What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is a term used to describe the wide range of differences in how people’s brains work. It supports the view that differences in how we think, behave or process information aren’t ‘abnormal’ or something to be fixed. Instead, they can be seen as normal variations on a spectrum. Just as you may be born left-handed or with green eyes, there’s no right or wrong with neurodiversity. How your brain works and where you sit on this spectrum will be unique to you.
Most people are neurotypical, which means they think and behave in a way that society traditionally considers ‘normal’. But it’s estimated that at least one in 10 people have differences that make them ‘neurodivergent’. This means they behave, think, process or interpret information in ways that differ to most other people.
Types of neurodiversity
Neurodiversity covers many different ways of thinking, behaving or processing information. Some examples of conditions considered to be neurodivergent include:
- autism – a condition that affects communication, social interaction and behaviour
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – which affects ability to control attention and concentration
- dyslexia – which causes difficulties in reading or interpreting words, letters and other symbols
- dyspraxia – which affects physical coordination
- dyscalculia – which relates to difficulties in understanding numbers
- dysgraphia – which relates to difficulties with writing
- tic disorders such as Tourette’s syndrome – which is when you make sounds or movements that you can’t control
These conditions often exist on a spectrum and affect people differently. Some people may only have very mild difficulties, whereas others may be severely affected. It’s also common to have more than one of these conditions at the same time.
Benefits of neurodiversity
Everyone has things that they’re naturally good at and other things that they’re not so good at. People who are neurodivergent are no different. If you’re neurodivergent, you may struggle with certain activities, but find you have unique skills in other areas. For instance, someone with autism may be particularly good at performing repetitive tasks. A person with dyslexia on the other hand, may show strengths in creative and lateral thinking.
Other strengths may include things like problem-solving, attention to detail or risk-taking. Of course, this will be very dependent on the individual. Not every person with a particular condition will show strengths or weaknesses in the same area. But everyone will have their own personal qualities, and it’s important to recognise these.
Challenges of neurodiversity
Despite the benefits, there’s no denying that being neurodivergent can also present many challenges. This is often related to society’s expectations of how we should act or behave. Schools, workplaces and social settings are often designed with a neurotypical society in mind. This can make life difficult for neurodivergent people.
Someone with dyspraxia might find using office equipment challenging, for example. A child with ADHD may find it hard to concentrate at school. And a person with autism may struggle with the bright lights and noise of a busy shopping centre. These are all things that a neurotypical person may be able to do with ease.
So what can you do to support neurodiversity? The important thing to remember is that neurodivergent conditions are all just variations of ‘normal’. Every person is a unique individual, with their own strengths and challenges. People who are neurodivergent should not have to change to suit a neurotypical society. Instead, as a society we need to do more to be accepting and supportive of all ‘neurotypes’. This may mean making adaptations in schools, workplaces and other environments. On an individual level, it means getting to know people for who they are. Then celebrating their differences, wherever they fall on the neurodiversity spectrum.
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