Any trained professional would tell you that a school is for learning. But what if that school feels more like a prison? What if a workplace is more like a battlefield? And what if social interactions are more like a minefield? That is why it wasn’t until the 70’s that scholars and disability rights activists began to see that the real problem wasn’t with disabled people, but the way society was set up.
Previously, neurodivergent people were seen as needing to be “fixed” to fit into a world that wasn’t built for them. Schools, workplaces, and social interactions segregated and set aside neurodivergent people who didn’t conform to neurotypical standards. As science, technology and research progressed, we began better understand how neurodivergent brains work. And we started to see that these differences aren’t deficiencies or disorders but simply different ways of thinking and being.
The term “neurodiversity” was framed in the late 90s to frame these neurological differences as natural variations in the human brain. Just like we have different eye colours, hair colours, and heights, we also have different ways of thinking and processing information. And like there is beauty in diversity, there is power in neurodiversity.
What is neurodiversity?
Scientifically speaking, neurodiversity is the range of differences in human brain function. Some scholars even elaborate this further to say that there is no such thing as “normal” brain or cognitive functioning. In other words, your brain is just as unique as your fingerprint, but so is that of every human on this planet. As a rainbow has different colours, each with its beauty and value, so does the spectrum of neurodiversity. Neurodiversity is about valuing and celebrating all types of brains, regardless of whether or not they fall within the neurotypical range.
What is neurodivergent?
People who fall into types of neurodivergence are called neurodivergent, which means their brains work differently.
The word neurodivergent originally refers to people with autism, but with time it has included those who are mentally different from what we consider “neurotypical” persons. It includes a broad spectrum of those previously considered as mental pathologies, disabilities, and deficiencies.
The reason is that there are nearly countless ways in which brain processes could differ from what we consider to be normal ones. We have to account for all those differences and make sure that no one is left behind in rights and opportunities just because one is considered to be different from others.
What is neurotypical?
We mentioned the word “neurotypical.” Neurotypical is the exact opposite of neurodivergent. It is a term used to describe people who do not display any types of neurologically different patterns of thoughts or behaviours, and those that do not have a type of neurodiversity.
Neurodiversity and the types of neurodivergence
There are many different types of neurodivergence, and more are constantly being discovered. Here are just a few of the most common:
- Autism spectrum
- Tourette’s Syndrome
Each type of neurodivergence comes with its own set of challenges and strengths. And each person experiences their neurodiversity in their unique way. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to be neurodivergent. We are all wired differently. And that is what makes us beautifully diverse. Let’s explore some of the different types of neurodivergence in more detail.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is scientifically defined as a neurological condition that affects social interaction, communication, and behaviour. ASD often cause struggle with social interactions and processing sensory information and may have repetitive or obsessive behaviours. ASD ranges from mild to severe, and each person experiences it uniquely. While ASD is often seen as a disability, It’s undeniable that people with ASD have many strengths and gifts. Big names like Van Gogh, Darwin, and Albert Einstein are all scientifically speculated to have been on the autism spectrum. Many people with ASD excel in mathematics, music, and art.
For those with dyspraxia, it’s understandable that day-to-day tasks can be a challenge. Dyspraxia is a condition that affects movement & coordination. This can make daily tasks like tying shoes and running very difficult. People with dyspraxia often struggle with fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and spatial awareness. In other words, they may have trouble with tasks that require precise hand movements or with tasks requiring them to move their whole body. Despite these challenges, people with dyspraxia often possess many strengths. They are often very creative and have excellent problem-solving skills. Big names like Roald Dahl and Cara Delevingne are both successful individuals with dyspraxia.
Dyslexia is a condition that affects reading. People diagnosed with dyslexia may have difficulty with phonemic awareness, phonology, and word decoding. In other words, they may have trouble pronouncing the sounds of letters, how words are put together, and being able to read quickly. Despite these challenges, people with dyslexia often have many strengths. They are often very creative and highly gifted in music and art. Dave Bautista, Orlando Bloom, and Jennifer Aniston are all successful individuals with dyslexia.
People with Dyscalculia may experience difficulties in understanding mathematical processes and some of the concepts. Someone with Dyscalculia will have problems solving fundamental mathematical operations like addition, and as such, may have difficulties with higher mathemetics and other deeper math problems.
People with ADHD often struggle sustaining attention, complete tasks, and control impulsive behaviours. These challenges can make school and work difficult. Despite these challenges, people with ADHD often have many strengths. They are often highly talented and highly gifted in music and art. Will Smith, Justin Timberlake, and Jim Carrey are all successful individuals with ADHD.
For those hearing about Tourette’s for the first time, it may be hard to believe that it is a real neurological condition. Tourette’s syndrome is a condition causing involuntary tics and movements. In other words, people with Tourette’s may make sudden and uncontrolled movements or sounds. These tics can be very mild, or they can be severe. This can make daily life very difficult for people with Tourette’s. Despite these challenges, people with Tourette’s often have many strengths. Big names like Tim Howard and Dan Aykroyd are both successful individuals with Tourette’s.
People with Dysgraphia may experience challenges of putting their thoughts or ideas together clearly, usually in written form. These challenges can include spelling, using punctuation or structuring concepts and ideas onto paper.
People who are driven to compulsion may have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (or OCD). This could mean that their thoughts, ideas or sensations are compulsive, which means they often engage in repetitive behaviours and may have obsessions concerning things or ideas. Engaging in these behaviours is often due to the need to relieve themselves of stress or tension usually associated with the obsession.
Epilepsy and Seizure Disorders
Epilepsy is normally associated with Seizure Disorders. Seizures are due to some abnormalities in the electrical activities within our brains. Other types of seizures could be due to other factors such as stress.
Bipolar Disorder is a type of neurodiversity that can affect your moods, and cause them to swing from one extreme to the other. People with Bipolar Disorder have episodes of depression, where they feel very low and lethargic, and mania, where they might feel very high and overactive.
Chronic depression and chronic anxiety can be examples of neurodiversity. We often hear the term anxiety, but when we’re thinking of neurodiversity we’re talking about chronic anxiety. This is where individuals may feel fear, worried or general unease. It is characterised by being sleepless, irritable and feelings of dread.
Chronic depression is where individuals feel a chronic feeling of sadness for an extended period, usually for no apparent reason.
In response to traumatic events, long term illness which could include things like long covid, car accidents or disasters, people can actually acquire neurodiversity at any stage of their lives. This can mean someone experiences severe emotional or psychological distress and have physical brain altering symptoms.
These are examples of the types of neurodiversity, but there are many more, each unique. No two people with the same neurodivergence will experience it similarly. It’s important to remember that neurodiversity is something to be celebrated.