NEURODIVERSITY & THE AUTISM SPECTRUM
Neurodiversity is a concept that atypical neurological
wiring is a normal human difference that is to be tolerated and
respected as any other human difference. The concept of neurodiversity
was created by autistic individuals who believe that autism is not
a disorder but a part of who they are and that curing them would
be the same as killing them and replacing them with different people.
Response to Prejudice
The term neurodiversity is usually used as a statement
against prejudice and bigotry towards autism. According to the neurodiversity
movement, this could include any of the following:
Intolerant attitudes toward autistic behavior
that may be perceived as odd or unusual.
Intolerance toward difficulties autistic people often have.
Discrimination against people for being autistic or because of autistic
traits or behaviors.
Lack of accommodations for difficulties associated with autism.
Attitude that autistics are inferior to Neurotypical people; or
that there is something wrong with being autistic; or that autism
is a disease that needs to be cured.
Institutions designed without consideration of autistics (for example:
schools with heavy demand on social skills that may be hard for
Barriers to participation in society due to difficulties associated
with autism that could have been accommodated (for example, a technically
competent autistic person may lose a job because of social awkwardness
or may never get past the interview stage).
Lack of protection for autistics in equal employment opportunity
Who are the proponents?
Most supporters of neurodiversity are anti-cure autistics who are
engaged in advocacy. Some parents of autistic children also support
neurodiversity and the view that autism is a unique way of being,
rather than a disease to be cured. Such parents say they value their
children's individuality and want to allow their children to develop
There are some parents of autistic children who
believe autism causes their child to have great difficulty in life.
They believe a cure for autism is the best way to help their children
and therefore see it as unfair to characterize the desire to cure
autism as bigotry.
History of the term
The first citation of the term "neurodiversity"
is generally held to have occured in an essay by Judy Singer: Judy
Singer, "'Why can't you be normal for once in your life?'"
in Disability Discourse, Mairian Corker ed., Open University Press,
February 1, 1999) In the essay it is used to describe a post modernist
critique and addition to the social cleavages of class, gender,
race and so on. However, Judy Singer actually first used this term
in her Honours Thesis, written in 1996-7 and presented in 1998.
Singer, J (1998) "Odd People In: The Birth
of Community Amongst People on the Autism Spectrum: A personal
exploration of a New Social Movement based on Neurological Diversity"
Faculty of Humanities and Social Science University of Technology,
Sydney, 1998. Judy Singer wrote: For me, the significance of the
Autism Spectrum lies in its call for and anticipation of a Politics
of Neurodiversity. The Neurologically Different represent a new
addition to the familiar political categories of class / gender
/ race and will augment the insights of the Social Model of Disability.
The rise of Neurodiversity takes postmodern fragmentation one step
further. Just as the postmodern era sees every once too solid belief
melt into air, even our most taken-for granted assumptions: that
we all more or less see, feel, touch, hear, smell, and sort information,
in more or less the same way, (unless visibly disabled) are being
dissolved. (pp 12-13)
Judy Singer believes she coined the term, as she
had done extensive literature and internet searches, and had not
come up with the term anywhere. Nor was it mentioned in any of the
Autistic egroups ANI, InLv, Autinet that she was a member of.
Since the idea was meant to bring together the
insights of socio-biology/evolutionary psychology and sociology/
disability studies in a positive synthesis, it's unlikely that anyone
else would have thought of it since sociologists and disability
activists abhor sociobiology. Judy Singer talked about the politics
and sociology of neurodiversity on the InLv forum for Autistics
at the time, and it may have spread from there.
Judy Singer feels incredibly gratified that the
idea has spread and that so many diverse neurological minorities,
and not just autistics, are now using the term to empower themselves
and explore their heritage. For instance:
A print citation is given for the Coventry Evening
Telegraph (U.K.)Jan. 14th 2004 )with reference to the Coventry and
Warwickshire Neurodiversity Group who define the term thus:
"Neurodiversity is a word that has been around
since autistic people started putting sites on the internet. It
has since been expanded to include not just people who are known
as "autistics and cousins", but to express the idea that
a diversity of ways of human thinking is a good thing, and people with dyslexic,
autistic, ADHD, dyspraxic and Tourette-type disorders
all have some element in common not being neurotypical in the way
our brains work."
Whilst the term most appears to have originated
within the online autistic community, its usage has spread outside
to a more general meaning sometimes hotly disputed between its proponents
as to whether it is inclusive of people with conditions like Cerebral
Palsy, Parkinsons Disease, Multiple Sclerosis etc.
Certainly the term has been eagerly sought amongst
top level domain name registrations, with neurodiversity.com and
neurodiversity.info being examples, and there is no doubt that the
term has seen a boost with the New York Times article by Amy Harmon.
Amy Harmon, "The Disability Movement Turns
to Brains," The New York Times, May 9, 2004.
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