Neurodiversity – What is it and why does it matter?
Neurodiversity is all about brains and behaviour. Humans have huge variations in how their brains work and how they respond to the environment. We are all neurodiverse, every single one of us.
Society and history have defined what is ‘acceptable’ in terms of how we respond to the world around us (more on ‘history’ at a later date). Broadly speaking, there are millions of people whose brains work similarly and this is viewed as the ‘norm’. We call this Neurotypical. But for a vast number of people, their brains work differently. We call this Neurodivergent.
So here is a piece of fiction…
Imagine that whoever invented shoes decided it would be easier if they were all the same size. Let’s call this an adult size 7 (UK). This plan works fantastically for the shoe making industry who can streamline their shoemaking and increase productivity. Business is booming in the size 7 shoe trade.
Fast forward to the 21st century and imagine we are all still walking around in size 7 shoes. Let’s call everyone who has size 7 feet ‘Neurotypical’. Great for the size 7ers amongst us. We can go about our lives with relative ease. Who needs change right? Everything’s just splendid for us.
But what about everyone else? The larger footed people are going to be in all sorts of pain. Just google the ancient practice of foot binding (banned since 1912) to see exactly what sorts of problems that would cause! And those with small feet, well people would be tripping up and suffering all sorts of injuries. Let’s call these ‘other sized footers’ Neurodivergent.
Now imagine that the size 7ers were the dominant majority. Imagine they said ‘I don’t know what you’re moaning about?’ to the ‘other footers’. ‘That’s just how it is, you’ll just have to put up with it’. How about completely denying the reality of the ‘other footers? ‘You must just be clumsy, falling over all the time, try harder!’, ‘you must have low pain tolerance’, ‘maybe you’re too sensitive’, ‘you complain too much’, ‘why can’t you just cope?’
What would life be like for the ‘other footers’? Society says we just have to put up with the inconveniences of living in a size 7 world. But for the ‘other footers’, they endure day in and day out of pain and criticism, exhausted with trying to be ok. So often dismissed that they start to believe that maybe it is them, maybe theyare the problem.
Of course, the shoe story is fiction. But I think you know where I’m going with this.
Too often society adheres to systems that work for Neurotypicals. Anything that falls outside of this gold standard ‘norm’ is pathologized as disordered. Communication outside of verbal is not widely utilised or valued. Where diagnoses such as ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia are reached, access to support is available, some of which is brilliant and some of which is sorely lacking in understanding, up to date information and compassion.
Outside of the realm of ‘diagnosis’ sit hundreds of thousands of people who have been walking around in size 7 shoes all their lives, trying to put up with the suffering that involves. Heck, people with size 6 or 8 feet might even be coping a little better than others. Some people might not even see themselves as Neurodivergent. There’s nothing wrong with that unless they are simultaneously struggling with poor emotional health; that is not ok. They might not even need a diagnosis. But they might really appreciate realising they don’t have to wear size 7 shoes anymore.
Neurodivergent people are simply ‘other sized footers’. Not less than, not broken, just different. If we can learn more about Neurodiversity, we can improve the life satisfaction of so many people. We can learn to be ourselves, to say no when ‘fitting in’ is too uncomfortable, creating solutions to the difficulties we face living in a Neurotypical world and embrace the many gifts of our Neurodivergent minds. In a society where diversity is valued, we have the power to be so much more than we are now.
If you would like to join the conversation around Neurodiversity, especially ADHD and Autism, whether that is for yourself or your loved ones, diagnosed, self-diagnosed or simply curious, please feel welcome to join my Facebook group Different Not Less – Supporting Neurodivergent Lives. And if the pressure of a masked life is causing you emotional pain, please check out my website to see how therapy can support you.