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Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Neurodiversity is the range of discrete variations in the nervous systems of individuals across the population, particularly in ways that are manifested in clusters of non-standard behaviors.

The term is also used to refer to an alternative way of thinking about neurological differences in contrast to the medical model, which pathologizes many neurological variations. Biochemical, electrical and structural differences in the nervous system are instrumental in ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactive disorder), the autism spectrum, chronic and acute anxiety, depression, epilepsy, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia and Tourette's syndrome, among a great number of other possibilities.

The neurodiversity movement was developed, at least in part, to remove any stigma attached to these variations, defining them as neurotypes rather than disorders. The emphasis is on recognizing that people with non-standard neurological wiring also often vary in terms of their strengths and abilities, which may be well beyond those of most people.

Acceptance, inclusiveness and support are main focuses of the neurodiversity movement. The medical model and the general culture in many developed countries often seek to stifle aspects of diversity that don't conform to social norms, which can hamper the full expression of the affected individuals' particular strengths as well. The goal of the neurodiversity movement is to nurture the development and inclusion of people with all types of neurological characteristics to help them realize their unique potentials.

An individual whose neurological makeup has no identifiable variation from the cultural norm is categorized as neurotypical (NT). That term might also be used to differentiate such an individual from a group of another specific neurotype, such as bi-polar. Given the number of identifiable ways that people can differ in their neurologically-based traits, however, it may be that no one is truly neurotypical. There is some discussion among those exploring neurodiversity as to whether introversion, for example, should be considered a neurotype.

The National Symposium on Neurodiversity at Syracuse University explores the understanding of neurodiversity as a concept and provides a forum for the development of the social movement through its conference series. Taking autism as an example, the Symposium website explains: "...neurodiversity activists reject the idea that autism should be cured, advocating instead for celebrating autistic forms of communication and self-expression, and for promoting support systems that allow autistic people to live as autistic people."

Throughout history, many people with extraordinary talents would most likely be considered not neurotypical. Through the lens of neurodiversity, Isaac Newton, Barbara McClintock, Gregor Mendel, Bertrand Russell, Nikola Tesla, Mark Twain, Alan Turing, H. G. Wells and Ludwig Wittgenstein would probably be among those categorized as atypical.

In the workplace, diversity training is an increasingly important element of human resource management (HRM) and recruitment. Understanding variations in neurotypes is increasingly part of that endeavor as recognition grows about the unusual strengths that neurologically diverse employees can bring to a business.

This was last updated in December 2017

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Thank you for including this term in your encyclopedia!  The writing is excellent and the information (and the term itself) is a revelation!


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