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Neurodiversity is a framework for understanding human brain function and mental illness. It argues that diversity in human cognition is normal and that some conditions classified as mental disorders are differences and disabilities that are not necessarily pathological.
The framework grew out of the autism rights movement and builds on the social model of disability, arguing that disability partly arises from societal barriers, rather than attributing disability purely to inherent deficits. It instead situates human cognitive variation in the context of biodiversity and the politics of minority groups. Some neurodiversity advocates and researchers argue that the neurodiversity paradigm is the middle ground between strong medical model and strong social model.
The neurodiversity paradigm has been controversial among disability advocates, with opponents arguing it risks downplaying the suffering associated with some disabilities, and that it calls for the acceptance of things some would wish to be treated.
The word neurodiversity was popularized by Judy Singer, a social scientist who has described herself as "likely somewhere on the autistic spectrum." She used the term in her sociology honours thesis published in 1999, drawing on discussions on the InLv mailing list that included American journalist Harvey Blume, whose September 30, 1998, article in The Atlantic was the first to use the term in print. Blume was an early advocate who predicted the role the Internet would play in fostering the international neurodiversity movement. In a New York Times piece on June 30, 1997, Blume described the foundation of neurodiversity using the term "neurological pluralism". Some authors also credit the earlier work of autistic advocate Jim Sinclair in laying the foundation for the movement. Sinclair's 1993 speech "Don't Mourn For Us" emphasized autism as a way of being, claiming "it is not possible to separate the person from the autism."
Damian Milton notes that, in 2014, Nick Walker attempted to define neurodiversity, the neurodiversity movement, and the neurodiversity paradigm. Walker tied neurodiversity to the idea that "all brains are to a degree unique". He also defined the movement as a rights movement, and the paradigm as a broader discussion of diversity, cultural constructions and social dynamics.
In recent years the concept of neurodiversity has gained traction among members of the scientific community, who have argued that autism researchers have sometimes been too ready to interpret differences as deficits. It has also been suggested that there are both ethical and practical risks in attempting to reduce or suppress autistic traits through interventions, as some recent studies have indicated that higher levels of masking are generally associated with poorer mental health outcomes among autistic people, and perhaps even suicidality. Researchers have found that psychoeducation based on medical model is associated with higher stigma. Similarly, some researchers and advocates also argue that a medicalizing approach can contribute to stigma and that the persistent focus on biological research in autism is at odds with the priorities of those in the autism community.
Autistic self-advocate and researcher Ari Ne'eman has suggested a trait-based approach, where elements of the medical (or pathology) model can be applied in treating certain traits, behaviors, or conditions that are intrinsically harmful (e.g. self-injury behaviors, epilepsy, or other co-occurring health conditions), while neurodiversity approaches can be applied to non-harmful or adaptive autistic traits (e.g. stimming, intense interests) of the same individual. In recent years, both new intervention strategies and neurodiversity-based reforms of existing intervention strategies have been developed.
Neurotypical (an abbreviation of neurologically typical, sometimes NT) is a neologism widely used in the neurodiversity movement as a label for anyone who has a typical neurotype and fits into the norm of thinking patterns. Thus, neurotypicals are anyone who is not autistic, diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, anxiety, or any other condition that would be considered neurodivergent. The term has been adopted by both the neurodiversity movement and some members of the scientific community.
Early definitions described neurotypicals as individuals who do not have autism and do not meet the criteria to be diagnosed with autism. Early uses of "NT" were often satirical, as in the Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical, but it has been adopted by the neurodiversity movement, too, and is now used unironically.
People with any form of neurocognitive or mental disorder, whether congenital or acquired, have also sometimes been excluded from the neurotypical label, particularly in academic studies for specific disorders that use neurotypical control groups. In this sense, the term is now contrasted to neurodivergent, an umbrella term used to describe people with atypical mental and behavioral traits, such as mood, anxiety, dissociative, psychotic, personality, and eating disorders. Under the neurodiversity framework, these conditions are often referred to as "neurodivergencies", in an effort to move away from the medical model of disability (sometimes referred to in the neurodiversity community as the "pathology paradigm").
Some people prefer the term allistic, which unambiguously means "not autistic".
The National Autistic Society of the United Kingdom describes the word as "mainly used by autistic people so may not be applicable in, for example, the popular press."
"Critiques of the Neurodiversity Movement", a 2020 review, raised two concerns regarding the term:
Main article: Double empathy problem
The theory of the double empathy problem argues that autistic people do not lack empathy, but rather that the experiences of autistic and non-autistic people are so different that it is hard for one to understand how the other thinks; for example, non-autistic people may not understand when an autistic person is overwhelmed.
It was originally conceived in 2012 by autistic scholar Damian Milton. One study comparing the conversations and socialization of autistic groups, non-autistic groups, and mixed groups found that autistic people were more able to build rapport with other autistic people than with non-autistic people, and at a level similar to the purely non-autistic group.
The problem with the double empathy problem theory is that there is no simple fix for it. Attempting to "treat" the person with autism could generate other mental health issues and feelings of inferiority and self-blame. However, neurotypical individuals can adapt this theory to better understand how neurodivergent people think and empathize.
Further information: Autism rights movement
The neurodiversity paradigm was developed and embraced first by autistic people, but has been applied to other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), developmental speech disorders, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysnomia, intellectual disability, Tourette syndrome, and sometimes mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and, somewhat more controversially, personality disorders such as antisocial personality disorder. Neurodiversity advocates[which?] who support those with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other neurodevelopmental disorders do not agree in framing medical interventions as a way to "cure" or "fix" these individuals. Rather, they promote support systems such as inclusion-focused services, accommodations, communication and assistive technologies, occupational training, and independent living support. The intention is for individuals to receive support that honors human diversity and feel that they are able to freely express themselves. Other forms of treatment may cause them to feel as though they are being coerced or forced to adapt to social norms, or to conform to a behavioral standard or clinical ideal.
Proponents of neurodiversity strive to reconceptualize autism and related conditions in society by acknowledging that neurodiversity does not require a cure, changing the language from the current "condition, disease, disorder, or illness"-based nomenclature, "broadening the understanding of healthy or independent living", acknowledging new types of autonomy, and giving neurodivergent individuals more control over their treatment, including the type, timing, and whether there should be treatment at all.
Activists such as Jennifer White-Johnson have helped bring attention to the neurodiversity movement, by creating symbols of protest and recognition, including a combination of the black power fist and infinity symbol.
A 2009 study separated 27 students with conditions including autism, dyslexia, developmental coordination disorder, ADHD, and having suffered a stroke into two categories of self-view: "A 'difference' view—where neurodiversity was seen as a difference incorporating a set of strengths and weaknesses, or a 'medical/deficit' view—where neurodiversity was seen as a disadvantageous medical condition." They found that, although all of the students reported uniformly difficult schooling careers involving exclusion, abuse, and bullying, those who viewed themselves from the "difference" view (41% of the study cohort) "indicated higher academic self-esteem and confidence in their abilities and many (73%) expressed considerable career ambitions with positive and clear goals." Many of these students reported gaining this view of themselves through contact with neurodiversity advocates in online support groups.
A 2013 online survey which aimed to assess conceptions of autism and neurodiversity suggested that conception of autism as a difference, and not a deficit, is developmentally beneficial and "transcend[s] a false dichotomy between celebrating differences and ameliorating deficit."
Neurodiversity advocate John Elder Robison argues that the disabilities and strengths conferred by neurological differences may be mutually inseparable. "When 99 neurologically identical people fail to solve a problem, it's often the 1% fellow who's different who holds the key. Yet that person may be disabled or disadvantaged most or all of the time. To neurodiversity proponents, people are disabled because they are at the edges of the bell curve, not because they are sick or broken."
Diversity in the education system is not always observed from a neurodiverse perspective. There are several models that are used to understand disability. One is the medical model of disability that views people with disabilities as needing to be treated or cured. Another is the social model of disability putting emphasis on the way that society treats people with disabilities. The social model argues that people with disabilities experience more difficulties from society than the disability alone.
Nachman and colleagues reviewed several articles published by 2-year community colleges and found some discrepancies in the way that they perceived and categorized "disabled" students and "non-disabled" students. They found that all of the articles were attempting to normalize disability. Many of them put distinct separation between typical and atypical learners as well as their potential academic achievement. Nachman also found that many of the articles showed a lack of autonomy for neurodivergent students. They had little power in regard to academic choices and classroom management.
Another study explored minority stress through the lens of transgender and gender diverse students who were neurodivergent. The researchers found that these students were likely to experience multiple forms of oppression rather than just one. Some of those types include gender related oppression and oppression related to their neurodivergence. The students who had a higher level of minority stress due to stigma awareness were expected to have lower academic performance and higher risk of psychological distress.
Career preparation that is specifically targeted for neurodivergent students is lacking. There are several programs that exist to help assist neurodivergent individuals in finding and obtaining a job but not many of those programs exist within schools. This can make it difficult for neurodivergent students to find a career path that they feel is attainable for them.
Neurodivergent individuals are subjected to bias when applying and interviewing for job positions. Specifically, neurodivergent individuals can have their social engagement style compared to neurotypical individuals, which can affect their ability to obtain a job position. Stigmas against neurodivergence (especially against autistic individuals) and cognition challenges in social situations can hinder an individual's ability to perform well in a traditional job interview.
In a systematic review that considered developmental dyslexia (DD) as "an expression of neurodiversity," it was suggested that neurodiversity is not yet an established concept in the workplace, and therefore, support from social relationships and work accommodations is minimal. Furthermore, another systematic review that focused on pharmacological and combined pharmacological/psychosocial interventions for adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder found that there were few workplace-based intervention studies, and suggested that additional research needs to be conducted to figure out how to best support neurodivergent employees in the workplace.
A study conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic suggested that neurodivergent individuals would benefit from remote work as it allowed them to engage in their interests, but that social engagement is still necessary for productivity and performance. Another study supported these findings and stressed the need for redesigned work and social conditions to be more inclusive for individuals with autism.
Further information: Controversies in autism § Advocacy initiatives
The neurodiversity paradigm is controversial in autism advocacy. The dominant paradigm, the medical model of disability holds that neurodivergent individuals have medical conditions which should be treated.
A common criticism is that the neurodiversity paradigm is too widely encompassing and that its conception should exclude those whose functioning is more severely impaired. In response, autistic advocate Nick Walker suggested that neurodiversity refers specifically to "pervasive neurocognitive differences [...] intimately related to the formation and constitution of the self," in contrast to medical conditions such as epilepsy.[undue weight? ]
Neurodiversity has recently been investigated as a new way of working within neurodevelopmental clinics in the UK.
For me, the key significance of the 'autism spectrum' lies in its call for and anticipation of a politics of neurological diversity, or neurodiversity.
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? Cybernetics and computer culture, for example, may favor a somewhat autistic cast of mind.
A project called CyberSpace 2000 is devoted to getting as many people as possible in the autistic spectrum hooked up by the year 2000, the reason being that "the Internet is an essential means for autistic people to improve their lives because it is often the only way they can communicate effectively."
Yet, in trying to come to terms with [a neurotypical-dominated] world, autistics are neither willing nor able to give up their own customs. Instead, they are proposing a new social compact, one emphasizing neurological pluralism. [...] The consensus emerging from the Internet forums and Web sites where autistics congregate [...] is that NT is only one of many neurological configurations – the dominant one certainly, but not necessarily the best.
Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA). Advances in Autism
We recommend, therefore, that the term neurodiverse include the conditions ASD, ADHD, OCD, language disorders, developmental coordination disorder, dyslexia and Tourette's syndrome.
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