previously I have discussed the notion of the Social Model of Disability within my blog series (Discussing The Dyslexic Brian, 2020). Within this model disability and illness is created and shaped by ‘societal barriers’. Subsequently, society is the catalyst and cause of such barriers and hurdles. In relation to dyslexia, this can include stigma, prejudice, a lack of knowledge/understanding and associated social exclusion. However, very much on the flip side the Social Model aims to reverse these negative impacts and barriers by using its powers to fulfil and empower individuals. In order for this to work it is essential for social institutions, such as schools, colleges, universities and places of work, to remove obstacles, accommodate and provide adjustments for dyslexics. In addition, training sessions, educational programmes and support schemes ought to be set up to further reduce stigma and misinterpretations around dyslexia, whilst simultaneously increasing societal understanding, knowledge and inclusion.

Using Singers notions and explanations, her term ‘neurodiversity’ falls applicably into this Social Model, as neurodiversity is shaped, created and rooted by society itself as a ‘social category’. Therefore it is the responsibility of society to support neurodivergent individuals, rather than isolate them. In viewing neurodiversity as conceived by society, this strays away from more medical based models of health, illness and disability. Such medical perspectives view illness, and in relation to this post, potentially neurodiversities as existing innately biologically and requiring a physiological cure. Although authors argue that neurodiversities should not necessarily be viewed in this clinical medical way, it must be stressed that neurodivergent conditions may require medications, interventions and possibly psychological/wellbeing support.

Putting aside these social-medical model debates, the freshly developed term of neurodiversity is becoming progressively more popular and commonplace place in recent times. Crucially, this is due to its emphasis on the positives and benefits of neurodivergence, alongside highlighting that all differences and variations in the human brain are naturally occurring. Moreover, this newly born terminology promotes the importance of accommodations, adjustments and awareness of such differences that are present in society. Significantly, this can be a great platform to help increase resilience, fulfilment and the wellbeing of neurodivergents whilst also encouraging understanding and knowledge around the neurodiverse world on a global scale.

Useful Links

Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Neurodiversity: What you Need to Know

An Interview with the Australian Sociologist Who Coined the term Neurodiversity

The Dyslexic Variation (2020)

The Sociology of Dyslexia (2020)

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