I recently shared Dr. Nick Walker’s excellent guide  to the terminology around Neurodiversity and Nurodivergence with my team at Heading for Change. I almost immediately got the feedback that the piece was very academic and dense. So I have put together a simplified version of the guide for a broader audience. My own understanding of the correct terminology has been evolving, and I am sure that many of my essays use language I wouldn’t use today.

Here then is a brief guide which hopefully makes Dr. Walker’s work easier to access for non-academics. 

Neurodiversity, noun – The biological fact that all human minds are unique. 

It is not meaningful to speak about ‘increasing neurodiversity’ or ‘designing for neurodiversity.’

Neurodiverse,  adj.– Containing multiple neurocognitive styles.  Only applicable to groups. An individual cannot be neurodiverse. 

A group composed of  neurotypical people and Autistic people is neurodiverse. 

Neurodiversity Paradigm, noun – The belief system anchored in these principles:

  • Neurodiversity is natural and valuable
  • All Neurocognitive ways of functioning are equally valid. There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ or ‘correct’ form of  Neurocognition
  • The social dynamics around Neurodiversity are similar to the social dynamics around  other forms of diversity such as gender, race, or ethnicity. 

The Neurodiversity Paradigm explicitly rejects the idea that some forms of Neurocognition are defects or disorders. Within this Paradigm, it is incorrect to view Neurotypical standards of thought or behaviour as being more correct than the thoughts or behaviour of Neurodivegent people. 

Neurodiversity Movement, noun –  The collection of efforts advocating for  civil rights, dignity, and real inclusion  for Neurodivergent people, and operating within the Neurodiversity Paradigm. By definition any efforts advocating for the rights of Neurodivergent people which accepts the premise that Neurodivergence which is central to one’s identity (eg. Autism) is a medical pathology or disorder is not part of the Neurodiversity Movement.

From the perspective of Heading for Change, our participation in the Neurodiversity Movement includes beliefs such as:

Using employment practices which penalise Neurodivergent people by assessing them against Neurotypical norms is discriminatory. For example, having job descriptions, or performance criteria, which downgrade people because of the Spikiness of their skills profiles.

Using ‘therapy’ practices, such as Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA),  which seek to coerce Neurodivergent people into adopting Neurotypical modes of behaviour and communication is as much a violation of Identity as Gay Conversion Therapy is in the realm of gender. 

Neurodivergent, adj. – Can be abbreviated as ND. Being a person whose cognitive function diverges significantly from the dominant societal ‘normal.’ While this is usually used to describe people who are born different, such as those who are Autistic, ADHD, Dyslexic, etc., it can also be used to describe people who become ND through trauma, excessive drug use, long-term meditation practice, etc. 

Someone with multiple ways of being divergent, for example Autistic and ADHD, can be described as multiply Neurodivergent.

Neurodivergence, noun – The state of being Neurodivergent. One can refer to “forms of neurodivergence.” One can also speak about the impact of neurodivergence on one’s life, one’s family, one’s business, etc. Neurodivergence is not inherently positive or negative. 

Some Neurodivergence, such as being Autistic, is deeply entwined with an individual’s personality and sense of self. For these individuals, the idea of themselves without their Neurodivergence is meaningless. The Neurodiversity Paradigm rejects the pathologizing of  this Neurodivergence. The Neurodiversity Movement opposes any attempt to cure or eradicate these forms of being. 

Other forms of Neurodivergence, such as Epilepsy and traumatic brain injury can be removed without erasing a person’s selfhood. The Neurodiversity Paradigm does not reject the pathologizing of  this Neurodivergence. The Neurodiversity Movement does not object to consensual attempts to cure or eradicate these forms of being, but does object to discrimination against people who have these conditions. 

Neurotypical, adj. – Can be abbreviated as NT. The state of being a person whose cognitive function falls within the dominant societal ‘normal.’ Neurotypical is the opposite of Neurodivergent.

There is nothing inherently derogatory about Neurotypical or NT, although these terms are sometimes used by NDs when expressing criticism in a similar way that many women will make ‘men’ a disparaging word. 

Neurotypical, noun. – Can be abbreviated as NT. A person whose cognitive function falls within the dominant societal ‘normal.’

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