Neurodiversity refers to variations in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood, and other mental functions. "Neurodiversity" is a portmanteau of "neurological" and "diversity" that was popularized in the late 1990s by Australian sociologist Judy Singer and American journalist Harvey Blume. The term emerged as a challenge to prevailing views that certain neurodevelopmental disorders are inherently pathological and instead adopts the social model of disability, which states that societal barriers are the main contributing factor that disables people.
The subsequent neurodiversity paradigm has been controversial among autism advocates, with opponents saying that its conceptualization of the autism spectrum doesn't reflect the realities of individuals who have high support needs.
According to the 2011 National Symposium on Neurodiversity held at Syracuse University, neurodiversity is:
... a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labeled with Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, and others.
The word "neurodiversity" is attributed to Judy Singer, an Australian social scientist on the autism spectrum, who first used the term in her sociology honors thesis in the late 1990s. The term represented a move away from previous "mother-blaming" theories about the cause of autism. Singer had been in correspondence with American journalist and writer Harvey Blume due to their mutual interest in autism, and though he did not credit Singer, the word first appeared in print in an article by Blume in The Atlantic on September 30, 1998.
Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment? Cybernetics and computer culture, for example, may favor a somewhat autistic cast of mind.
Yet, in trying to come to terms with [a neurotypical-dominated] world, autistics are neither willing nor able to give up their own customs. Instead, they are proposing a new social compact, one emphasizing neurological pluralism. [...] The consensus emerging from the Internet forums and Web sites where autistics congregate [...] is that NT is only one of many neurological configurations -- the dominant one certainly, but not necessarily the best.
Blume was an early advocate who predicted the role the Internet would play in fostering the international neurodiversity movement, writing:
There is a political dimension to this bond with the Internet. A project called CyberSpace 2000 is devoted to getting as many people as possible in the autistic spectrum hooked up by the year 2000, reason being that "the Internet is an essential means for autistic people to improve their lives, because it is often the only way they can communicate effectively." [...] The challenge we will all be increasingly confronted with, on-line and off, is, to look at ourselves differently than we have before, that is, to accept neurological diversity.
Some authors also credit the earlier work of autistic advocate Jim Sinclair in advancing the concept of neurodiversity. Sinclair was a principal early organizer of the international online autism community. His 1993 speech, "Don't Mourn For Us", emphasized autism as a way of being. Sinclair, who did not speak until the age of 12, addressed the communal grief parents felt by asking them to try taking the perspectives of autistic people themselves:
There's no normal child hidden behind the autism. Autism is a way of being. It is pervasive; it colors every experience, every sensation, perception, thought, emotion, and encounter, every aspect of existence. It is not possible to separate the autism from the person—and if it were possible, the person you'd have left would not be the same person you started with. This is important, so take a moment to consider it: Autism is a way of being. It is not possible to separate the person from the autism.
The term "neurodiversity" has since been applied to other conditions and has taken on a more general meaning; for example, the Developmental Adult Neurodiversity Association (DANDA) in the UK encompasses developmental coordination disorder, ADHD, Asperger's syndrome and related conditions.
Within disability rights movementsEdit
The neurodiversity paradigm was initially embraced by individuals on the autism spectrum, but subsequent groups have applied the concept to other neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD, developmental speech disorders, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysnomia, intellectual disability, and Tourette syndrome; and mental health conditions such as bipolarity, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and obsessive–compulsive disorder. Advocates of neurodiversity denounce the framing of autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other neurodevelopmental disorders as requiring medical intervention to "cure" or "fix" them and instead promote support systems, such as inclusion-focused services, accommodations, communication and assistive technologies, occupational training, and independent living support. The intention is for individuals to receive support that honours authentic forms of human diversity, self-expression, and being, rather than treatment which coerces or forces them to adopt accepted ideas of normality, or to conform to a clinical ideal.
According to researchers Andrew Fenton and Tim Krahn, proponents of neurodiversity strive to reconceptualize autism and related conditions in society by the following measures: acknowledging that neurodiversity does not require a cure; changing the language from the current "condition, disease, disorder, or illness"-based nomenclature and "broaden[ing] the understanding of healthy or independent living"; acknowledging new types of autonomy; and giving non-neurotypical individuals more control over their treatment, including the type, timing, and whether there should be treatment at all.
A 2009 study by Edward Griffin and David Pollak separated 27 students (with autism, dyslexia, developmental coordination disorder, ADHD, and stroke), into two categories of self-view: "a 'difference' view—where neurodiversity was seen as a difference incorporating a set of strengths and weaknesses, or a 'medical/deficit' view—where neurodiversity was seen as a disadvantageous medical condition". They found that, although all of the students reported uniformly difficult schooling careers involving exclusion, abuse, and bullying, those who viewed themselves from a difference view (41% of the study cohort) "indicated higher academic self-esteem and confidence in their abilities and many (73%) expressed considerable career ambitions with positive and clear goals". Many of these students reported gaining this view of themselves through contact with neurodiversity advocates in online support groups.
A 2013 online survey, which aimed to assess conceptions of autism and neurodiversity, found that "a deficit-as-difference conception of autism suggests the importance of harnessing autistic traits in developmentally beneficial ways, transcending a false dichotomy between celebrating differences and ameliorating deficit".
Those supporting the medical model of disability [...] identify the mental differences associated with these conditions as disorders, deficits, and dysfunctions, intrinsic differences in functioning which cause impairments in many areas of life. From this point of view, the mental states that are encompassed by neurodiversity are medical conditions that can and should be treated.
Researchers Pier Jaarsma and Stellan Welin wrote in 2011:
The broad version of the neurodiversity claim, covering low-functioning as well as high-functioning autism, is problematic. Only a narrow conception of neurodiversity, referring exclusively to high-functioning autists, is reasonable. [Some autistic people] are not benefited with such a psychiatric defect-based diagnosis. In fact, some of them are being harmed by it, because of the disrespect the diagnosis displays for their natural way of being [...] However, we think that it is still reasonable to include other categories of autism in the psychiatric diagnostics. The narrow conception of the neurodiversity claim should be accepted but the broader claim should not.
Jonathan Mitchell, an autistic author and blogger who is a vocal opponent of the neurodiversity movement and an advocate for research for a cure for autism, said that the concept of neurodiversity provides "simplistic solutions to hard problems" and trivializes the disabling aspects of autism. Commenting on the supposition of a general acceptance of neurodiversity by those on the spectrum, he said that "most persons with an autism-spectrum disorder have never expressed their opinions on someone's blog and never will". He stated that neurodiversity has no solution for "low-functioning" autistic people.
Some non-speaking autistic self-advocates disagree, such as Amy Sequenzia, a non-speaking and multiply-disabled autistic activist. Described as "deeply involved in the Neurodiversity Movement," Sequenzia has written many articles in which she condemns the medical model of disability and proposes acceptance and accommodation for all autistic people. Other non-speaking self-advocates have written in favour of the concept of accepting and accommodating autistic traits, though not necessarily using the word "neurodiversity," including Niko Boskovic and Tito Mukhopadhyay.
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We recommend, therefore, that the term neurodiverse include the conditions ASD, ADHD, OCD, language disorders, developmental coordination disorder, dyslexia and Tourette's syndrome.
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Conducting a poll of what she calls her 'online tribe', other bipolar people participating in specialized listservs and chatrooms, Antonetta discovered that, like her, most responders like their minds and the gifts their bipolarity brings them. One man she quotes says: "I choose not to look at bipolarity as an illness at all. In fact, I couldn't imagine myself as not being bipolar, nor would I want to be. The bipolar is a strong component of who I am, and I do not wish to be anyone else but me" (p. 89). Another respondent wrote, "I feel, and cause others to feel ... Touched, the life of the imagination is the real life" (Antonetta, 2005, p.90).
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