Neurodiversity: “The whole of human mental or psychological neurological structures or behaviors, seen as not necessarily problematic, but as alternate, acceptable forms of human biology.” – Double-Tongued Dictionary
Neurodiversity was coined in the late 1990s by journalist Harvey Blume and autism advocate Judy Singer, possibly independently. In a short article published in the September 1998 issue of The Atlantic, Blume wrote: “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?” Singer, an Australian who is the self-described parent of an “aspie” (person with Aspberger’s syndrome), contributed a chapter (“Why Can’t You Be Normal for Once in Your Life?”) to a 1999 book, Disability Discourse, in which she wrote:
For me, the key significance of the “Autistic Spectrum” lies in its call for and anticipation of a politics of Neurological Diversity, or what I want to call “Neurodiversity.” The “Neurologically Different” represent a new addition to the familiar political categories of class/gender/race and will augment the insights of the social model of disability.
Growing interest in the autism spectrum has given rise to a spate of articles, blogs, and books about neurodiversity. In his 20101 book Neurodiversity, educational consultant Thomas Armstrong argues that:
[P]eople with mental health labels (including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other brain differences), are “differently wired” than so-called normal (or “neurotypical”) individuals, and that their differences should be accommodated by society rather than being regarded as a “disease” that must be cured.
Armstrong also calls neurodiversity “a civil rights movement proposing that individuals with mental health labels be protected against discrimination and prejudice in the same way that people of color, women, and other minorities are protected.”
One widespread misconception about the neurodiversity movement is that it is universally opposed to all treatments for medical problems associated with these conditions, such as the development of drugs for disabling anxiety or gastrointestinal issues. But the neurodiversity community is itself diverse. Most of the advocates I know are on the spectrum themselves, and emphasize the importance of taking a variety of approaches — including making changes to public policy and the accelerated development of assistive technology such as apps for the iPad — to improve the lives of people who think differently.