The idea of neurodiversity originates from the 1990s when Judy Singer, a sociologist on the autism spectrum, coined the term as a way to reject the view of those on the spectrum as disabled. Neurodiversity emphasizes that different brains work differently, but that’s not a disadvantage. The varied wiring of our brains is simply a natural part of human diversity. Since Singer, the term has come to describe those with conditions such as autism, ADHD, epilepsy, dyslexia, depression, anxiety, Tourette’s syndrome, and many others. The neurodiversity movement advocates for the acceptance and resources required to help neurodiverse individuals succeed and share their unique skills and perspectives.
Neurodiverse individuals see and experience the world in unique and extraordinary ways and their insight is incredibly valuable in the classroom and in the workplace. Problem solving and creative thinking are enhanced with greater diversity of perspective. When teachers take an approach that looks for and recognizes the gifts, abilities, and strengths of each student, including neurodiverse students, all of the students tend to have higher academic achievement (Armstrong, 2018). Neurodiverse individuals offer unique points of view that ultimately contribute to greater success for all. Companies like Microsoft, Ford, IBM, and JPMorgan Chase have started to explore or implement programs that recruit more neurodiverse individuals to their teams and they’ve seen payoffs in productivity, product quality, innovation, and employee engagement (Austin & Pisano, 2017). Spaces that allow for neurodiverse individuals to flourish ultimately raise all of us up.
Many of our differences are a matter of perspective and context. Counseling Psychologist Stephen Munt uses dyslexia, a learning disorder involving challenges with oral and written language skills, to demonstrate this. As he puts it, dyslexia only becomes apparent in a society that reads and writes (The Counseling Channel, 2019). The types of spaces we create in our society play a determinant role in whether or not an individual will face greater challenges. If we innovate to create spaces that are mindful and inclusive of difference, we can create a society where difference is a strength rather than a disability.
Creating these kinds of spaces begins with you. When talking to the children in your life, be mindful of how you talk about neurodiverse individuals. Don’t talk about neurodiversity like it’s a deficit. Have conversations with your child that emphasize how normal neurodiversity is and highlight that all people have their own unique strengths. Everyone is deserving of equitable treatment and respect, regardless of the wiring of their brain. Beyond your direct influence on the children in your life, you can help advocate for more inclusive spaces that can promote the success of all individuals. For neurodiverse individuals, spaces like classrooms and workplaces often are not designed for their success. The typical attempt at a streamlined “one-size-fits-all” approach makes it all too easy to let the contributions and skills of neurodiverse individuals fall through the cracks. To foster success in schools, educators should employ a variety of teaching and testing methods. There isn’t one method that works for everyone. Using diverse teaching tactics and ways to measure learning allows for greater recognition of students’ gifts, strengths, and abilities. Approach neurodiverse students with the knowledge that people of all types and abilities have the capacity to accomplish great things and make incredible contributions to industries and societies. In the workplace, rethink recruitment, selection, and career development. Non-interview methods like casual interactions among groups of candidates and individual and group projects can better highlight the potential contributions of neurodiverse individuals to the workplace. Look at each person in the workplace as an individual and consider where they would thrive and what support might benefit them. Workplace accommodations, professional environment training, and partnerships with social partners and organizations are all ways to create inclusive and respectful workplaces that are mindful of meeting the needs of diverse individuals.
Reimagining our approaches and views on neurodiversity are crucial steps in creating a foundation in which all neurodiverse persons may be empowered in whatever challenges may arise as a result of their neurodiversity and other intersecting identities. We have an opportunity to allow for the recognition of the unique strengths and abilities of all individuals. Teaching children to respect and appreciate these differences provides a base for them to become supportive, compassionate, and inclusive adults. In order to achieve this health, happiness, and inclusion for all, our community needs people like you to learn about and advocate for the inclusion of neurodiversity. Our community is strengthened and empowered when we recognize that people of all different abilities have value and are worthy of the support and resources they need to succeed.
An organization supporting neurodiverse individuals by providing resources to students, employers, and schools on educating and employing neurodiverse individuals
“What is Neurodiversity?” (Video)