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Neurodivergence: Breaking the Mold of the Neurotypical World

Updated: Nov 23, 2023


About 15 to 20% of the world population exhibits some degree of neurodivergence, according to ADHD Aware. Research points to the distinct capabilities of neurodivergent individuals to trace innovative solutions to puzzling questions and imagine endless possibilities beyond our current reality, whether in the arts, literature, science, or other disciplines. One would think these out-of-the-box ideas would be celebrated in academic and work environments. Yet, most neurodivergent individuals are forced to conform to flawed and outdated systems of evaluation that fail to assess the true capabilities of neurodivergent people. Furthermore, this newsletter addresses the inequities in rates of diagnoses of BIPOC, women, and gender non-conforming people.

The Cleveland Clinic discusses the ambiguity embedded in the term “neurodivergent,” since the very concept of a normal, or “neurotypical" brain is based on ongoing investigations about how neurological differences manifest themselves in human behavior. Social expectations regarding productivity and intelligence, however, are much more rigid and do not consider the spectrum of human physiology and behavior that exists.

This ambiguity, coupled with the relatively novel technologies and techniques that are available to diagnose neurological disabilities, further accentuates a gap in our understanding of how racial and ethnic groups are affected by these conditions. This Pubmed article discusses the implications of how Black, Latine, Asian, and low-income children are less likely to be diagnosed with autism.

By revising the language we use around disabilities, and assessing our attitudes toward people with disabilities through film and other media, we can come closer to reaching an equitable and just culture surrounding disabilities and getting proper care.

Terminology Relating to Neurodiversity:

When dealing with issues relating to neurodiversity and disability rights, oftentimes many are not aware of the most inclusive words to use. Though you should always ask someone with disabilities how they like to be referred to, generally the most inclusive terminology is person-first (example: use “person with a disability” rather than “disabled person.”) Please use the guide that we provide below for more information on terminology to influence your conversations and everyday vocabulary:

  • Neurodiversity - the diversity within a community dealing with the neurological differences that result from normal variations in the brain.

    • Correct Use: “The school should offer multiple learning strategies to accommodate the neurodiversity of the school.”

  • Ableism - a set of beliefs that devalue and discriminate against people with physical or intellectual disabilities; based on the assumption that people with disabilities need to be “fixed.”

  • Ableist - discrimination of and prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that non-disabled people are superior

  • Autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder) refers to a broad diversity of neurological conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication.

  • Allistic - a person that is not autistic.

  • Ally - a person with privilege on a particular axis who consciously chooses to work against oppression on that axis. Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) is a great way for allies to get involved in disability rights advocacy.

  • Neurotypical (often abbreviated as NT) - a person who does not exhibit neurological differences.

  • Neurodiversity Movement - a human rights movement led by neurodivergent people and other people with disabilities with a goal of acceptance of neurological differences, autonomy, equitable inclusion, and combating ableist discrimination.

Please learn more by visiting these sources:

Activist Spotlight: Imani Barbarin

Imani Barbarin is a writer and disability rights activist who fights for an accurate representation of disabled people in the media, inclusion in critical political discussions, and equal accessibility. Imani was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in March, 1990 and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at two years old. She currently runs a blog named Crutches and Spice, a podcast with the same name, and creates educational and activist content on social media. She’s made multiple advocacy campaigns like #DisTheOscars, a campaign that sought to discuss disability representation in media, and was a contributing writer for Forbes, the Peacock Plume, and more. She writes from her own perspective as a black woman born with cerebral palsy and educates others on disabled issues, and shines a light on the struggles of living as a disabled woman of color.

Book Recommendation:

Little and Lion - Brandy Colbert

(Diverse, Multi-dimensional Characters, subtly serious)

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn't sure if she'll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (as well as her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new...the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel's disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself--or worse.

More Resources:

Credit: Riverdale Takes Action Team

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