Neurodiversity is a "controversial concept [that] ... regards atypical neurological development as a normal human difference".[1] According to Jaarsma and Welin (2011), the "neurodiversity movement was developed in the 1990s by online groups of (high-functioning) autistic persons. It is now associated with the struggle for the civil rights of all those diagnosed with neurological or neurodevelopmental disorders".[1]



Biodiversity is an accepted phenomenon in the animal kingdom.[2] The concept of neurodiversity in humans was initially embraced by some autistic individuals and people with related conditions.[1] Subsequent groups applied the concept to conditions unrelated (or non-concomitant) to autism such as bipolar disorder, ADHD,[3] schizophrenia,[4] circadian rhythm disorders, developmental speech disorders, Parkinson's disease, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and Tourette's syndrome.[3][5]

The term is attributed to Judy Singer, a sociologist with Asperger syndrome,[1] and according to an article in New York Magazine, was first published by Harvey Blume.[6] The earliest published use of the term appears in a New York Times article by Harvey Blume on September 30, 1998:[7]

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.

Previous to this, although Blume did not make explicit use of the term neurodiversity, he wrote in a New York Times piece on June 30, 1997:[8] "Yet, in trying to come to terms with an NT [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."

Blume was an early advocate who predicted the role the internet would play in fostering neurodiversity, saying:[9] "There is a political dimension to this bond with the Internet. A project called CyberSpace 2000 is devoted to getting as many people as possible in the autistic spectrum hooked up by the year 2000, 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. ... The challenge we will all be increasingly confronted with, on-line and off, is, to look at ourselves differently than we have before, that is, to accept neurological diversity."

Usage of the term has spread to a more general meaning; for example, the Developmental Adult Neurodiversity Association (DANDA) in the UK encompasses developmental dyspraxia, ADHD, Asperger syndrome and related conditions.[10] The term gained broader exposure in a 2004 New York Times Amy Harmon article titled "The Disability Movement Turns to Brains".[11]

Autism spectrum

Neurodiversity as a term captures the discovery that autism has an organic basis, representing a move away from the "mother-blaming" theories of the 20th century. Before the scientific advances in the 1980s, autism scholars popularized the belief that autism resulted from faulty parenting; stigma remained until recent genetic research debunked this myth.[12] The cause of autism is contested and could result from a variety of factors that are genetic, biological, or environmental in nature; the shift is that the basis of autism is no longer believed to be entirely social. The post-1980 geneticization of autism, wherein the condition is said to have an organic basis, was a change that prompted the idea of neurodiversity, with autism able to be accepted as a natural difference in individuals.[12]

The language surrounding neurodiversity has been controversial.[1] Those proposing the medical model label learning differences as "disorders, deficits, and dysfunctions". From this point of view, neurodiverse states are viewed as medical conditions that can and should be corrected.[13] Author David Pollak sees neurodiversity as an inclusive term that refers to the equality of all possible mental states. Still others reject the word because it sounds too medical and overshadows the needs of people with learning differences.[13]

Proponents of neurodiversity strive to re-conceptualize autism and related conditions in society. Main goals of the movement include:

  • acknowledging that neurodiverse people do not need 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
  • giving neurodiverse individuals more control over their treatment, including the type, timing, and whether there should be treatment at all.[14]

Jaarsma and Welin wrote in 2011 that the "broad version of the neurodiversity claim, covering low-functioning as well as high-functioning autism, is problematic. Only a narrow conception of neurodiversity, referring exclusively to high-functioning autists, is reasonable.[1] They conclude that higher functioning individuals with autism may "not [be] benefited with such a psychiatric defect-based diagnosis" and "some of them are being harmed by it, because of the disrespect the diagnosis displays for their natural way of being", but "think that it is still reasonable to include other categories of autism in the psychiatric diagnostics. The narrow conception of the neurodiversity claim should be accepted but the broader claim should not."[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Jaarsma P, Welin S (February 2011). "Autism as a Natural Human Variation: Reflections on the Claims of the Neurodiversity Movement" (PDF). Health Care Anal. doi:10.1007/s10728-011-0169-9. PMID 21311979. 
  2. ^ Baker, Dana Lee (2011). The Politics of Neurodiversity: Why Public Policy Matters. Lynne Rienner Publishers. ISBN 978-1588267542. 
  3. ^ a b Woodford, Gillian. 'We Don't Need to be Cured' Autistics Say. National Review of Medicine. Volume 3. No. 8. April 30, 2006. Retrieved February 23, 2008.
  4. ^ Morrice, Polly (January 29, 2006) "Otherwise Minded" The New York Times, review of A Mind Apart: Travels in a Neurodiverse World
  5. ^ Mackenzie, Robin; John Watts (2011-01-31). "Is our legal, health care and social support infrastructure neurodiverse enough? How far are the aims of the neurodiversity movement fulfilled for those diagnosed with cognitive disability and learning disability?". Tizard Learning Disability Review (Pier Professional) 16 (1): 30–37. doi: 10.5042/tldr.2011.0005. "We recommend, therefore, that the term neurodiverse include the conditions ASD, ADHD, OCD, language disorders, dyspraxia, dyslexia and Tourette's syndrome." 
  6. ^ Solomon, Andrew (May 25, 2008). "The Autism Rights Movement". New York Magazine. Retrieved June 28, 2008. 
  7. ^ Blume, Harvey (September 30, 1998). "Neurodiversity". The Atlantic. Retrieved November 7, 2007. 
  8. ^ Blume, Harvey (June 30, 1997). "Autistics, freed from face-to-face encounters, are communicating in cyberspace". The New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2007. 
  9. ^ Blume, Harvey (July 1, 1997). ""Autism & The Internet" or "It's The Wiring, Stupid"". Media In Transition, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved November 8, 2007. 
  10. ^ Home page. DANDA. Retrieved on 2007-11-08
  11. ^ Harmon, Amy. Neurodiversity Forever; The Disability Movement Turns to Brains. The New York Times, May 9, 2004. Retrieved on 2007-11-08.
  12. ^ a b Bumiller, Kristen. "The Geneticization of Autism: From New Reproductive Technologies to the Conception of Genetic Normalcy." Signs 34.4 (2009): 875-99. Chicago Journals. University of Chicago Press.
  13. ^ a b Pollak, David. 2009. “Neurodiversity in Higher Education.” John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
  14. ^ Fenton, Andrew, and Tim Krahn. "Autism, Neurodiversity and Equality Beyond the Normal." Journal of Ethics in Mental Health 2.2 (2007): 1-6. Web. 10 November 2009.

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Look at other dictionaries:

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