Neurodiversity is a concept suggesting that neurological differences be recognized and respected as a social category on a par with gender, ethnicity, class, or disability. Examples of these differences can include (but are not limited to) individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, dyscalculia, dyslexia, dyspraxia, Tourette syndrome, and others.
For some, neurodiversity is viewed not just as a concept but as a social movement. This movement understands neurodiveristy as a variation of human wiring, rather than a disease. These activists reject the idea that neurological differences need to be cured as they believe them to be authentic forms of communication, self-expression and being. They promote support-systems that allow those who are neurologically different to live their lives as they are, rather than attempting to conform to a clinical ideal.
Biodiversity is an accepted phenomenon in the animal kingdom. The concept of neurodiversity in humans was initially embraced by some individuals with autism and people with related conditions. Subsequent groups applied the concept to conditions unrelated (or non-concomitant) to autism such as bipolar disorder, ADHD,schizophrenia,circadian rhythm disorders, developmental speech disorders, Parkinson's disease, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and Tourette's syndrome.
The term is attributed to Judy Singer, a sociologist with Asperger syndrome, and according to an article in New York magazine, was first published by Harvey Blume. The earliest published use of the term appears in an article in The Atlantic by Harvey Blume on September 30, 1998:
|“||Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment? Cybernetics and computer culture, for example, may favor a somewhat autistic cast of mind.||”|
Previous to this, although Blume did not make explicit use of the term neurodiversity, he wrote in a New York Times piece on June 30, 1997: "Yet, in trying to come to terms with an NT [neurotypical]-dominated world, autistics are neither willing nor able to give up their own customs. Instead, they are proposing a new social compact, one emphasizing neurological pluralism. ... The consensus emerging from the Internet forums and Web sites where autistics congregate [...] is that NT is only one of many neurological configurations -- the dominant one certainly, but not necessarily the best."
Blume was an early advocate who predicted the role the internet would play in fostering neurodiversity, saying: "There is a political dimension to this bond with the Internet. A project called CyberSpace 2000 is devoted to getting as many people as possible in the autistic spectrum hooked up by the year 2000, reason being that "the Internet is an essential means for autistic people to improve their lives, because it is often the only way they can communicate effectively. ... The challenge we will all be increasingly confronted with, on-line and off, is, to look at ourselves differently than we have before, that is, to accept neurological diversity."
Usage of the term has spread to a more general meaning; for example, the Developmental Adult Neurodiversity Association (DANDA) in the UK encompasses developmental dyspraxia, ADHD, Asperger syndrome and related conditions. The term gained broader exposure in a 2004 New York TimesAmy Harmon article titled "Neurodiversity Forever; The Disability Movement Turns to Brains".
Neurodiversity as a term captures the discovery that autism has an organic basis, representing a move away from the "mother-blaming" theories of the 20th century. Before the scientific advances in the 1980s, autism scholars popularized the belief that autism resulted from faulty parenting; stigma remained until recent genetic research debunked this myth. The causes of autism are contested and could result from a variety of factors that are genetic, biological, or environmental in nature; the shift is that the basis of autism is no longer believed to be entirely social. The post-1980 geneticization of autism, wherein the condition is said to have an organic basis, was a change that prompted the idea of neurodiversity, with autism able to be accepted as a natural difference in individuals.
The language surrounding neurodiversity has been controversial. Those proposing the medical model label learning differences as "disorders, deficits, and dysfunctions". From this point of view, neurodiverse states are viewed as medical conditions that can and should be corrected. Author David Pollak sees neurodiversity as an inclusive term that refers to the equality of all possible mental states. Still others reject the word because it sounds too medical and overshadows the needs of people with learning differences.
Proponents of neurodiversity strive to re-conceptualize autism and related conditions in society. Main goals of the movement include:
Jaarsma and Welin wrote in 2011 that the "broad version of the neurodiversity claim, covering low-functioning as well as high-functioning autism, is problematic. Only a narrow conception of neurodiversity, referring exclusively to high-functioning autists, is reasonable. They conclude that higher functioning individuals with autism may "not [be] benefited with such a psychiatric defect-based diagnosis" and "some of them are being harmed by it, because of the disrespect the diagnosis displays for their natural way of being", but "think that it is still reasonable to include other categories of autism in the psychiatric diagnostics. The narrow conception of the neurodiversity claim should be accepted but the broader claim should not."
Some consider neurodiversity a "controversial concept" that "regards atypical neurological development as a normal human difference". According to Jaarsma and Welin (2011), the "neurodiversity movement was developed in the 1990s by online groups of (high-functioning) autistic persons. It is now associated with the struggle for the civil rights of all those diagnosed with neurological or neurodevelopmental disorders".