What is Neurodiversity?

What would happen if the world viewed neurodevelopmental differences like ADHD, autism, and learning disabilities differently? If everyone noticed the strengths that can come from these differences first, instead of the challenges?

That’s the basic idea of neurodiversity:  that differences don’t have to only be looked at as weaknesses. They’re not problems that need to be “fixed” or “cured.” They’re simply variations of the human brain. The goal is to eliminate the stigma that surrounds these diagnoses and foster self-esteem and resilience.

Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one "right" way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.

The word neurodiversity refers to the diversity of all people, but it is often used in the context of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as other neurological or developmental conditions such as ADHD or learning disabilities. The neurodiversity movement emerged during the 1990s, aiming to increase acceptance and inclusion of all people while embracing neurological differences. Through online platforms, more and more autistic people were able to connect and form a self-advocacy movement. At the same time, Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist, coined the term neurodiversity to promote equality and inclusion of "neurological minorities." While it is primarily a social justice movement, neurodiversity research and education is increasingly important in how clinicians view and address certain disabilities and neurological conditions.

Why use the term neurodivergent to describe people?

Some people oppose the idea of neurodiversity as being about differences instead of deficits. Many who take that stance say they’re against it because some who are neurodivergent have true medical conditions that need treatment.
However, research shows that knowing about the idea of neurodiversity doesn’t mean people who are neurodivergent ignore or deny that they have struggles. Instead, the research shows people who know about the idea of being neurodivergent use that knowledge to adapt and help them succeed.
Experts’ research also shows words and language related to neurodiversity make a difference in how people live. People who are neurodivergent and learn that it means they’re different — not sick or defective — are more likely to be happier and aim higher in their careers.
An example of this is someone who has dyslexia. People with that condition struggle to read because their brain doesn’t process written language like the brain of someone without dyslexia. However, people with dyslexia usually have brains that are better at processing or mentally picturing 3D objects. That makes them much faster at identifying optical illusions, and they have a natural talent for jobs like graphic design and arts, engineering and more.

The Benefits of Neurodiversity for Children

A core objective of neurodiversity is to de-stigmatize different kinds of brain functionality, offering a framework for celebrating variations in how children think, learn and process information. This positive perspective can benefit children in school.

  • By encouraging kids to identify their brain functionalities as differences to be celebrated, rather than disabilities to be feared, it empowers them to self-advocate within the classroom. By giving children a positive way to think about their own neurodivergence, the neurodiversity movement encourages them to speak up about accommodations they may need in the classroom.
  • Neurodiversity also helps children cultivate self-esteem, viewing their differences not as impediments but simply as expressions of their uniqueness. As these attitudes are cultivated in children, they become better prepared to handle their neurodivergence in college, in the workplace and throughout their adult lives.
The bottom line is that neurodiversity offers benefits to people not only in childhood but also as they transition into adulthood.

Teaching Strategies for Neurodiversity

When working with neurodivergent students, educators may need to adapt their classroom strategies. The neurodiversity movement has advanced the development of various pedagogical approaches, none more widely affirmed than the strategy of universal design.
What Is Universal Design?
Universal design is based on the notion that a classroom should be accessible to everyone, and that a teacher’s instructional style should accommodate everyone in the classroom without the need for special adaptation. In other words, universal design is about creating an education environment that works well for both the neurotypical and the neurodivergent, without the need for teachers to vary their approach from one student to the next.
- Implementing Universal Design
Universal design encompasses a number of core concepts.
  • Equitable use: This concept calls for teachers to provide different ways for students to demonstrate knowledge. For example, if all tests are essays, that favors students who are naturally gifted in writing.
  • Flexible use: A related concept is flexible use, which usually means providing students with different options as to how they are academically assessed.
  • Simple and intuitive expectations: Another critical aspect of universal design is ensuring that all students are clearly informed about the teacher’s expectations, and about what is required for success in the class. A clear grading rubric can help.
  • Perceptible information: It is important for teachers to understand that different students process information differently. Teaching methods should accommodate a range of learning styles. For example, notes may be given both audibly and in writing.
  • Low physical effort: Another core aspect of universal design is dividing class time between different activities, such as lectures and group discussions. This lets students move around the classroom and ensure maximum focus on each topic.

Counseling Strategies for Neurodiversity

Counselors, as well as teachers, can take a neurodiversity-based approach to serving their students. In particular, neurodiversity-based strategies can empower students with different brain functionalities to prepare for different challenges, both at school and upon graduation.

Strategies for Counselors

Following are some specific aspects of neurodiversity-based counseling.
  • Counselors can prepare students to improve their lives as neurodivergent people, as opposed to looking for a cure or a solution. This can inspire resilience and adaptability.
  • Counselors can show students how to discuss their own learning needs candidly and without feeling any shame or stigma, which empowers them in self-advocacy.
  • In affirming neurodivergent identity, counselors can also connect students with organizations, advocacy groups or support services that might provide more specialized help.
  • Counselors can show students how to think about their health and well-being on a holistic level, instructing on how to care for themselves in terms of sleep, nutrition, physical activity and more.
  • Counselors can also provide information and guidance for neurodiverse students who are interested in applying for college.

What Should Parents Know About Raising Neurodivergent Kids?


Because neurodivergence is a broad term that refers to a huge range of symptoms, behaviors, strengths, and challenges, there is not one simple set of tips for raising a neurodivergent child. However, there are some general guidelines for parents with neurodivergent children.

Adjust Your Expectations

Many parents of neurodivergent children express frustration or even disappointment that their neurodivergent child does not meet the neurotypical expectations that they had going into parenting. Even if this is not expressed directly to the child, children pick up on their parents’ feelings and might feel unwanted or unloved if the parent has not come to terms with having a neurodivergent child.
In Welcome To Holland, Emily Perl Kingsley describes having a disabled child as planning a trip to Italy and then getting off the plane to find yourself in Holland. She acknowledges the possible stress of being somewhere you did not plan to be, taking a trip that does not fit with your expectations. “But … if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.”

Ask the Community

Neurodivergent children grow into neurodivergent adults. Seek out communities of adults who share your child’s neurodivergence, and listen to them. These people have a lifetime of experience and can share tips for what helped them or what was harmful to them when they were young.
Often, information about parenting neurodivergent kids created by neurotypical adults misses the mark on the community’s needs and voices. In the autistic community, for instance, a lot of literature generated by non-autistic people continues to utilize person-first language (“person with autism”) even though research has indicated an overwhelming preference for identity-first language (“autistic person”).
Similarly, many providers who identify as “autism experts” refer to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) as the “gold standard” to help and support autistic children even though many in the adult autistic community have described their experience with ABA as traumatic, and research has shown that ABA can lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

If your child is able to communicate their preferences, listen to them. For outside support, seek out your child’s neurodivergent community.

Early Diagnosis and Intervention

Understanding how your child’s brain works, their communication style, and their support needs are important in ensuring that they have the best quality of life possible.

If your child’s neurodivergence causes developmental delays or disabilities, identifying this at a young age can allow your child to participate in Birth to Three programs, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and other services that can help them develop communication and functional skills that can allow them to be more independent later in life.

 It can be scary to learn that your child might not have the neurotype that you expected, but appropriate support can help you understand and meet your child’s unique needs and help them have the best life possible.

What are some things I can do to support someone who is neurodivergent?

There are many things people can do to be supportive of neurodivergent individuals. Some of the most important things you should keep in mind include:
  1. Listen. People who are neurodivergent may feel misunderstood or left out. Be willing to listen to them. Let them know you hear them and respect them and their choices.
  2. Communicate in ways that help them. Sometimes, people who are neurodivergent prefer written communication such as instant messaging, texting or emails over a phone call or face-to-face conversation. Give them the time and tools they need to communicate.
  3. Avoid value-based labels. Experts recommend against using the terms “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” to describe conditions like autism. They often assume a person’s level of function based on how much they behave like someone who’s neurotypical.
  4. No two neurodivergent people are the same. The personalities and preferences of neurodivergent people can be widely different, even when they have the same underlying condition.
  5. Don’t assume that anyone is incapable or unintelligent. People who are neurodivergent often have conditions or preferences that make them stand out or appear different.
  6. Treat everyone with respect. You can “normalize” and provide others with accommodations in a way that honors their human dignity.

Can people who are neurodivergent be successful?

Yes, many people who are neurodivergent are accomplished and successful.

More and more people who are neurodivergent are talking about their experiences. Some examples of famous and successful people who are neurodivergent include:

  • Animal scientist and author Temple Grandin.
  • Oscar-winning actor Sir Anthony Hopkins.
  • Musician and singer Florence Welch.
  • Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles.
  • Climate activist Greta Thunberg.
  • Most successful directors ever Tim Burton  

Experts also believe several accomplished historical figures were neurodivergent based on evidence from their lives. Those include:

  • Nobel Prize-winning physicist and chemist Marie Curie.
  • Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Albert Einstein.
  • Artist Vincent Van Gogh.
  • Inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla.
  • Author F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Business leaders also have a growing understanding of the value of being neurodivergent. In 2017, the magazine Harvard Business Review published “Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage.” The article details the benefits of hiring people who are neurodivergent and why more businesses are doing so.

That same article noted that several major national and international corporations have hiring processes that can accommodate people who are neurodivergent. Those corporations include some of the largest names in information technology, the automotive industry, the banking sector and more.

The World Economic Forum, Nahia Orduña, explains that:

  • Autistic brains are said to be highly creative with exceptional concentration, logic, imagination and visual thought. They also tend to be systematic, meticulous and detailed and share unique insights and perspectives in problem-solving.
  • People with ADHD have great imagination and score higher on creativity tests than non-ADHD people. ADHD people can hyperfocus, which means that while they generally have an attention deficit, they do have a high focus on their area of interest, reports CNN.
  • Dyslexic people have demonstrated the ability to think outside the box: 84% of dyslexic people are above average in reasoning, understanding patterns, evaluating possibilities and making decisions, according to the charity Made by Dyslexia.

Neurodivergent people experience, interact with, and interpret the world in unique ways. That can sometimes create challenges. But it can also lead to creative problem-solving and new ideas — things that benefit everyone. 

Building a society that is accessible for neurodiverse people is not only beneficial for everyone, but fair.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published