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What is Neurodiversity?


Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one "right" way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.

Judy Singer, a sociologist who has autism, started using the term "neurodiversity" in the late 1990s. It refers to the concept that certain developmental disorders are normal variations in the brain. And people who have these features also have certain strengths. For example, people with ADHD may have trouble with time management. But they often show high levels of passion, drive, and creative thinking.

Besides ADHD, these neurological differences refer to people with:

● Dyslexia

● Dyspraxia

Whilst those who have these differences are referred to as Neurodiverse or Neurodivergent, people who do not have these traits and characteristics are referred to as Neurotypical.

Why do we have neurodiverse brains?

Diversity is important. From an evolutionary perspective, humans are likely to have an increased ability to adapt and survive if their population has a range of ‘different brains’ that have different strengths and view the world in different ways.

Diversity is a frequently used concept across a broad range of scientific disciplines and is a measure of the range of distribution of certain features within a given population. In other words, it is the degree of variation and is often described in terms of high, medium or low.

For example, with biodiversity, a rainforest would exhibit a high degree of biodiversity whereas a desert would exhibit a low degree. The Earth contains an infinite degree of human diversity.

Singer suggests that Neurodiversity is a subset of Biodiversity, a term mostly used for the purpose of advocating for the conservation of species. Biodiversity suggests that human self-interest requires the conservation of all species irrespective of their perceived usefulness or attractiveness to humans. This is based on the assumptions that:

● the greater the biodiversity within an ecosystem, the more stable, adaptable and sustainable that system is

● ecosystems are interlinked in complex ways that affect all life, including human life

It follows that the more Neurodiversity is respected and facilitated within a culture, the more stable, adaptable and sustainable that culture is.

Focus on the Positive

Neurodiversity advocates suggest there’s too much attention on the impairments that come with conditions like ADHD. They think a better approach is to focus on what someone’s good at, not what they lack.

For example, there’s some evidence that:

● People with ADHD have high levels of spontaneity, courage, and empathy. They can hyper-focus on certain tasks.

● Those with autism pay attention to complex details, have good memories and show certain "speciality" skills. Experts think this can be an asset in certain jobs, such as computer programming or music. As noted by one researcher, Wolfgang Mozart had strong music memory and absolute pitch.

● People with dyslexia can perceive certain kinds of visual information better than those without the condition. This skill can be useful in jobs like engineering and computer graphics.

We need more research, but experts think the genes for these developmental "disorders" stick around because they come with evolutionary advantages. For example, behaviours like hyperactivity and impulsivity might have helped our ancestors find food or move away from danger. And strong nonsocial skills, like the kind some people with autism have, were good for our prehistoric ancestors who lived out in nature.

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term to encompass a range of differences that the human brain can exhibit. Respecting and embracing the concept of neurodiversity means ensuring that there is room in this world to appreciate and celebrate all individuals for who they are, making their world, and ours, a better place.

“Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment?” (Harvey Blume 1998)

How absurd it would be to label a calla lily as having ‘petal deficit disorder’ or to diagnose a person from Holland as suffering from ‘altitude deprivation syndrome’. There is no normal flower or culture. Similarly, we ought to accept the fact that there is no normal brain or mind.” (Armstrong 2015 - The Myth of the Normal Brain: Embracing Neurodiversity)

If you or someone you know identifies as or is diagnosed as, Neurodivergent (Autistic Spectrum, ADHD, ADD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia), including those waiting for a diagnosis, you might be interested in our Lunchtime Peer Support Group for Neurodivergent Students

The group meets weekly on Wednesdays from 1 pm -2 pm, starting Wednesday the 15th of June 2022 and is a space to meet other students, make connections, share experiences and focus on wellbeing and what that means for you.

Best wishes, The Wellbeing Team

For further reading and debate on this topic

Doyle N (undated) What is Neurodiversity?Available at:

Reflections on Neurodiversity blog from Judy Singer who first coined the term Neurodivergent

Singer J (2017) NeuroDiversity: The birth of an idea. 2nd edition. Lëtzeburg, Luxembourg: Amazon Media EU.

What is neurodiversity? Available at:

Neurodiveregent from what, exactly? Available at:

The Myth of the Normal Brain: Embracing Neurodiversity by Thomas Armstromg PhD (2015)

AMA Journal of Ethics Medicine and Society. Available at:

The Neurodiversity Paradigm in Psychiatry: Robert Chapman (2021) Available at:

Neurodiversity: On the neurological underpinnings of geekdom: Harvey Blume (1998) Available at:

Can We Broaden the Neurodiversity Movement Without Weakening It? Kristen Gillespie- Lynch et al (2020) Available at:

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