Understanding Neurodiversity: A Minority Perspective

Autistic people have always been part of the human community, although they have often been relegated to the margins of society. For most of the 20th century, they were hidden behind a series of conflicting labels, such as “schizoid personality disorder”, “childhood schizophrenia”, and “children with restricted interests”. Society continues to insist on presenting autism as a contemporary aberration, caused by a tragic convergence of genetic predisposition and risk factors. Neurodiversity is the diversity of human minds and the fact that the brain and neurocognition vary among all individuals.

All of these variations are “normal” and “valuable”, since neurodiversity is the concept that neurological differences must be recognized and respected like any other human variation. The term “neurodiversity” was coined by Australian sociologist Judy Singer in 1998, and is opposed to considering that people “suffer” deficits, diseases or dysfunctions in their mental processing. It suggests that we talk about differences in cognitive functioning instead. A lack of awareness and understanding has often led to hiring processes, management practices and workspaces being designed only with neurotypicals or extroverts in mind. Designing a workplace that reflects individual differences in neurological functioning will allow all employees to thrive.

In addition, poor conceptualizations and interpretations of neurodiversity have inadvertently reinforced disability by framing neurodiversity as a barrier to participation, performance, success, and achievement. The neurodiversity movement recognizes that there is no correct way to perceive the world and the individuals that comprise it. One of the principles of neurodiversity is the idea that human competence is defined by the values of the cultures to which you belong. Neurodiversity activists have also promoted greater representation of autistic people in policymaking, using the motto: “Nothing about us, without us.” A neurodiverse workforce offers different ways of thinking, unique strengths and abilities, and increases business success. Understanding and explaining neurodiversity from a biopsychosocial perspective offers the potential to clarify and illustrate the ways in which educators and educational leaders from across the sector can develop more inclusive environments, expand and integrate more inclusive practices and policies, and provide holistic support that meets the needs of neurominority students who are racialized by minorities. The ability to choose design solutions supports neurodiversity in the workplace by allowing people to choose the most appropriate environment for their individual needs, functions and tasks.

The dynamics surrounding neurodiversity are similar to those manifested in other forms of human diversity, including the unequal distribution of social power. At the annual meeting of the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) in Montreal, Canada, in May, a topic that was widely discussed was the concept of neurodiversity.

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