Now, the Neurodiversity Paradigm may not be the snappiest of titles but please do stick with it, because this particular approach to understanding who we are, as neurodivergents, is our friend (finally).

Firstly, there’s the word neurodiversity ← click on it for a description of what it means. It really doesn’t mean what most people/organisations/governments/medical professionals choose to think it means.

Then there’s the word paradigm – this is just a fancy way of meaning how we view things – a perspective. It’s a word used a lot in academia.

So the Neurodiversity Paradigm simply means taking the view that every single person’s mind in the world is unique to them. This uniqueness arises from a combination of neurotype and any co-occurring conditions and, importantly, our differing environments. Simple and obvious, when we put it like that.

If we take a look at the glossary entry on neurodivergents, we see that it includes a huge array of neurodivergencies; here are just a few: autism, ADHD, auDHD, bipolar, dyspraxia, Tourette’s, PTSD, Down’s, schizophrenia, dementia. Some neurodivergencies are present from birth and some are acquired during our lifetimes. Within these broad categories (neurodivergencies) each person is likely to have so many other factors (Down’s, with co-occurring autism and epilepsy, for instance) that have combined to make us who we are, and how we interact with the world, that we are all quite different to each other, just as each neurotypical is different to another.

If we then take a look at the glossary entry on neurotypicals (NTs), we see that these are people who don’t have any neurodivergencies at all – they are in the majority and our society has been designed by and for them, even though it actually doesn’t suit many of them either because, guess what? They too are all unique!

neurodivergents + neurotypicals = neurodiversity

And that really is what the essence of the Neurodiversity Paradigm is all about – an acknowledgement that there are many, many, many different minds in the world. Equal, just different. [As a personal aside, I view neurotypicals as different, because they are different to me, and my me is obviously my normal, so my main frame of reference is me and my quirky family. It’s probably why I spend so much time thinking ‘wow, other people are soooo weird!’]

So, the neurodiversity approach is an acknowledgement that our neurotypes are different to the majority, different to what most people in our culture have been raised to expect. Unlike the traditional medical model view of autism and ADHD, the neurodiversity paradigm specifically rejects any suggestion that we are lacking in something vital that would make us ‘normal’. We’re not faulty. The help that we need, in order to do more than survive in this difficult world, is to understand and accommodate us with compassion, NOT to fix us or make us less awkward to be around. If we are broken at all, it is through damage done to us in the course of our lives, not because of the brain wiring we were born with. Our society disables us.

This is why we need to trust our own judgement about who we are, who we identify as being, what label (if any) feels right for us. Humans, as a species, are diverse. Our life experiences are diverse. We’re interesting and varied and unpredictable. And the Neurodiversity Paradigm celebrates that.

Extra bits…

Beware when Googling the word neurodiversity. You will find that the vast majority of organisations use this word to mean all people who are not neurotypical. But this is an incredibly common misconception and the more it’s used wrongly, the more it’s used wrongly. Neurodiversity is an all inclusive term. It means everyone, of every neurotype. It’s incredibly irritating to read of courses and other forms of provision aimed at ‘neurodiverse people‘. They mean neurodivergent people but what they’re inadvertently advertising is a course for everyone in the world! I wrote and told a local college of this clanger recently – they have a neurodiversity department to support people with additional support needs. They ignored my email, obviously. It’s done to us newbies to set the record straight so we all actually know we’re talking about, otherwise we’ll never find our tribes!

If you fancy a bit of an academic deep dive then you could reading this journal article, written last year (2022): Rethinking Autism Assessment, Diagnosis, and Intervention Within a Neurodevelopmental Pathway Framework

And if you fancy something a bit easier on the eye and the energy levels there’s this reader-friendly article from Autistic Realms.