What is Neurodiversity?

Exploring the Spectrum of Brain Functionality

The word “neurodiversity” was first used in the late 1990’s by autism rights advocate Judy Singer and New York journalist Harvey Blume to align with the wishes of individuals who did not want to be defined by a disability label but instead, based on their neurological differences. Since that time, the term’s use has grown to transcend many fields of study including higher education, business, counseling, medicine and more.

At its core, neurodiversity accounts for the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits, positioning it as part of the normal variation in the human population. This line of thinking places neurological differences on a spectrum as opposed to outdated diagnosis that give black and white labels to individuals who are less “neurotypical,” or average in brain functionality.

The AMA Journal of Ethics claims that “embracing the concept of neurodiversity would bring the study of mental health disorders in line with movements that have already taken place over the past 50 years around biodiversity and cultural diversity.” This approach recognizes the fact that there are no normal brains…just different ones. The paradigm shift of using the term neurodiversity would serve to recategorize massive amounts of the population from being “diseased” or “dysfunctional” to simply being more diverse in brain function. And, would move us in a progressive direction of talking about differences in cognitive function like we talk about differences in biology and culture.

This line of thinking also recognizes the realities that have emerged over the past two decades of studies showing that more diverse brains bring with them both unique strengths as well as weaknesses. Furthermore, it creates a platform for discourse where labeled individuals may be seen in terms of their strengths as well as their challenges. Besides, we all have imperfections, right? Who wants to be viewed primarily by their weaknesses? No one.

Don’t we live in a world that values diversity? And, not just cultural or ethnic diversity, but diversity of thought and skill?

A variety of studies have identified valued strengths in neurodiverse brains including people with dyslexia who have outstanding visual-spatial and peripheral abilities making them talented in the fields of astrophysics, molecular biology, genetics, engineering, and computer graphics; and autistic individuals with the abnormally amazing ability to work with systems and identify tiny details in complex patterns. In fact, many leading technology companies have recognized this and have been aggressively recruiting people with these brain diversities for occupations in systems and computer coding.

According to psychologist and PAIRIN Co-Founder, Dr. Ron Young, “Many individuals with more neurodiverse brains tend to have interests that are extremely narrow, but they go marvelously deep within a subject area. This makes them extreme experts on a topic that they also really enjoy.” So, if you can match the interest areas of individuals with a corresponding job function, they are able to achieve what we all dream of – being able to do exactly what they love to do – all day, every day. And, do it really really well. What many deem as “meaningful employment.”

We cannot ignore that more neurodiverse individuals often suffer great hardships, and those hardships require a lot of hard work to overcome. They may struggle to learn social norms, have difficulty connecting with community and find themselves in isolation at times. But, the process of overcoming challenges such as these involves significant commitment, hard work and character-building. And, aren’t individuals with those traits the kind of people you want to surround yourself with?

Imagine the positive impacts of teams comprised of those who are uniquely gifted working alongside neurotypical workers to create synergy and mutual benefits – the neurotypical benefiting from the unique gifts and perspectives of the neurodiverse and the uniquely gifted benefiting from mentoring in social and relational skills. Many workers no longer have to imagine as more and more employers are seeing the tremendous value of these interactions and building them into their growing companies.