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What is neurodiversity?
by TeenHelp June 1st 2019, 12:17 PM

What is neurodiversity?
By Anonymous

The neurodiversity movement means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but no matter whom you ask, there is one thing that everyone agrees on: it is about acceptance. Specifically, it asserts that differences in neurotype are the result of natural variations in the human genome and not something that needs to be changed or eradicated (“Neurodiversity,” n.d.). While the medical model of disability – the most common paradigm for understanding disability today – states that neurological differences result from disease, disorders, or impairments in the brain, the neurodiversity movement subscribes to the social model of disability, which states that an individual becomes “disabled” when society fails to make itself accessible to them (Schaber, 2014).

The goal, then, is not to make the individual more “neurotypical” (or neurologically “normal”), but to create a society that is inclusive of everyone. This movement is especially popular among autistic individuals, but also applies to individuals with ADHD, learning disabilities, and other developmental disabilities. It is typically represented by a rainbow infinity symbol.

But wait… Isn’t disability bad?

Not always! While there certainly are obstacles that disabled people must face in today’s society, disability is not something that should be seen as inherently bad, harmful, or tragic. This is not to invalidate or undermine the feelings of individuals who were left disabled following a tragic accident, or individuals who feel that they are negatively impacted by their disability, as these perspectives are valid as well. However, many disabled people can and do live fulfilling lives with their disabilities, not despite them. In fact, many people in the neurodiversity movement feel that their disability is a part of who they are, resulting in a preference for identity-first over person-first language.

People are often told that when referring to individuals with an illness or disability, they should always put the person before the disability – for example, saying “a person with autism” (person-first language) rather than “an autistic person” (identity-first language). The idea behind person-first language is that it is more important to recognize the humanity of an individual and to acknowledge that their disability does not define them as people. However, proponents of identity-first language often argue that their disability is inextricably linked to who they are and how they identify, and that person-first language suggests that disability is something negative, rather than just another harmless or mundane characteristic. For example, you do not say “a person with Americanness”– you simply say “an American.”

Many autistic activists argue that, given that autism is a neurological difference, their perception of the world is directly influenced by their autism. It shapes how they think, how they interact, and even how they feel, making it impossible for them to separate themselves from their disability. For many people in the neurodiversity movement, the goal is not to overcome their disability, but rather to embrace it as a part of their identity.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that everyone has a different preference when it comes to person-first or identity-first language, and you should always ask someone what they feel most comfortable with.

Is the neurodiversity movement anti-therapy?

Not at all! The neurodiversity movement is not against helping disabled people to live healthier and more fulfilling lives. Quite the opposite, actually – neurodiversity is all about helping people get the services they need to help them succeed in their own individual way! As Amythest Schaber, an Autistic activist, points out in their video “Ask an Autistic: What Is Neurodiversity?”, the neurodiversity movement supports scientifically-sanctioned treatments and interventions for autism and other disabilities, which may include occupational therapy, speech therapy, or medication. What the movement is against, however, is treatments that aim to extinguish natural autistic or other neurodiverse characteristics that pose no threat to the individual or those around them (e.g., non-injurious self-stimulating behaviors and “special interests”), and potentially harmful treatments with no scientific basis.

An example of a potentially dangerous treatment would be the “Miracle Mineral Solution” (or “MMS”), whose main ingredient is a bleaching agent known as chlorine dioxide. While the long-term effects of the treatment aren’t immediately clear, researchers have noted a multitude of health issues in patients who have taken this solution, including mineral deficiencies, malabsorption, and anemia (Baker et al., 2015).

Is the movement only for ‘high-functioning’ individuals?

The neurodiversity movement does not speak for all autistic people. In fact, it is important to recognize that the autistic and neurodiverse communities are not a monolith, and that opinions and experiences will vary between individuals as they do in all other groups of people. However, it is also worth noting there are non-speaking autistic activists who support neurodiversity, and that contrary to what many believe, it is not exclusive to “high-functioning” individuals.

The use of functioning labels remains controversial within the autistic community. Amy Sequenzia, a non-speaking Autistic activist and supporter of neurodiversity, challenges the use of functioning labels in her essay, Non-Speaking, “Low-Functioning”: “This label is a pre-judgment based on what I cannot do. It makes people look at me with pity instead of trying to get to know me, to listen to my ideas… Labels like: ‘low-functioning’, ‘severe’… They all show how the neurotypical world sees someone like me” (2012, p. 159).

Similarly, many autistic activists acknowledge that the “high-functioning” label is often used to downplay the struggles of speaking autistic people and deny them much needed services and accommodations.

More than anything, neurodiversity is about amplifying the voices and experiences of autistic and neurodiverse individuals, rather than relying
solely on the advice of medical professionals or individuals who do not have a disability.

What neurodiversity means to me…

As an autistic person, the neurodiversity movement has been instrumental in helping me accept myself and all my differences. For years, I believed that my autism and dyscalculia were something to be ashamed of, but as soon as I learned about neurodiversity, all of that changed. I am now openly autistic and quite proud to be so! I recognize my neurological differences as an integral part of who I am, and even though I have had struggles in my life, I wouldn’t change them for the world; I feel very strongly that if I were no longer on the spectrum, I would no longer be me. To me, the neurodiversity movement is about learning to love and accept yourself exactly as you are, with no strings attached.

Baker et al. (2015, May 12). Warning against chlorine dioxide use. Retrieved January 6, 2019, from Autism Research Institute website:

Neurodiversity. (n.d.). Retrieved January 6, 2019, from Autism Acceptance Month website:

Schaber, A. (2014, August 28).
Ask an autistic #19: What is neurodiversity? [Video file].
Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6xl_yJKWVU

Sequenzia, A. (2012). Non-speaking, “low-functioning”. In J. Bascom (Ed. & Comp.),
Loud hands: Autistic people, speaking (p. 159).

Last edited by cynefin; June 10th 2019 at 05:52 PM.
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