what does it mean for a person to be neurodivergent?
The term “neurodivergent” describes people whose brain differences affect how their brain works. that means they have different strengths and challenges than people whose brains don’t have those differences. possible differences include medical disorders, learning disabilities, and other conditions. Possible strengths include better memory, being able to mentally picture 3D objects easily, the ability to do complex math calculations in your head, and many more.
neurodivergent is not a medical term. instead, it is a way of describing people using words other than “normal” and “abnormal.” that’s important because there is no single definition of “normal” for human brain function.
the word for people who are not neurodivergent is “neurotypical”. that means their strengths and challenges aren’t affected by any kind of difference that changes the way their brains work.
why does this term exist?
The term “neurodivergent” comes from the related term “neurodiversity”. Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist, coined the word “neurodiversity” in 1998 to acknowledge that each person’s brain develops in a unique way.
Like a person’s fingerprints, no two brains, not even those of identical twins, are exactly alike. therefore, there is no definition of “normal” capabilities for the human brain.
For most areas of modern medicine, defining what is normal is critical. In many circumstances, health care providers determine a person’s health based on the yes or no question, “Is this normal?” Depending on the answer, a person is sick or healthy depending on the symptoms that he has or does not have or the things that he can or cannot do.
an example of this in everyday life would be comparing the following two people with a special talent for drawing.
- Person #1: A 12-year-old boy with autism spectrum disorder (asd) who struggles in social situations. The main problems related to the child’s ADD are social problems, an unusually high interest in drawing, and a strict reliance on daily routine. the child is naturally better at drawing without taking classes or accumulating experience.
- person #2: a neurotypical 40-year-old adult. the adult learned to draw at the age of 17, and his talent required a lot of work and time to develop. they are very social and make friends easily.
- Example #1: Many people who are neurodivergent struggle in social situations, which can make it difficult for them to find a job because they struggle during job interviews. however, they can still get the job if the hiring process emphasizes their skills, such as screening potential employees with a skills test. once on the job, their attention to detail means they are outstanding accountants or record keepers because they can easily process data that others may find more tedious.
- example #2: Some who are neurodivergent struggle in noisy environments or situations. that means a busy office can be overwhelming for them. however, a pair of noise-cancelling headphones can give them the quiet they need to make them the most productive person on their team because one of their strengths is the ability to focus intensely on their work.
- physical disabilities: ramps and accesses with automatic doors for people in wheelchairs.
- sensory disabilities: crosswalks with a loud tone for those who have vision problems so they know it is safe to cross the street.
No one would consider the adult abnormal or defective because he cannot paint as well as the child. Likewise, autism spectrum disorder is a condition that can take many different forms, many of which occur in people who do not have ADD.
describing the child as neurodivergent recognizes that they have “different capacities”. neurodiversity means that it is natural for both the adult and the child to develop differently and have their own abilities and struggles.
Is being neurodivergent a disability?
Some neurodivergent people struggle because of systems or processes that don’t give them a chance to show their strengths or create new or more intense challenges.
In both examples, the accommodations helped the personovercome their particular struggle. For someone with a disability, an accommodation is a way of accepting that they are different or challenged, and then giving them a tool or a way to be successful. for people who are neurodivergent in the examples above, the accommodations were the hiring process and the headphones.
Accommodations for people with disabilities are not a new idea. some examples include:
why use the term neurodivergent to describe people?
Some people object to the idea of neurodiversity as being about differences rather than deficits. many who take that position say they are against it because some who are neurodivergent have real medical conditions that need treatment.
However, research shows that being aware of the idea of neurodiversity does not mean that neurodivergent people ignore or deny that they have difficulties. instead, research shows that people who are aware of the idea of being neurodivergent use that knowledge to adapt and help them succeed.
Expert research also shows that neurodiversity-related words and language make a difference in the way people live. people who are neurodivergent and learn that it means they are different, not sick or defective, are more likely to be happier and aim higher in their careers.
An example of this is someone who has dyslexia. People with the condition have trouble reading because their brains don’t process written language like the brains of someone without dyslexia. however, people with dyslexia generally have brains that are better at processing or mentally representing 3d objects. that makes them much quicker at identifying optical illusions, and they have a natural talent for jobs like graphic design and arts, engineering, and more.