The idea of neurodiversity was first introduced in 1997 as part of efforts to increase awareness about autism. Neurodiversity is the belief that it’s normal and acceptable for people to have brains that function differently and that acknowledging and understanding neurodiversity can allow us to appreciate our differences. The concept of neurodiversity is gaining recognition and can be beneficial for describing your or a loved one’s challenges and strengths. Let’s review the meaning of neurodiversity, including some common behaviors associated with neurodivergence.
What is Neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity refers to the idea that people experience and interact with the world in many different ways. These neurological variations or differences are considered a natural part of humanity. By recognizing our variations in thinking as normal, we accept that there’s no single—or correct— way of thinking, learning, or accomplishing our various tasks. Embracing neurodiversity means that we don’t label others’ behavioral traits as problematic or abnormal when their brain function isn’t similar to the majority of other individuals. When considering neurodiversity, people typically fall into two main groups, which are called neurotypical and neurodivergent individuals.
The term neurotypical refers to people who have more typical brain processing and behaviors. Neurotypical people are often considered “normal” and may not realize that they are classified as neurotypical. For neurotypical individuals, your brain functions in the same way as many other people.
In contrast to neurotypical people, neurodivergent individuals are often aware of the differences in their brain functioning. Those who are neurodivergent may have a specific diagnosis, such as:
- Autism spectrum disorder, which includes differences in social skills, speech, and fine and gross motor skills.
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which includes behaviors related to hyperactivity, impulsivity, and attention.
- Tourette’s syndrome, which describes a tic disorder that’s characterized by involuntary, repetitive vocalizations and movements.
- Learning disabilities, including dyslexia (difficulty with language skills), dyspraxia (difficulty with movement and coordination), and dyscalculia (difficulty with doing basic arithmetic).
There are also neurodiverse individuals without diagnoses who may have related differences, such as a sensory processing dysfunction.
What Are Neurodivergent Behaviors?
Neurodivergent people may have difficulties fitting in socially, adjusting to change and behaving in ways that society often expects. Recognizing both challenging and helpful neurodivergent behaviors can help you identify your own or others’ qualities and how they may influence communications and interactions with the world.
Here are some of the more common challenging neurodivergent behaviors:
- social interaction challenges
- speech and language difficulties
- learning challenges, such as struggles with focus and reading
- atypical reactions to sensory input, including light, sound, heat, cold, and crowds
- unusual physical behaviors, for instance, rocking and shouting at unexpected moments
- inflexibility or inability to adapt to change
By comparison, neurodivergent behaviors can promote creativity and make certain tasks easier, including:
- ability to maintain focus on a topic or activity for long periods of time
- creative thinking leading to innovative solutions and problem-solving skills
- keen observational skills and attention to detail
- excellent ability to grasp patterns and codes, including computer programming skills
- exceptional skills in a range of subjects, such as music, art, math, technology, and science
Importance of Understanding Neurodiversity
Historically, there’s been a significant stigma associated with neurodivergent behaviors. Neurodivergent people were usually labelled abnormal and their differences were pathologized, leading to difficult societal challenges for both neurodiverse individuals and their loved ones. The better we understand neurodiversity, the more we can shift our perception about neurodiversity and improve how we engage with neurodivergent individuals.
Neurodiversity is an important concept that stresses neurological differences are normal variations and should not be considered pathological disorders. If you’re concerned about or are aware that you or a loved one is neurodivergent, there are strategies to help navigate the challenges you may be experiencing. Please contact us to better understand how we can support you.