The term “neurodivergent” stems from the concept of neurodiversity, meaning humanity has many different types of brains (neurotypes). No one type of brain is inherently more worthy than another. Although neurodiversity wasn’t intended to be a clinical term, many neurological minorities have adopted “neurodivergent” as an identity marker. A similar word is “neurominority.”
The neurodivergent umbrella typically covers autism, ADD/ADHD, specific learning disabilities, Tourette’s syndrome, and other tic disorders. Neurodivergence is not a synonym for neurological disabilities or mental health issues. Someone with dementia or chronic depression, for example, would not be considered neurodivergent.
Someone can identify as neurodivergent and still have disadvantages, challenges, or impairments related to their condition. For example, an autistic person might have trouble with flashing lights due to sensory processing issues. If they wear sunglasses to protect their eyes, their functioning can improve, similar to how someone with shortsightedness can improve their vision with glasses. The concept of neurodivergence doesn’t deny the existence of disability, but rather challenges the notion that only certain differences among humans are socially acceptable or worth accommodating.
The opposite of “neurodivergent” is “neurotypical,” which represents the most common type of brain. Although ostracization and a lack of accommodations can cause mental health issues in neurodivergent people, neurological minorities aren’t inherently unwell. Likewise, neurotypical individuals can develop mental health issues like PTSD or phobias.
Referring to a neurotypical person as “normal” is stigmatizing for neurodivergent people, and the word “normal” implies that one neurotype is the default. Every neurotype has assets and challenges. Just because a trait deviates from the current cultural norms, or the norms in one society, does not mean it lacks value. Context is key.
- Neurodiversity (The Diversity Style Guide)
- Clearing Up Some Misconceptions About Neurodiversity (Scientific American)
- Neurodivergent from What, Exactly? (Reflections on Neurodiversity)
Neurodivergent is an umbrella term to refer to neurological minorities, including people with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dysgraphia, Tourette’s syndrome, and tics. The opposite term is “neurotypical.” Equating neurotypicality to being “normal” or having a “healthy” brain can reinforce misleading assumptions and stigma about neurodivergence.