When Judy Singer created the term “neurodiversity,” she never intended for it to become a dividing term. She wanted to conceptualize brain differences as normal. In that regard, she saw everyone as being neurodiverse - we’re all different in our own ways.
Today, neurodiverse (or neurodivergent), has become a dividing term. It’s used to signify that a person’s brain is different from a neurotypical person’s brain. In this divide, “neurotypical” means the average human. This is something that Judy Singer would take issue with. There is no “average” human.
To make matters more complex, the definition of neurodiverse is ever expanding. At one point, neurodiverse was used to refer to people with different brain functioning, such as autism, ADHD, Tourette’s, and dyslexia. Many people are now arguing that post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and more qualify people as neurodiverse. The argument is that these conditions alter the normal functioning of the brain. They’re not wrong. They do alter the way a brain functions.
The only issue with starting to include trauma, depression, anxiety, and other common conditions (or what the DSMD-5 likes to call disorders), is that neurodiverse expands to include almost everyone. Almost every human I meet will deal with trauma, depression, or anxiety at some point in their life.
Judy Singer might argue this expansion is not a problem at all. That it’s a return to her original intention. That we are all actually neurodiverse and we can stop drawing lines between us.
I agree with this. I think we are all neurodiverse.
AND, as an autistic individual, I do still yearn for lines to be drawn. I still seek ways to explain how my brain functions differently than most people.
Learning I was autistic was incredibly freeing for me. It brought me great understanding as to why my five senses are more sensitive, why my energetic levels are different, why I have more thoughts and emotions, and more.
It means I experience and move differently in the world than most. I want others to understand this (understanding seems to be one of the primary things I crave as an autistic).
And yet, I find myself butting up against something else I believe: that we are all neurodiverse. For every essay I write about autism, allistic (non-autistic) individuals share how they identify with some aspect of what I wrote (I even wrote an essay on it called Your Autistic Experience Sounds Just Like Mine).
I think it is natural for all of us humans to identify with each other in various aspects.
So I’m here, writing this essay to acknowledge that I see something within myself (line drawing around autism) that doesn’t align with another part of myself (believing we are all neurodiverse).
I’m not fully sure what the answer is here. It will probably need time and brushing up against other humans and their perspectives for me to come to more conclusions. In the meantime, I’m going to experiment with using less language around neurodiverse vs neurotypical … and yet still discuss what I think defines autism.
I’d love to hear your comments below and how you navigate this issue.
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