What Is 'Neurodiversity'?

The term ‘neurodiversity’ is a relatively new expression that has recently begun finding its way into the classroom, the workplace and politics. It’s the latest frontier in ‘political correctness’ and in the fight for equality, but you could certainly be forgiven for not knowing quite what it means. Here we will look at what neurodiversity is, and at why it’s so important.

Understanding the Term

The term neurodiversity was originally coined around the 1990s in an attempt to challenge the way we view mental illness. The idea is to stop implying that those with conditions like autism, dyslexia or even Down’s syndrome are somehow lesser or impaired compared to the ‘neurotypical’.

One of the bases for this argument, is that not all the implications of these conditions are negative. Many have pointed out how many famous dyslexic people have made huge contributions to society – including Einstein, Edison and Churchill. Likewise, it is well known that autism can often be coupled with remarkable skills such as musical savantism or incredible math skills. They are also often able to work alone for long periods of time undistracted, which is perhaps why so many famous historical figures are also now thought to have been autistic or aspergic: including Mozart, Tesla, Thomas Jefferson and some even suspect Einstein once again. Newton is another it is believed, and reports describe him delivering lectures to empty theatres even.

While there are no accounts of individuals with Down’s syndrome becoming scientist or politicians, many describe them as having a child-like joy and optimism that many of us could probably learn a great deal from.

The question is then, who says that it is better to be ‘regular’ than it is to have those incredible skills at the cost of some social abilities?

The Message of Neurodiversity

Advocates of neurodiversity will thus promote the importance of viewing those with ‘mental handicaps’ as not being handicapped at all, but rather just possessing a differing skillset. Those with ADHD, dyspraxia and even Tourette’s all have a different range of skills to offer society, even if they’re lacking in some other areas.

Rather than trying to ‘fix’ these developmental ‘problems’, the concept of neurodiversity suggests that we instead try to support them in developing their own way, and to make use of the skills that they offer. Perhaps if we did this more effectively, we would have more Einsteins and more Teslas in the world?

The movement has a long way to go before being fully embraced by educational institutes and business, but it has taken some big strides in recent years. One example is the active recruitment of autistic individuals by some multinational corporations. The German computer software company ‘SAP’ for instance, recently launched a campaign looking for autistic software testers. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network meanwhile offers support and encouragement for those with the spectrum disorder.

We have a long way to go before we drop our conventional views of how the human brain is supposed to work, but if and when the term eventually catches on, we should start to benefit from a far more diverse society with a much broader skillset.

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