Neurodiversity: It’s Okay to Think Differently!!

As a disability studies trainee and proud neurodivergent person, I wanted to share a little about neurodiversity, the movement of acceptance for all ways of thinking, learning, and being.  Neurodiversity recognizes that differences which have historically been pathologized are not inherently harmful or problematic. The neurodiversity movement believes these natural differences in neurotype (how one’s brain functions) should be celebrated, rather than corrected. Though neurodiversity was initially championed by autistic self-advocates, it has grown to include those with intellectual disabilities, ADHD, learning disabilities, mental health conditions, and other disabilities that affect how one thinks and feels in the world. Though the history of the term is unclear, it has been attributed to both Jim Sinclair, an autistic advocate, and Judy Singer, an autistic scientist.


There are also misconceptions and criticisms of neurodiversity, even from those within the neurodivergent community. One common misconception is that individuals who believe in neurodiversity reject all medication, therapy, and other interventions to address their condition. While neurodiversity recognizes the value in different ways of thinking and being, individuals are encouraged to make decisions about treatment, including medications, that work for them. Another misconception is the belief that neurodiversity is only for individuals who are labeled “high-functioning” or have low support needs. The community rejects functioning labels because how well one functions is contingent on how well their needs are being met. Neurodiversity recognizes the dignity of individuals who have different support needs, including those who use assistive technology and live interdependently, contributing to and benefiting from life in community. Neurodiversity also challenges expectations of “normal functioning,” which value certain ways of moving, communicating, living, and working over others. Such expectations are especially pervasive in schools and workplaces, creating a substantial barrier to education and employment for neurodivergent people.


Disabled people, especially those with developmental, learning, and psychiatric disabilities, experience internalized ableism and shame about who we are. Neurodiversity provides the opportunity to celebrate ourselves and our communities. As clinicians, advocates, and professionals, understanding neurodiversity can help you to understand and respect your patients, students, or clients who think differently.


Helen Rottier