Welcome to another day in the A to Z Challenge on autism. I can’t believe we’re halfway through the challenge already! Today, for the letter N, I will explaint he concept of neurodiversity.
Neurodiversity refers to the idea that autism, bipolar disorder and other neurological or mental disorders are not inherently pathological. Rather, they result from normal variations in the human genome and should be seen as natural ways of being and self-expression. The diversity of neurotypes need therefore be seen as similar to the diversity in gender expression, sexual orientation or ethnicity.
The neurodiversity movement rejects the idea that autism and other neurological conditions need to be cured, or even that they can be cured. It sees one’s neurological type as an essential part of one’s being, and therefore, changing someone’s neurotype will change their essence.
Some people within the neurodiversity movement say there is no such thing as a neurodiverse person. Rather, neurodiversity encompasses all people of all neurological types, including so-called neurotypcal people.
Neurodiversity activists see the spectrum of neurological expression as a sort of bell curve, whereby on the edges are people who are often seen as too impaired to accommodate. Yet these people might provide the cues to solving important problems or might be exceptionally able to contribute in a specific way. Some extremist neurodiversity advocates even see autistic people as somehow evolutionarily advanced.
Neurodiversity activists, for clarity’s sake, do advocate for supports for autistic and otherwise neuroatypical people. They embrace the social model of disability, which sees disability as originating from a lack of accommodation for people with impairments, rather than from the impairments themselves. Neurodiversity activsts advocate for inclusive education, independent living supports and occupational training which allows the autistic or otherwise neuroatypical person to remain as they are rather than conform to a majority view of “normal”.
A problem with neurodiversity and the osicla model of disability is that autism and other neurological disorders do impair people, whereas for example being gay or a person of color does not. They are often also the more capable autistic people who advocate for neurodiversity. This may lead some people to an exclusionist approach, whereby “high-functioning” autistics do not need a cure whereas “low-functioning” autistics do. I advocate looking at what symptoms are inherently impairing and what symptoms are not, rather than saying that certain people need a cure and others do not.