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Understanding Neurodiversity: Types, Terms, and Inclusion

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Image attribution: Work illustrations by Storyset

The term ‘neurodiversity’ was first coined in 1997 by Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist. Singer pioneered the term to promote and increase acceptance and inclusion of all individuals, whilst also embracing neurological differences including diagnosable conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dyscalculia.

The term thus describes the differences in thinking and information processing that exist across all individuals, and embraces the idea that there is no set way of learning, behaving, and thinking. This was an idea that was gaining prominence in the 1990s and Singer wished to create a name for the social justice movement that was challenging the social and institutional structures were seen to be preventing groups of people, such as those with autism, from fully participating in society.

Progress

Since the 1990s, neurodiversity has become prevalent in the fields of psychology, education, employment, and overall in society. This has led to more discussions and work surrounding neurodiverse workplaces, schools and other environments. However, statistics such as neurodivergent young people being three to six times more likely to be excluded from school indicate that much work is still needed to raise awareness of the skills and strengths of neurodiverse individuals, and for more support and resources to be provided to help mitigate the social and institutional barriers that persist.

A developing language

The language of neurodiversity has expanded to include ‘neurotypical’, ‘neurodivergent’ and ‘neuroinclusive’, each of which give further understanding to the different aspects of neurodiversity.

Originally, neurotypical referred to anyone who didn’t have autism and was mainly used in a satirical way. However, its use has grown and expanded to mean anyone who fits thinks and processes information in ways that conform with what society considers to be typical.

This can be contrasted with neurodivergent; those people who think and process information in ways that are significantly different to the majority of society; i.e. they ‘diverge’ from the current idea of a standard or neurotypical cognitive profile.

Neuroinclusion, meanwhile, describes the efforts to remove barriers that are preventing any specific groups of people (which would naturally include those considered to be neurodivergent) from full participation in society.

The future

All sectors, whether in education or work, should be encouraged to recognise and foster a conducive and neuroinclusive environment. The goals of the neurodiversity movement concern changing practices and attitudes, but language continues to play a significant part.

This can be seen in recent calls to change how the Autistic experience is framed from being a disorder to a neurotype; a change in language that aims to change our understanding of being Autistic as a different way of experiencing the world, and not a disorder.

Conclusion

It is hoped that this article has helped understand some of the different terminology being used, while also highlighting the need for more to be done to become the neuroinclusive society that Judy Singer and the nascent neurodiversity movement of the 1990s have been calling for.
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