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What is neurodiversity?

By Amanda Morin

At a Glance

  • Neurodiversity is a viewpoint that brain differences are normal, rather than deficits.

  • Neurodiverse people experience, interact with, and interpret the world in unique ways.

  • This concept can help reduce stigma around learning and thinking differences.

What would happen if the world viewed neurodevelopmental differences like ADHD, autism, and learning disabilities differently? If everyone noticed the strengths that can come from these differences first, instead of the challenges?

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That’s the basic idea of neurodiversity — that differences don’t have to only be looked at as weaknesses. They’re not problems that need to be “fixed” or “cured.” They’re simply variations of the human brain. 

The neurodiversity view is also personal. Being neurodivergent can help shape identity and how people see themselves and their value in the world. Neurodiverse people experience, interact with, and interpret the world in unique ways. That can sometimes create challenges. But it can also lead to creative problem-solving and new ideas — things that benefit everyone. 

The concept of neurodiversity isn’t new. Judy Singer, a sociologist on the autism spectrum, began using the term in the 1990s. Singer rejected the idea that people with autism are disabled. Her view was that their brains just work differently from others.

Some activists in the autistic community and beyond embrace the term. They and others have used it to reduce stigma and promote  inclusion in schools  and in the workplace .

Dive deeper

Neurodevelopmental differences and the brain

Some people think learning differences and ADHD aren’t real. Others wrongly believe that people who have them aren’t intelligent. 

These beliefs are rooted in myths. Research has shown differences in how the brain functions and in how it’s structured. That explains why neurodivergent people may experience challenges. But these differences don’t impact intelligence. 

The neurodiversity view is that brain differences are just variations in how the brain is “wired.” 

Learn about ADHD and the brain and dyslexia and the brain .

Neurodiversity and disability

The neurodiversity view is that differences aren’t deficits and are part of the mainstream. But it doesn’t mean that “diagnosis” or “disability” are bad words or concepts. 

Being diagnosed with a disability gives people protections under the law. It allows kids to have special education or supports at school. And it can help employees get accommodations and other supports at work.

Acknowledging that neurodiversity and disability coexist has other benefits, too:

  • It makes it less likely that kids will be overlooked or fall through the cracks in school.

  • It makes it clear that everyone has challenges that deserve support.

  • It encourages research funding.

It’s important to recognize both neurodiversity and disability. These terms aren’t interchangeable. But each term is valuable. Plus, both terms can sometimes be part of self-identity. Learn about the laws that protect people with disabilities and help them get supports. 

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom