The idea that there is one “normal” or “healthy” type of brain or mind or one “right” style of neurocognitive functioning, is no more valid than the idea that there is one “normal” or “right” gender, race or culture – Nick Walker, September 2014
Neurodiversity has been part of the Autistic UK vision from the very beginning.
The Constitution reads:
The objectives of the Association shall be;
To campaign throughout the UK and elsewhere to advance the interests of autistic people and those people with “related conditions”.
[For the purposes of this document the term “related conditions” is used to refer to: dyspraxia, developmental co-ordination disorder, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (AD(H)D), attention deficit disorder (ADD), hyper-kinesis, dyslexia, Tourette’s Syndrome, pervasive developmental disorders (PDD and PDD(NOS)) and all other neuro-developmental conditions and all other related neurological conditions.]
The organisation is committed to promoting “the concept of neurodiversity”.
Neurodiversity has become the rallying cry of the first new civil rights movement to take off in the 21st century – Steve Silberman, April 2013
The Neurodiveristy Paradigm
by Nick Walker
Neurodiversity is the diversity of human brains and minds, the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species.
The Neurodiversity Paradigm is an emergent paradigm in which neurodiversity is understood to be a form of human diversity that is subject to the same social dynamics as other forms of diversity (including dynamics of power and oppression).
Neurodiversity is an essential form of human diversity. The idea that there is one “normal” or “healthy” type of brain or mind or one “right” style of neurocognitive functioning, is no more valid than the idea that there is one “normal” or “right” gender, race or culture.
The classification of neurodivergence (e.g. autism, ADHD, dyslexia, bipolarity) as medical/psychiatric pathology has no valid scientific basis , and instead reflects cultural prejudice and oppresses those labeled as such.
The social dynamics around neurodiversity are similar to the dynamics that manifest around other forms of human diversity. These dynamics include unequal distribution of social power; conversely, when embraced, diversity can act as a source of creative potential.
Pychotherapists who integrate the neurodiversity paradigm into their work do so by refusing to label neurodivergence as intrinsically pathological.
Instead of attempting to “cure” autistic or bipolar clients, for instance, these therapists seek to help autistic or bipolar people thrive as autistic or bipolar people, finding ways of living that are more in harmony with their natural neurological dispositions, and helping them to heal from internalized oppression.
The Neurodiversity Movement has its origins in the Autistic Rights Movement that sprang up in the 1990’s. The term neurodiversity was coined in 1998 by an autistic Australian sociologist named Judy Singer, and was quickly picked up and expanded upon within the autistic activist community.
The focus of work within the neurodiversity paradigm has broadened beyond autism to encompass other forms of neurodivergence, while at the same time the paradigm has increasingly gained footholds in various realms of scholarship, literature and praxis.
New paradigms often require a bit of new language. This is certainly the case with the neurodiversity paradigm – even the word neurodiversity itself is still relatively new, dating back only to the late 1990s.
I see many people – scholars, journalists, bloggers, internet commenters, and even people who identify as neurodiversity activists – get confused about the terminology around neurodiversity. Their misunderstanding and incorrect usage of certain terms often results in poor and clumsy communication of their message, and propagation of further confusion (including other confused people imitating their errors). At the very least, incorrect use of terminology can make a writer or speaker appear ignorant, or an unreliable source of information, in the eyes of those who do understand the meanings of the terms.
For those of us who seek to propagate and build upon the neurodiversity paradigm – especially those of us who are producing writing on neurodiversity – it’s vital that we maintain some basic clarity and consistency of language, for the sake of effective communication among ourselves and with our broader audiences. Clarity of language supports clarity of understanding.
And, as I increasingly find myself in the position of reviewing other people’s writing on neurodiversity – grading student papers, reviewing submissions to journals, consulting on various projects, or even just deciding whose writings I’m willing to recommend to people – I’m getting tired of running into the same basic errors over and over.
So, as a public service, I’m posting this list of a few key neurodiversity-related terms, their meanings and proper usage, and the ways in which I most commonly see them misused.
By Briannon Lee
In most places, as soon as a child is identified as autistic, they are funnelled straight in to early intervention therapies. Based on a medical model of disability, these therapies see autistic children as disordered, and aim to change autistic children so that they will play, communicate and move more like their ‘typically developing’ peers.
In contrast, the neurodiversity paradigm views autism and other neurodivergence as a natural and valuable part of human diversity. There is not an ‘ideal’ brain or correct style of neurocognitive functioning; all are valued. There is not an ideal or correct way for children to play, communicate and move; all are valued.
If families, caregivers and health professionals accept the neurodiversity paradigm, ‘autism early intervention’ looks very different. The target of intervention is not autistic children, but their social and physical environments. Autistic children are supported in families and communities to develop as unique and valued human beings, without conforming to the developmental trajectory of their neurotypical peers.
1. Learn from autistic people
Learn as a family about autistic ways of being and autistic culture, neurodiversity, and disability. Autistic people are the only experts on autism; find us and our work. Don’t ask us to educate you, but listen and learn.
2. Tell your child they are autistic
Tell them now, tell them early. Talk about autism matter-of-factly. Explore what being autistic means for them. Teach your child about disability and how they are disabled by society. Build pride and an understanding of human rights from a young age.
3. Say NO to all things stressful & harmful
Say no – to quackery, to intensive normalising therapy, to excessive socialising, and to inappropriate school environments. Say no to anything that causes stress or harms their bodies. Say no to anything that will interfere with their ability to say No themselves in the future. Model self advocacy early.
4. Slow down your life
Autistic children need time and space to develop in their own way at their own pace. Ideas about happy ‘productive’ childhoods are based on neurotypical norms. Cut out all of the extra activities and socialising, and busyness of life. Discover the pace that works for your children. You might find that lots of downtime at home is vital for their healthy development.
5. Support & accommodate sensory needs
Observe your child closely, talk with them, and tune in to their sensory needs. Meet their sensory needs creatively (you don’t need to spend lots of money). Defend and protect your child from sensory assaults. Frame this as an accommodation they require as a child with disability, in the same way other children require ramps or interpreters.
6. Value your child’s interests
There is no right way to play. Special interests are good for autistic brains, and a natural way that autistic children learn and develop. Don’t use them as a ‘way in’ for other learning, therapy or change. Don’t attempt to broaden their interests, or restrict access to special interests. Join in, learn about and share their interests; but also respect your child’s wishes for time alone with their favourite things.
7. Respect stimming
Stimming (self-stimulatory behaviour) is like breathing for autistic children and adults. It feels good, helps us feel connected and focused. It is harmful to interfere with children developing and enjoying their own stims. Unless children are hurting themselves or others, respect their need to stim; never shame them or stop them. Stimming is beautiful!
8. Honour & support all communication
Don’t overly focus on the development of verbal speech. Human communication is much more than speech, and many autistic people are non-speaking. Honour and respond respectfully to all communication from your children. Support your child to access communication supports such as symbol-based AAC, sign language, typing, or RPM so that they have access to alternative ways to communicate with family, friends and others.
9. Minimise therapy, increase accommodations & supports
Intervene with therapy only for issues impacting health and wellbeing. A good question to ask: “Would my non-autistic children access this therapy?” Focus your energy and advocacy efforts on accessing accommodations and support for your child to participate in family and community as they choose. Autistic children may require 1:1 support more often or at different times than other children. They also have a right to accommodations to enable inclusion in school and community.
10. Explore your own neurocognitive differences
Explore similarities between you and your child’s sensory, cognitive, and social needs. Accepting and valuing your own unique brain, goes a long way towards respecting and accommodating your children’s needs. Many autistic children have neurodivergent parents; exploring your differences might help you identify something really important about yourself!