The Origins Of Neurodiversity:
Neurodiversity cannot and should not be the only way we understand Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other neurodevelopmental disorders, it is a concept pushed by advocates that seeks to address specific issues they identified. Neurodiversity as a concept comes from the disability advocacy movement, and was first applied to people on the autism spectrum. All autistic people have been considered neurodiverse as long as the term has been around. Neurodiversity was originally pushed to specifically address the fact that many autistic people were made to feel like they were “lesser than other people'' because their brains work differently. Again, it is critical to remember this is in a social context. This isn’t about if people with autism are “lesser than” in terms of particular testing or data, it is about the fact that nobody in our society is, or should feel, “lesser than” due to completely natural differences between them and other people. This is a concept that we all understand, and we need to in order to understand neurodiversity.
Autistic people were particularly frustrated with narratives that focused on how “horrifying” or “ broken” a person with autism was and used those ideas to push for a cure. Many autistic people did not want a cure and this meant agendas being pushed in the name of advocacy on their behalf, often contradicted what they actually wanted. The concept of neurodiversity was pushed by the autistic community as a way of telling the rest of society “our differences should be accepted and celebrated, not looked down on.” It pushed back against the idea that finding a cure should be the focus of helping people with autism as opposed to giving them the tools they need to succeed. It also highlighted the difficulties for autistic people that stemmed specifically from the way society viewed them, and forced people to recognize these added barriers on top of existing difficulties. This is the result of stigma, or negative stereotypes associated with autistic people that lead to negative treatment of autistic people. Autistic people live in a society that, through a number of different avenues, constantly reminds them of their deficits and rarely celebrates them for their strengths. Autistic advocates saw this as a clear barrier to autistic people healthily processing what it means to be autstic. The neurodiversity concept and movement sought to directly address this barrier.
One added complication of neurodiversity as a concept is that diversity of the brain isn’t as simple as other types of diversity. Neurodiversity is unique because neurodevelopmental disorders can come with significant non stigma related difficulties, such as heightened anxiety or sensory difficulties. It is crucial to state that neurodiversity is not about ignoring those non stigma related difficulties, but focussing on the strengths that come from being neurodiverse in a society that will inherently focus more on the non stigma related difficulties. This is a careful balance that defines neurodiversity. Neurodiversity cannot be the only way we understand neurodevelopmental disorders. It exists only to change the unhelpful way we currently tend to view neurodevelopmentally disabled people in our society.