Neurodiverse, Neurodivergent, Neurodiversity, Neurotypical; as our comprehension of all things ‘Neuro’ expands, so does the vocabulary around it. So, what’s what and how do we make sense of it all?

Neurodiversity as a term, was first coned by Judy Singer, in the late 1990s in the context of Autism. It aimed to signify neurological difference as natural variations in brains rather than disorders. Also to shed light on the positive aspects of the Autistic experience that were often overlooked in society.

Over time, the discourse around Neurodiversity has evolved. It now serves as an umbrella term encompassing all forms of neurological identities, including both Neurodivergent and Neurotypical. As a collective of humans, we are Neurodiverse. Diversity is about a range of difference and for that we need a variety of neuro-types. 

Neurodiversity also represents a movement, advocating for awareness and inclusion around neurological difference. Historically, rigid views pathologised neuro-difference which led to cultures of discrimination, rejection and poor mental health. As society becomes more flexible, knowledgeable and compassionate in its views, so difference is respected and valued.

To be Neurodivergent is simply not to be Neurotypical. As understanding of Neurodivergence grows, I suspect many people may come to identify as Neurodivergent, finding empowerment in embracing their authentic Neuro-identity. In a world where Neurodivergence is better accepted, society benefits from the full potential of its citizens. Systems of support such as welfare and healthcare have less pieces to pick up from the damaging impacts of living a marginalised, masked life. We all win when we value diversity.

Within Neurodivergence are diagnoses such as Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, Tourette’s. This is not an exhaustive list. Some people benefit from diagnosis in order to access support. Some people don’t have such needs but may still identify as Neurodivergent. However, they also need a language framework through which they can identify and advocate. For now, we can only use what we have and this is why self-identifying people will use terms such as ADHD; it helps them express their Neurological Identity.

A fundamental rule regarding the language of Neurodiversity is to respect individuals’ self-descriptions. While terminology may evolve e.g. ‘high functioning’ or ‘Aspergers’ to ‘Autism’, one’s chosen identity should be honoured without question or judgment. To do so would be hugely dismissive and quite the opposite of inclusive – don’t be that person!

Neurodivergent individuals have been misunderstood and misdiagnosed for decades. As we increase our awareness around our neurological uniqueness, we choose terms and language to help identify and express ourselves. I hope in the future, people can self-identify without having to explain or defend their position, much like we accept without question, that a person wearing glasses, needs them to see clearly, regardless of whether they achieved that by going to the opticians or by picking up some reading glasses from the supermarket. Individual autonomy is a vital part of an inclusive society.

Neurodivergent people are going through an evolving process of understanding themselves and society is going through an evolving process to better understand and respect difference in many areas. Develop your curiosity, grow your knowledge, adjust your perspectives and respect an individual’s right to define their own identity.

Language develops over time. What I write now will be out of date in the future. But if we can foster a willingness to be curious, to learn, to accept difference, we can achieve an inclusive Neurodiverse society.