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Celebrating Neurodiversity

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity simply means variations or differences in the brain. These brain differences can affect learning, attention, mood, social skills, behaviour, and cognitive functioning. Sociologist Judy Singer first used the term in the late 1990s.

The concept was first applied to autism spectrum disorder. However, now more widely used with other neurodevelopmental conditions such as:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

  • Specific Learning Disorder/Learning Disability (dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia)

  • Intellectual disability

  • Intellectual Developmental Disorder

  • Global Developmental Delay

  • Language Disorder

  • Speech Sound Disorder

  • Childhood-Onset Fluency Disorder (Stuttering)

  • Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder

  • Developmental Coordination Disorder

  • Stereotypic Movement Disorder

  • Tic Disorders

Science supports neurodiversity. Historical studies have shown there has always been neurological differences and variation. Through brain imaging, there have been observable structural and functional differences in those who are neurodiverse. In other words, brains can both look and work differently.

Why is it important?

Neurodiversity changes the view of neurodevelopmental conditions. It is a shift away from labelling conditions as abnormal, deficient, or unhealthy. Neurodiversity celebrates human diversity and acknowledges both strengths and limitations. By doing so, it reduces the stigma around these conditions. It shifts the perspective of those affected in thinking that something is ‘wrong’ with them. By embracing differences, it can result in increased individual self-esteem, motivation, and resilience. The concept of neurodiversity helps shift the goal from curing or fixing disease or illness. The goal then is to support neurodiverse individuals, promote inclusion and implement accommodations.

School and Learning

From the perspective of neurodiversity, it is essential to consider how teachers interact with students. There should be considerations for different learning styles, focusing on a student’s strengths and challenges. Accommodations can be made concerning how information is presented, the classroom setup, and how students complete assignments or tests.

Does a student learn best visually, auditory, kinaesthetically (hands-on), or a combination?

Do they work best alone, in a quiet environment or in a group setting?

Do they express their understanding best through writing, oral presentations, or alternative formats?

Neurodiversity: Case Study

Students with learning differences were separated into two groups based on their perception of neurodiversity.

Group one held a ‘difference’ view. They embraced neurodiversity and recognized both strengths and weaknesses.

Group two held a ‘medical/deficit/ view. They saw neurodiversity as a disadvantaged medical condition.

Students in both groups experienced challenges such as exclusion, abuse and bullying. However, students in the ‘difference’ view group reported higher self-esteem, confidence in abilities, and more ambitious career goals.

Neurodiversity: Strengths & Limitations

Neurodiverse individuals have a different brain, way of thinking, learning, and processing information. In many ways, this can be advantageous and insightful when compared to peers. Some neurodiverse individuals may have exceptional abilities and talents. Examples include art, memory, arithmetic, spatial skills, knowledge, and ability in a specific domain.

While we celebrate neurodiversity, we must acknowledge challenges, limitations and/or disability. There are several reasons and scenarios when having a diagnosis and/or identified disability is necessary.

Some examples include:

  • requesting support and accommodations

  • receiving specialized educational services

  • implementing appropriate assessments and interventions

  • insurance and reimbursement purposes

  • increasing awareness, funding, and research

  • protection from discrimination

Linda Nguyen, Counselling Intern, McAtee Psychology.

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