You may have heard of the term “neurodivergent”, or perhaps “neurodiversity.” These are terms about which there is much controversy on the internet, and sadly, much misrepresentation. In this article, I shall explain who these terms refer to, what they represent, how the people who fall under this umbrella have not gotten the accommodations and acknowledgement they deserve, and how you can support them.
What are Neurodiversity and Neurodivergency?
‘Neurodiversity’ is a term modeled after the word “biodiversity” 2, the idea that there is strength in the variety of species in nature. Neurodiversity refers similarly to the idea of society being strengthened by many different viewpoints, often specifically referring to the benefits of the perspectives of neurodivergent people.3
But what is neurodivergency, and what does the adjective “neurodivergent” mean? The term “neurodivergent” refers to having, literally, a different kind of brain than others1, 5. This can be due to learning disabilities, like dyspraxia, or conditions like ADHD and autism where one’s brain is literally wired differently.
Neurodivergency presents in many ways
Whether it be autism, ADHD, or a different form of neurodivergency, each one can present in many ways. As a saying I’ve heard before goes: “If you’ve met one neurodivergent person… you’ve met one neurodivergent person.” Although each condition, whether from birth or through an experience, manifests differently, there are also variations among experiences even within diagnoses.
For one example, autism and ADHD often present differently in women than in men. Of course, this is still not a rule, and becomes far more complex when considering women and men who are exceptions, as well as of course nonbinary and intersex people. Other conditions which happen due to lived experiences, like DID, can vary wildly from person to person. And the combination of more than one form of neurodivergency only makes things more complex.
Accommodations for Neurodivergent people
In some cases, neurodivergent people are perfectly capable of holding jobs and even being very successful, with only some accommodations needed. For example, autistic people can be less likely to get through interviews successfully due to finding it harder to follow social norms and cues, whereas autistic people may get overstimulated due to environments with too much noise and sensory stimuli.
While some jobs may be more suited for neurodivergent folks than others, understanding and some accommodations can go a long way. For example, if it was understood that some autistic people who otherwise would have not gotten through the interview had trouble understanding social cues, they might have been hired and been able to do their jobs perfectly well, and maybe even brought in their own unique insights.
In the past, neurodivergent characters almost didn’t exist at all! Today, this is thankfully no longer the case, but there is still something lacking in much of the representation available. For example, the movie “Music” was lacking in terms of representation as the autistic character is neither played by an autistic actor nor does she feel like a real person. ‘Music’, the autistic character, is written as a flat character with little agency of her own. The movie also includes a use of restraints, which is not tactful as restraints are not commonly used and can even be dangerous for autistic individuals.
Sometimes, misrepresentation isn’t about bad portrayals, but stereotypical ones. It is important to note that for some neurodivergent individuals, these more stereotypical portrayals may mirror their lived experience, and so the problem here is not one of specific media but one of patterns. For example, portrayals of hyperactive ADHD (the type which is more likely to present in men) are significantly more common than portrayals of inattentive ADHD. It’s also true that neurodivergent people who are part of some other minority rarely get to show up on “the big screen.”
Intersectionality and Neurodivergency
Intersectionality is the idea that systems of inequality can combine when people fall under many of their categories. Such “systems of inequality” can be more widespread and subtle than would be anticipated, including disability, gender, race, financial status, neurodivergency, religion, orientation, and even place of birth. They can also vary from country to country, as in one place a certain group may be oppressed while in another group this may be not true or true to a much smaller extent.
Intersectionality is an important consideration in the discussion of neurodiversity because some neurodivergent people face far more difficulties than others. For example, women and nonbinary people are significantly less likely to be diagnosed. When women are diagnosed, they are often diagnosed with the wrong things. People of color can face similar challenges: for example, a disproportionately high percentage of Black neurodivergent youth is misdiagnosed with conduct disorder, particularly boys.
It can be easy to focus on the negatives, but neurodivergent people can also be creative, highly focused, motivated and more. In a society where they are more understood and accommodated, neurodivergent people are better able not only to contribute to society but to live better, happier lives. By acknowledging the variety of perspectives and lived experiences we all contribute, whether we be neurodivergent or otherwise, we can lead the way to a brighter, more accepting world.
- What Is Neurodivergent? A Complete Guide – Forbes Health
- Neurodiversity - NCI
- Neurodiversity Is a Competitive Advantage
- Behavioral and Neuropsychological Evaluation of Executive Functions in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Gulf Region - PMC
- Neurodiversity: What Is It?
- Differences Between High- and Low-Functioning Autism
- Higher levels of autistic traits associated with lower levels of self-efficacy and wellbeing for performing arts professionals - PMC
- Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Children | Johns Hopkins Medicine
- Learning Disorders in Children | NCBDDD | CDC
- 'There is No Cause, There is No Effect': Experiences at the Intersection of Transgender and Neurodivergent Identities (includes a download)
- Neurodiversity & Gender-Diverse Youth: (also a download)
- Autistic women and girls
- ADHD in Women
- The Intersection of Race and Neurodivergence: The Black Dyspraxic shares on overcoming barriers | Forbes
- For Black Families, Neurodivergence Means Challenges—and Endless Opportunities To Redefine Parenting
- Racial, Ethnic, and Sociodemographic Disparities in Diagnosis of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder - PMC
- A Deeper Look into Intersectionality and Neurodiversity - Uptimize
- Navajo and Autism: The Beauty of Harmony (a download)
- The ‘double empathy problem’: Ten years on - Damian Milton, Emine Gurbuz, Beatriz López, 2022
- Sia's Golden Globe-Nominated Music Isn't Just Offensive. It's Also Bad Art—and the Distinction Matters
- The media has neurodiversity wrong. We must rethink representation. | Varsity
- Representation of autism in fictional media: A systematic review of media content and its impact on viewer knowledge and understanding of autism - Sandra C Jones, Chloe S Gordon, Simone Mizzi, 2023
- How science can do better for neurodivergent people
- What is intersectionality
- Gender Differences in Misdiagnosis and Delayed Diagnosis among Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder with No Language or Intellectual Disability - PMC