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Definitions: Neurodiverse and Neurodivergent

by Sally Willbanks
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Definitions: Neurodiverse and Neurodivergent

I thought it was time for a post to make definitions clear. People are making honest mistakes with the terms neurodiverse and neurodivergent, and I thought it would help to clarify.

 First off, a little history. The term ‘neurodiversity’ was first used by Australian sociologist Judy Singer, who herself is on the autism spectrum. She first used the term in her sociology honors thesis, which was presented in 1998. Given that the term is only a little over 20 years old, it is no wonder people are a little confused over how to use it.

 Neurodiversity, Neurodiverse & Neurodivergent (ND)

 Neurodiversity literally means the diversity of the functioning of the human brain. These differences include Autism, ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Apraxia, Epilepsy, Dyscalculia to name a few, as well as the neurotypical brain. This is where people often go wrong: neurodiversity actually INCLUDES the neurotypical as well as the neuro-atypical (neurodivergent). Neurotypical (NT) people are not separate from the diversity of human neurological functioning; they are part of the diverse human group. There is no denying neurodiversity. The human brain really does come in many variations.

 The term neurodiversity can only be given to a group, as only a group (as opposed to an individual) can be diverse. Imagine if you have a group of people with different colored eyes. You can call that group diverse. Now you have a group of people who all have brown eyes except one person, who has blue eyes. That blue-eyed person is not diverse, they are divergent (from the group, which is diverse). It works the same way with brains and neurodiversity. Neurodiversity covers the entire gamut of variations of the human brain, and neurodivergence is when a brain differs from the neurotypical brain, (or majority of human variation). Therefore, a person is neurodivergent, not neurodiverse.

 A group of people is neurodiverse if there is more than one type of neurocognitive functioning represented.

 There are all kinds of diversity in the human race, from ethnicity, culture, gender, blood type, hair color, diet, and, of course, neurocognitive function.

 Neurodiversity Paradigm

 The neurodiversity paradigm is simply the idea that neurodiversity is natural, valuable and undeniable. There is no one person to judge what a normal brain is, or what correct neurological functioning is: brains simply work differently, and that difference has value to humanity. According to the paradigm, there is not one single healthy type of brain – all brains are healthy, they are just diverse.

 Neurodiversity Movement

 The neurodiversity movement is not an organized group, it is a worldwide collection of individuals and organizations with one goal: to bring respect, equality and inclusion to neurodivergent people. The neurodiversity movement is a social justice cause that believes that neurodivergent ‘conditions’ are normal and therefore should not be cured or eradicated, rather they should be accepted and even celebrated. There are some forms of neurodivergence that groups in the neurodiversity movement do not object to attempts of finding a cure. These are forms of neurodivergence like traumatic brain injury, or epilepsy – basically forms that once removed would not intrinsically change the core of who that person is. For the most part though, most groups in the neurodiversity movement do not like the pathologizing of innate causes of neurodivergence (such as autism, ADHD and dyslexia, to name a few), and would rather not see them eradicated.


Hopefully the explanations above clarify some points for you. At ND Renegade, we make apparel that shines a light on neurodiversity, which, after all, is an undeniable fact.

by Sally Willbanks


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