Neurotypical, Neurodivergent and Neurodiversity
If you have spent any time at all researching autism on the Internet, you have undoubtedly read the terms neurotypical, neurodivergent and neurodiversity.
They are all new, but important, terms in our vocabulary.
This article will give you a short explanation of what each term means, and its purpose.
The word neurotypical refers to a brain that can be considered “normal”. I.e., a brain that has developed in such a way that it does not meet the diagnostic criteria for a wide range of neurological conditions such as autism, ADHD, brain damage, cognitive impairments, epilepsy, and more.
The word neurotypical exists so that we can speak of people without diagnosable conditions without using the word “normal”. The word normal is loaded with unhelpful connotations that signal that “normal” is better and more correct than the conditions it excludes. Furthermore, the word “neurotypical” is more precise than “normal” because it specifically points to the function of the brain. In contrast, the word normal can point to just about anything, be it shoe size or child rearing.
The word neurodivergent means that a brain has atypical characteristics that are can be diagnosed. That includes autism, ADHD, mental illness, epilepsy, and many other cerebral conditions that affect the quality and function of daily life. In short, the word neurodivergent exists as a neutral umbrella-term for the many ways a brain can be atypical.
Just as neurotypical is a neutral word meant to replace “normal”, neurodivergent is a neutral and broad term that can replace terms like “disorder”, “abnormal”, “syndrome” and other loaded terms. When you use the word neurodivergent, it’s possible to talk about your brain functioning differently without pathologising your brain difference. In contrast, many official diagnostic terms use pathologising words that imply that your neurodivergence is just a disorder or a deficit (i.e. Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD).
The word neurodiversity encompasses the variation of brain functions across a group of people. Neurodiversity contains both neurotypical and neurodivergent people, be it at a workplace, friend group or population.
Neurodivergent sociologist Judy Singer invented the word neurodiversity to have a term that describes all the neurological variants across a group of people. It’s often used to signal that your organization is aware of and embraces neurological differences. It is often used to signal that you aim to include neurodivergent people in schools, workplaces, and society in general.
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