Tuesday 8 September 2020

Explaining Neurodiversity

I am generally credited with being the originator of the term Neurodiversity while writing a sociology honours thesis,"Odd People In: a personal exploration of a new social movement based on neurological diversity" (UTS Sydney 1998). 

I did not define the term, thinking its meaning self-evident. Since then there have been a proliferation of definitions, and as I expected, most people intuitively "get it". But inevitably, some definitions seem to me to miss the point, especially when they take neurodiversity to be a synonym for "neurological disability". 

While I understand that language evolves and changes, I am determined to defend my intuitive understanding of the term vigourously, and have thus unpacked the complex meaning furled within it. 

To read my definition, click on the "What is Neurodiversity" tab above, or here


  1. What Neurodiversity is
  2. What Neurodiversity is not
  3. What the Neurodiversity Movement is
  4. Fundamental Principles
  5. Neurodiversity and Conservation
  6. The Dark Side of Neurodiversity
  7. Neurodiversity and Eugenics
  8. Neurodiversity and "Difference vs Disability"
  9. The Future of Neurodiversity
If you are interested in going to the primary source, see my republished thesis 

Many people report hearing the word "Neurodiversity" and having an instant Aha! moment - its meaning seems so obvious. But if you scratch the surface there is a lot embedded in a name. The concept is controversial and the meanings ascribed to it can be confusing. To read my updated take on my original idea, click on the tab at top or find it here.
This was the frontispiece of my 1998 thesis,
depicting my trepidation as I embarked on
the stormy seas of the linguistic culture wars. 
I must have been prophetic!
Click to enlarge 

If you are a writer or research you may also want to go to the primary source, my 1998 Sociology Honours Thesis, Odd People In: a personal exploration of a New Social Movement based on Neurological Diversity at the University of Technology Sydney.  I have republished the thesis under the title of Neurodiversity: the birth of an idea. In addition to the original thesis the book includes an introduction that describes the provenance of the idea and my reflections up to the time of publication in 2016

What it isn't: a Clue

Neurodiversity is not a synonym for "Neurological Disability". It is a property of Earth's biosphere. 

We are all neurodiverse because no two people on 
the planet are exactly alike. 

Having suffered, literally, the disadvantages, exclusions, humiliations and impoverishment of being in the middle of three generations of "odd" women, later diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, I was on a mission to ensure that my daughter and her generation would not go through what my mother and I had. 

I had 3 aims: 
  • to add this new social movement to the categories of Intersectionality, 
  • to broaden the scope of the Disability Rights Movement and 
  • to give name to an emerging movement of devalued neurological minorities who were begin to demand respect, dignity, accommodation, and equity. 
But "Neurological Diversity Movement" was too much of a mouthful. It needed something catchy. 

And then one day, I had my own Aha! moment. Just whack the two together, and there's our name!

At that time, hard neuroscience was supplanting soft psychodynamics as the ultimate authority on the human mind, And environmental science with its emphasis on the importance of biodiversity was also ascendant.  It seemed to me that putting these two important ideas together would lend their authority to our nascent movement. 

The concept appears simple, but there's a lot to unpack - see the full article at 

1 comment:

Jen Manson said...

Personally, I see neurodiversity as part of biodiversity and essential to survival of the species. I also see it as a scientific concept that could be disproved if 2 identical brains were identified. You'd only need one example of this to disprove the fact that all brains are unique, so it is disprovable and thus a valid scientific concept.

Various types of MRI are very good at picking up similarities and differences. Given what we now know about neuroplasticity and epigenetics, we know that the chances of identical brains are virtually nil, as you'd have to have exactly the same genetics, the same environments and the same experiences throughout life to have an identical brain to someone else. Every experience changes the structure of your brain.