Human beings are diverse. When these differences are in cognitive functions, and neurological development it is termed neurodiversity. Neurodiversity is the recognition of the fact that human brains operate along a diverse spectrum which results in differences in how people perceive, think about, and engage with their surroundings. Many conditions come under the umbrella of neurodiversity. This article talks about all the things you need to know and understand about neurodivergence.
What is the Meaning of Neurodivergence and Neurotypical?
In the late 1990s the term “neurodivergence” started becoming popular. Authors proposed that some people look at and interact with the world differently than others . They called these differences in seeing, thinking, analyzing, and responding to data or life experiences as neurodiversity .
For instance, people with Autism or ADHD have different ways of processing the world than a person who is traditionally “normal” or “neurotypical” . However, some authors claim that there is no “normal” brain or neurotypical brain, and everyone comes under the umbrella of neurodiversity .
This concept led to a major shift in the way in which people used to view many disorders. Neurodiversity disregards seeing people with disorders like ADHD, ASD, Learning disability, Down Syndrome, etc., as flawed, disabled, or disordered. Traditionally, individuals with such diagnosis have been considered deficient and as people who have “something wrong” with them . Neurodiversity, on the other hand, promotes the idea that these variations, although less in frequency, are expected and just different ways of being .
Researchers often link neurodiversity to diversity in skin color, height, and race and promote the idea that neurodivergence is a different way of learning and processing information . They also promote the idea of looking at strengths of a person instead of their deficits and focus upon how the environment can become more supportive of the individual instead of the latter trying to fit in with others.
Symptoms of Neurodivergence
As mentioned above, neurodivergence refers to the differences in brain functioning. While some conditions come under it, and each condition has its own set of signs and symptoms, neurodivergence is not a condition to be cured or treated.
Chapman, when writing about neurodivergence, gives an example of an autistic person, Jim Sinclair, who mentions autism to be coloring every thought, perspective, experience, sensation, and emotion for him. In other words, autism is how he is, and no part of him can be different from it . Thus, there would be no symptom checklist for him.
The term neurodivergent is also closely related to the view that the Social Model of Disability proposes. This model notes that while an individual may have limitations, it only becomes a disability when society does not have provisions to accommodate them . For instance, if eyeglasses were not present in the world, everyone with weak eyesight would be disabled, or if we were living in a society dependent on swimming, then those with legs that can walk but not swim would be disabled. Thus, we currently consider a person with ADHD or Autism as disabled not because of their limitations but because we as the world do not accommodate their differences.
Types of Neurodivergence
Neurodiversity includes various conditions. Each of these conditions have widely different characteristics. Below are some conditions that belong to the category of neurodiversity  :
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): ASD is a developmental disorder where the person faces difficulties in social interaction, and communication. They also showcase restricted or repetitive behaviors and might have sensory issues.
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): ADHD is also a developmental disorder. The person faces difficulty in performing executive functions like controlling attention and their impulses. They also appear to be hyperactive.
- Dyslexia: Dyslexia is a type of specific learning disorder. Here the person struggles with reading and language processing despite having average intelligence.
- Dyspraxia: Dyspraxia is also a type of specific learning disorder which affects the child’s motor coordination and fine motor skills. The child will have difficulty in coordination, balance and writing.
- Tourette Syndrome: Tourette Syndrome involves involuntary repetitive movements or vocalizations. These are commonly known as tics.
- Dyscalculia: Dyscalculia is another learning disorder where the child faces difficulties in only mathematical abilities.
- Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD): SPD refers to difficulties in processing and integrating sensory information from the environment. We are bombarded by sensory information like light, sound, or touch. In SPD the person may be over- or under-sensitive to sensory stimuli.
- Intellectual Disability: Intellectual disability is when the person has low IQ and is limited in their intellectual functioning. They might also struggle with day to day tasks such as dressing, bathing, or eating.
- Down’s Syndrome: Down’s syndrome is a genetic condition of having an extra chromosome. It affects how a person’s brain and body develop and how a person functions.
How to Know if Someone Is Neurodivergent?
The first thing you need to be clear about is that neurodivergence is not one condition. Rather, it is a broad term which refers to various conditions in which the neurological functioning of a person is different from others. Most of the conditions are themselves on a spectrum. For instance, no two people with Autism are going to be exactly the same. In fact, it is possible that their skill level is extremely different such that one person is a savant in painting while another cannot tolerate the touch of paint.
Thus, identifying if someone is neurodivergent requires a comprehensive evaluation by trained professionals . In some people the effect of neurodiversity might be great while in others it might not be easily observable. Often, neurodiversity is observed in childhood where the child faces difficulty in one or more areas of their life. For instance, a child with autism might have speech delays. If you suspect yourself to have had a childhood with such hidden difficulties, or if you are a parent who thinks your child might be facing issues, it is best to consult a child specialist or psychologist and get a diagnosis..
Neurodivergence is all about recognizing and celebrating the diversity of human neurology. It means we let go of the idea that all children have to be the same and learn at the same level in the same manner. Instead, neurodiversity teaches us to acknowledge the differences and create inclusive and supportive environments for neurodivergent individuals. Once we let go of the idea that neurodivergent individuals are incapable of certain things we start to look at their capabilities. We start acknowledging their strengths and allowing them to live their lives without any stigma from our end.
If you are neurodivergent and struggling or suspect someone in your family to have any of the conditions mentioned above, you can contact United We Care for advice on managing it best. At United We Care, our wellness and mental health experts can guide you with the best methods for well-being.
- S. Tekin, R. Bluhm, and R. Chapman, “Neurodiversity Theory and its Discontents: Autism, Schizophrenia, and the Social Model of Disability,” in The Bloomsbury Companion to Philosophy of Psychiatry, London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019, pp. 371–389
- L. M. Damiani, “Art, design and neurodiversity,” Electronic Workshops in Computing, 2017. doi:10.14236/ewic/eva2017.40
- T. Armstrong, Neurodiversity in the Classroom. Moorabbin, Victoria: Hawker Brownlow Education, 2013.
- C. C. medical professional, “Neurodivergent: What it is, symptoms & types,” Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/23154-neurodivergent (accessed May 31, 2023).
- K. Wiginton, “What is neurodiversity?,” WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/features/what-is-neurodiversity (accessed May 31, 2023).