Understanding Neurodiversity: A Comprehensive Guide

The neurodiversity movement has been gaining traction since the 1990s, with the goal of increasing acceptance and inclusion of all people, regardless of neurological differences. This movement has been largely driven by autistic people connecting and forming a self-defense movement online. Laurence Arnold, a researcher at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, has recently completed research on video as an educational tool in autism at the Center for Autism Education and Research. He is also known as a leading self-advocate and the first autistic person to be elected to the board of directors of the National Society of Autism in the UK. The term “neurodiversity” was first used in the context of disability studies by Judy Singer in an article entitled “Why Can't You Be Normal for Once in Your Life?” (199).

This article contained the idea that neurology, or all those axons and neurons that are interconnected in the human brain, is very diverse. Since then, it has become a widely misunderstood and misused word, with its meaning varying between different actors. Unfortunately, “neurotypical” has become a term that is used equally between the autistic community and the same academic psychiatric community it was parodying. The word has been colonized by the enemy and, consequently, many prefer to refer simply to non-autistic people. One such link is Autism Hub, a group of often controversial blogs that attracted negative attention from “healers” (parents confirmed with a medical model who advocate a cure for autism) who perceived that the notion of neurodiversity was somehow responsible for stealing from their children.

In the UK, there were attempts to build a community around a broader than autistic but still narrow sense of the word. Mary Colley from the adult group of the Foundation for Dyspraxia formed another nationwide group called DANDA (DANDA, 2011). The editor of this magazine initially disagreed with DANDA about adopting “developmental” neurodiversity in its title for two reasons: first because it was medicalizing the notion of “neurodiversity” and second because it challenged the idea that neurodiversity encompassed only those born with neurological structure. The author also realized that despite the 2004 definition of “neurodiversity” (op cit), many of the difficulties faced by dyspraxic, dyslexic and autistic communities overlapped with those of people who had acquired these deficiencies through brain injury or stroke. The history of neurology is about learning from specific brain injuries what certain parts of the brain do.

It was this fact that distanced me from DANDA when it initially refused to be a member of someone (Arnold, Private Conversations, c. 200) with speech problems due to a cerebrovascular accident. However, it went on to include several people who have excelled in the British version of the “neurodiversity movement”.In fact, the term “neurodiversity” has been quoted in Hansard (Parliament of the United Kingdom, 200) in reference to an advice and action group on neurodiversity on the autism spectrum created by then Commission on Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Despite possible failure of “neurodiversity movement” in UK to adopt fully pan-neurological perspective, it has fared worse in US as debate has become highly polarized for reasons that could be addressed in later article. Neurodiversity was coined in 1990s to combat stigma against people with autism as well as against ADHD and learning disorders such as dyslexia.

Eric Wagers, an autistic person, gave an idea of how non-autistic people (generally parents of autistic children) receive and understand neurodiversity. In conclusion, neurodiversity movement has great potential to create significant social transformation. Lately, neurodiversity has also become an identity that adolescents who have social difficulties sometimes adopt. However, supporters argue that some things identified as disability are due to problems in environment of people with neurological diversity from children's birthday parties to school classrooms and workplaces for adults which can make them more comfortable. Some children now self-diagnose conditions that fall within scope of neurodiversity and see possible diagnosis as way to validate their experiences.

Neurodiversity advocates also argue that part of disability that affects children with autism ADHD and AIDS is due to problems in environment in which they find themselves. Concept of neurodiversity is expected to help combat “disability” or belief that people who are “abnormal” should be discriminated against condescending and ultimately kept out basic issues society.

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