It is no secret that society puts a very negative image on those with neurological conditions. From Autism to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to Schizophrenia, many fear that coming forward about their conditions will consequently lead to alienation. Stigmas and stereotypes that label neurodivergent people as “broken” often dehumanize the circumstances of their conditions. This has lead to a life-threatening perception of Autism people for years. One “cure” involved parents to have their children drink bleach originated around 2012 (1) and it still happens today (2). There has been a series of outcry among Autistic people against this stigma that Autism need be “cured” or Autistic people be killed as campaigned by Autism Speaks. (3)
Neurodivergence and Neurodiversity
The Neurodiversity Movement originally arose in the 1990’s, and only a few decades have gone by since then. The term neurodiversity refers to the biological occurrence of human genome variations resulting in different neurological conditions is a naturally occurring state of diversity. There is a diversity in race, gender, sexuality, and more. Likewise, the movement highlights that neurodiversity exists using the neurodiversity paradigm and it was presented from the perspective of Autistics but explicitly sought to include all neurological conditions to give light to the minorities that exist as well. These neurological conditions cause them to function differently than neurotypical but do not make them any less human, just neurodivergent. (4) Rather than attempting to cure Autistic people, people should be helping Autistics to live with their disorder. Although there are fact high-functioning individuals living perfectly fine with these conditions, they are still met with the idea that their condition is pathological or “deadly to them”. The social threat is greater than their condition being a threat to themselves.
The unique skills and abilities that these conditions happen to give a boost to neurodivergent people should be appreciated and celebrated. There is a dire need for change in our education systems to recognize that by limiting the methods at which certain subjects like math and literature are taught, we prevent neurodivergent students who do not fit with the education methods from learning. On the other hand, if we take these abilities into consideration, not only we can help these students appreciate these subjects but this also allows us as a society to find more innovative ideas. The unique perspectives from neurodivergent people bring the value of increasing collaboration between more diverse groups and heighten its potential. Furthermore, time after time, neurodivergent people, even when protected by laws of “non discrimination,” struggle to find jobs where not being neurotypical is seen as a weakness. Instead, stereotypes hand them simple tasks that undermine their capabilities. (5) (6)
Certainly, this has its own controversies when considering that low-functioning individuals with these conditions do exist and are heavily disabled to a pathological level due to their circumstances. Some argue that “neurodivergence” is too broad a term for those it tries to represent. Even Autism itself is a spectrum: “As a category, then, ASD covers a relatively wide range of phenotypes, typically described as behavioral or cognitive impairments or deficits, from the very mild to the quite severe. With the inclusion of Childhood Disintegrative Disorder or Pervasive Developmental Disorder–Not Otherwise Specified, it is doubtful that there is one simple cause of autism or that autism is even one underlying condition (Frith & Happe, 2005).” (7) Others argue that movement at all is unnecessary and don’t want to use the term to identify themselves at all, it is rather an overused buzzword that only increases misconceptions. (8) (9)
And of course it is true, there are many misconceptions spreading and there is no reason anyone has to use these words to identify themselves nor should every person necessarily use these words to refer to those who don’t identify by them. It is important to note that Neurodiversity Movement hopes to clear up the stereotype foremost under the neurodiversity paradigm that a neurodivergent person is not necessarily a low-functioning individuals incapable of independently leading their own lives and rather can be as perfectly healthy as neurotypical people. While the movement recognizes that pathological conditions still remain and with consent should be aided with treatment and cure (4), there is a risk that the more the Neurodiversity Movement tries to normalize high-functioning neurological conditions, the more they overshadow low-functioning individuals who are in need of help. (9)
There are many people who claim that the movement is dead. (9) Even so, there are many who continue to use the term neurodiversity as a means of better explaining their neurodivergent conditions. When the consequences of stigmas and stereotypes can lead to people thinking one should go “drink bleach”, it is understandable that people seek approaches to explaining not only that drinking bleach is in no possible way beneficial to one’s health by any means, but that they should not be seen as any less of a person than before their condition be made known. There are a lot of aspects to the movement and the specifics of neurodivergence and neurodiversity I cannot cover here, but in my journey to approaching my personal neurodivergence, the community has been kind to me and profoundly affected my view of others. I hope this introduction to the topic helps you to understand the dangers of negative stereotyping for neurodivergent people in a neurotypically dominated world. Even beyond controversies of the Neurodiversity Movement, it is important to treat all people with their unalienable and equal rights to respect and humanity. It is ignorant to demean the value neurodivergent people contribute to our world as much as any other person does.