What is neurodiversity?

Sarah Firth speaks to ABC Australia’s The Drum about owning her neurodivergence

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term used to explain the differences in the way people’s brains work and how this can impact their behaviour and interaction with society. You will often hear this term used alongside the term ‘neurotypical’. This refers to people who have brains that function in a similar way to most of their peers in environments like school, work or when out socialising. Individuals who are neurotypical develop skills, such as social or organisational skills, at around the same rate as others their age.


The neurodiversity movement  


During the 1990s, the internet helped neurodiverse people connect through online platforms. This laid the groundwork for the neurodiversity movement, which aimed to increase the acceptance and inclusion of all people with neurodiverse conditions.

There’s debate over who first used the term ‘neurodiversity.’ Most attribute it to Australian sociologist Judy Singer, who used it in her undergraduate degree to promote equality for neurological minorities. However, some experts suggest the term originated from an online community called Independent Living on the Autistic Spectrum (InLv), which has been active since the mid-1990s

Regardless of who invented it, the term neurodiverse and the neurodiversity movement that followed have had a significant impact. They have challenged and changed how society views and interacts with neurodiverse people. This has also influenced medical professionals, leading to improvement in understanding and treating neurological conditions

Neurodivergent conditions

You may have heard of or know someone with one or several of these neurodiverse conditions. Neurodiversity is very common. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 35-40% of the population has a neurodiverse condition. 

  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition where a person displays an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity or impulsivity that interferes with their ability to function in places like school or work. ADHD can be broken into three types, these are hyperactive, inattentive and combined type. Although ADHD is often diagnosed in childhood, it is very common for those with inattentive ADHD to live their whole lives without a diagnosis. 

    Check out this article in ADDitude for more information on why this is a big issue for girls and AFAB people. 

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition involving ongoing challenges with social communication, restricted interests and repetitive behaviour. While autism is a lifelong disorder, the degree of impairment in functioning because of these challenges varies between people with autism. 
  • Dyslexia is a learning disability in which the person affected has ongoing difficulty learning language skills like reading, writing, spelling, or maths. 
  • Dyspraxia, or Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), is a neurological condition that affects movement and coordination. Signs may include difficulty handwriting, getting changed, or difficulty picking up new skills. 
  • Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a condition of the central nervous system that causes people to have ‘tics’, sudden, repetitive movements or sounds that aren’t easy to control.

What’s it like living with a neurodiverse condition?

It’s important to remember that every neurodiverse person is unique, so it’s hard to say what it’s like to live with a neurodiverse condition, as people’s experiences are all different. However, neurodiverse people who share the same conditions do report similar experiences of their strengths and struggles.

Check out these short videos below to hear what it’s like living with a neurodiverse condition from people who live with them:

Another way to get an insight into what it’s like to live with a neurodiverse condition is to ask the people you’re close to who have these conditions how you can better support their needs.

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