During a long-time friend and co-worker conversation, I described my son, Joey, as “neurodivergent.” That led to an interesting discussion about neurotypical vs neurodivergent regarding terms used to describe people with autism spectrum disorders.
She asked about these terms, what they mean, and what it means to identify as a neurotypical person or neurodivergent. Her willingness to learn more about these terms and what they mean gave me hope for the future of neurodivergent individuals.
This article will examine the differences and what these terms mean to people.
What Does Neurodivergent Mean?
The dictionary describes neurodivergent as “differing in mental or neurological function from what is considered typical.” While this can be used to describe conditions for several different disorders, it is commonly used to describe people on the autism spectrum. Dr. Sandra Friedman from Children’s Hospital Colorado explains, “It’s just saying, the way you approach things, the way you think, is different.”
This doesn’t mean there is anything objectively wrong with neurodivergent individuals. A person’s ability to understand the world around them is not shaped by their brain being either neurotypical or neurodivergent. The neurodiversity movement has done a lot over the past 30 years to ensure autistic people, as well as those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, or any other developmental disorder, no longer face stigma for how their brain functions.
What Does Neurotypical Mean?
Being neurotypical refers to individuals with “typical neurological development or functioning.” This will sometimes be referred to as “normal” in an informal setting, but given how hard it can be to judge what is or isn’t “normal,” neurotypical describes how the person’s brain functions better. There are clear neurological differences between a neurotypical person and a neurodivergent person, but both can lead fulfilling lives.
According to studies, it is believed that at least 15% of the world’s population is considered neurodiverse. While that may seem like a small percentage to some, it can seem incredibly large to a parent of neurodivergent children. However, much research is being done to look into neurotypical vs neurodivergent situations and how to improve both lives.
History of the Terms?
Australian sociologist Judy Singer became the first to use the term neurodiversity in 1998. Since then, it has become a part of the lexicon for advocates, especially those fighting to make the world a better place for people with autism spectrum disorders. Neurodivergent means that no two brains function the same way. This is important not just in identifying a developmental disorder or neurological condition but also in helping understand why some people don’t adhere to what is considered social norms.
While neurotypical may be an accepted term nowadays, it actually started as a satirical description. Its history can be traced to 1998 as well and used by autistic advocate Laura Tisoncik. She launched a spoof website to look back on people whose actions were believed to be “normal.” It was essentially a protest against how autistic people believed they were being looked upon and treated at the time. It eventually caught on and is still in use today.
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Importance of Inclusion
The neurodiversity movement has worked to change the way the world sees neurodivergent people. According to researchers, the neurodiverse community can see an improvement with neurodivergence-informed therapies. These therapies can focus on a person’s ability rather than inability to perform tasks. This has been a major push of neurodiversity advocates.
Experts have long found neurodivergent children can thrive with appropriate support and inclusion. These can include behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, or speech therapy. Dr. Julia Barnes identified neurodiversity as a form of human diversity, saying, “Just like there’s no normal, correct or superior race, gender, ethnicity or culture, there’s no one normal, right or superior type of brain.”
Treatments, whether they be improving digital well-being, designing better opportunities for neurodivergent individuals to relate to neurotypical individuals in a work setting, or focusing technological research toward the neurodiverse, can go a long way in promoting inclusion and celebrating differences.
The neurodiversity movement has improved real-life scenarios for those with autism spectrum disorder, a mental disorder, sensory sensitivities, or learning disabilities. Everyone’s brain works differently, and recognizing the differences between someone who is neurodivergent and neurotypical people can go a long way to improve lives and make the world a more inclusive place.
Q: Can someone be both neurotypical and neurodivergent at the same time?
A: Individuals can have a mix of neurotypical and neurodivergent traits. Neurodiversity exists on a spectrum, and many people may exhibit various characteristics.
Q: Are there medical tests to determine if someone is neurotypical or neurodivergent?
A: No, there are no definitive medical tests for neurotypical or neurodivergent traits. Diagnosis typically relies on clinical evaluations and assessments by qualified professionals.
Q: Can neurodivergent traits change over time or with intervention?
A: Some neurodivergent traits may evolve or change with time, and interventions and support can help individuals manage challenges and develop coping strategies.
Q: What are some common misconceptions about neurodivergent individuals?
A: Common misconceptions include assuming that all neurodivergent individuals are identical or that neurodivergence is a disorder. It’s important to recognize the diversity within the neurodivergent community and avoid stigmatizing stereotypes.
Q: How can schools and workplaces become more neurodiverse-friendly?
A: Schools and workplaces can become more inclusive by providing accommodations, fostering understanding among peers or colleagues, and offering training to educators and employees on supporting neurodivergent individuals effectively.
Q: Are there legal protections for neurodivergent individuals in the workplace or education system?
A: Many countries have legal protections in place to prevent discrimination against neurodivergent individuals in education and the workplace. These laws vary, so it’s essential to research specific protections in your region.
Q: What can I do to support neurodiversity advocacy efforts?
A: You can support neurodiversity advocacy by raising awareness, participating in local organizations or initiatives, and promoting inclusivity in your community. Small actions, such as being an ally and educating others, can make a big difference.
Q: Are there any ongoing scientific studies about neurodiversity and its impact on society?
A: Yes, there is ongoing research into neurodiversity and its implications. Researchers are continually exploring the strengths and challenges associated with neurodivergent traits and their potential impact on society.
Q: How can parents or caregivers best support neurodivergent children or family members?
A: Supporting neurodivergent children or family members involves seeking professional guidance, providing a nurturing and accepting environment, and being patient and empathetic while understanding their unique needs.