Friday 6 March 2020

That troublesome adjective "Neurodiverse"

The Adjective "Neurodiverse” has become so popular in common usage  as a synonym for “neurologically different", and is so entrenched in both organizational jargon and personal identification that it seems churlish to quibble that it is linguistical irrational and ultimately damaging to the cause.

To my horror, it’s even in the Oxford Dictionary, doing the work of dividing a group called "US" from a group called "THEM"!

Neurodiversity like biodiversity, is literally a feature of the planet not a synonym for "Neurologically Other"

We humans are NOT Neurodiverse 
Not individually. Not collectively.
The PLANET is Neurodiverse

Just no!

The importance of language

It seems there are two kinds of people in this world
  1. Those who believe that language matters and it's important to get it right
  2. Those who believe "Never mind the language, let's just get on with the job"
Naturally, I prefer the first mob. (See below for an example of a perfectly useful, necessary and innocuous adjective permanently ruined by misuse. I refer to the statistical term "Deviant")

But I do waver in my linguistic perfectionism from time to time, as I try to weigh the pros and cons of undermining a juggernaut of change. After all, if all the organizations springing up for the "inclusion of neurodiverse people" are making the world a better place, why complicate things with my obsession with linguistic purity ?

How it ends lies with all of you.

My linguistic point

I have been rightly reminded by Martijn Dekker and others, that my earlier statement that we are ALL “Neurodiverse” is wrong. . But saying that NONE of us are Neurodiverse is equally wrong. I hope my argument below makes it clear. Both are wrong, because ND is a descriptor of the planet, never of individuals. 

Logically speaking, Neurodiverse is an imaginary and irrational adjective, somewhat like an imaginary number, (the square root of a negative number which cannot logically exist) 

This usage of “neurodiverse” cannot be based based on "biodiverse", because that adjective only exists for the comparison of ecosystems, as in "The Amazon Delta is more biodiverse than the Sahara Desert"

Since Homo Sapiens has colonized the whole planet, the only thing we can be compared with is another planet with sentient life. Until such time as we find such a planet, the adjective is out on a very lonely limb.

And it is illogical to use Neurodiverse as an adjective to describe an individual.

You cannot Say "Lee Bloggs is a person, while Kim Bloggs is a neurodiverse person" (note my careful use of ungendered names) any more that you would say "Skippy the Kangaroo is a marsupial, but Wally the Wombat is biodiverse"

So, maybe the concept is lost to all but linguistic nerds, but 

Nevertheless, I register a protest

Neurodiverse should not be a synonym for “neurologically disabled". We are all neurodiverse, because:
  1. It's linguistically illogical.  We are ALL Neurodiverse inhabitants of the planet, because no two minds on this planet can ever be exactly alike.
  2. More importantly, if Neurodiverse becomes a synonym for Disabled instead of remaining a symbol for the incredible wonder of natural variation, it will rapidly acquire stigma,  be devalued, and we would lose its power as a unifying symbol for all

Appendix: The sad case of the word "Deviant"

Once upon a time deviant was a perfectly innocuous statistical term meaning "a quantity expressing by how much the members of a group differ from the mean value for the group". Somehow someone stuck it to the word "Sexual" and it's now sullied for all time. 

One of the fathers of sociology,  Ă‰mile Durkheim viewed deviance as an inevitable part of how society functions. He argued that deviance is a basis for change and innovation!
So now so many people think "deviant" means "sexually perverted" that the much better word Neurodeviant has to be avoided, and we must use "Neurodivergent"...

Deviant and Divergent defined

Deviant actually means "a significant standard deviation from the average". That is what the new term "Spiky Neurological Profile" actually means. A "Neurotypical person" has very little standard deviation from the average on a range of cognitive abilities, while "a NeuroSpiky" person with AS ADHD the Dyses etc,  has a range of deviations.

Imagine Kim and Lee walking down the “one true”, socially sanctioned normal conventional path, and Kim deviate from the norm and forges a new path.

Now imagine Kim and Lee walking together on a path, any path, when they come to a cross-roads, split and go their separate paths, perhaps never to meet again.

Is that what we want?

If the Gay movement could reclaim the word Queer as their badge of pride, why not NeuroDeviant?

What do you think?

Probably reclaiming "deviant" is a step too far, too late, I admit, but it's all part of my contribution to the Dialectic of Neurodiversity:


I don't say there's no such thing as "Disability". But you have to ask yourself what you mean by Disability before you criticise others. Their understanding may be quite different.
Do you mean the Welfare System's definition used to save money by dividing the "worthy poor" from the "unworthy poor"? 
The United Nations definition? Your personal experience of pride, or suffering, or discrimination? And more

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