The term “neurodiversity” is everywhere lately, and it’s being used in ways that appear to be progressive, but underneath, are really just the same old pathology paradigm re-packaged.
Criticisms of its improper usage mostly focus on grammar — a person cannot be neurodiverse, that is a word that describes a group. An individual should be called neurodivergent. But these are superficial and far less concerning to me than the distortion of the term conceptually.
Discussing autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, this Forbes article claims the term neurodiversity was created to “shift the focus from the negative connotation of these conditions toward the positive,” a statement that waters the entire concept down into a floppy milquetoast version of its former self.
It’s not a nice euphemism for autism, and it’s about far more than just fighting negative connotations.
Neurodiversity is a paradigm, a lens through which we look at human neurology, and it stands in opposition to the pathology paradigm.
The pathology paradigm says: there is a normal, healthy brain and an abnormal, unhealthy brain. People with abnormal brains have something wrong with them and need diagnosis and treatment to become more normal.
The neurodiversity paradigm says: there is no such thing as a normal brain. Variation in neurology is natural, and none is more right or wrong than another.
Autistic author Nick Walker elaborates:
“The social dynamics that manifest in regard to neurodiversity are similar to the social dynamics that manifest in regard to other forms of human diversity (e.g., diversity of race, culture, gender, or sexual orientation). These dynamics include the dynamics of social power relations — the dynamics of social inequality, privilege, and oppression — as well as the dynamics by which diversity, when embraced, acts as a source of creative potential within a group or society.”
The term neurotypical exists as an alternative to the word normal, but it does not describe a type of brain in any biological sense. It describes a way of being, or a disposition, as scholar Damian Milton says, that is culturally valued and…