Neurodiversity and Neurodivergence

Today’s post is brought to you by a personal pet peeve. Get ready to learn because Dr. Amy is tired of correcting people.

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As many of you are already aware, I am currently working on a manuscript entitled A Clinician’s Guide to Neurodiversity-Affirming Care with Autistic Clients. Stay tuned for pre-orders and an official release date sometime in 2024. Now that my publisher is happy, let’s talk about what words mean.

Neurodiversity refers to the wide-ranging, various ways that brains can develop and function, as well as how those differences can manifest through our behaviors. Humanity is neurodiverse because no two people have identical brains or brain chemistry. When I write about neurodiversity-affirming therapy, I am referring to a philosophical approach to treatment that recognizes the strengths that come from all the different kinds of brains working together, while recognizing that different brains can have different challenges.

Neurodivergence, on the other hand, refers to brain types that fall outside of our societal definitions of “normal” (also known as neurotypical). Most people’s brains fall within a similar range, with similar needs, behaviors, and perceptions of the world. These brains are not better than other brains, but they are more common, so we set up our society to accommodate them.

It is similar to how most people are right-handed, but some are left-handed, and some are ambidextrous. We used to think left-handed people were worse than right-handed people, but then we learned that right-handed people are just more common. Even though there is nothing bad about being left-handed, left-handed people get into more accidents and have shorter life expectancy than right-handed people because we built our world to accommodate right-handed people. If you are left-handed, you constantly have to make yourself adapt to a right-handed world.

A neurodivergent person is someone whose brain is not within that typical expectations. Neurodivergent people can have challenges. Neurodivergent people can be disabled, either because of their neurodivergence or for reasons unrelated to it, and not all neurodivergent people are disabled. Some challenges that can come from neurodivergence are directly because we built our world to accommodate neurotypical brains, and some challenges would exist no matter what changes we made to society.

So, to sum up: neurodiversity is the full range of human brains, their development, and their impact on our behavior and perception, and neurodivergence is when someone’s brain falls outside of neurotypical expectations. One single person cannot be neurodiverse because they have just one brain, just like one single person cannot be racially diverse, gender diverse, or any other kind of diverse. Diversity requires the presence of multiple types of something, which is impossible when your population size is one.

An autistic person, someone with ADHD, someone with bipolar disorder, a person with schizophrenia, is neurodivergent, not neurodiverse. A group of people, each of whom falls into one or more of these categories, can be neurodiverse. A group of people that includes several neurotypical individuals can be neurodiverse. Note the difference.

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Published by Dr Marschall

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. She completed her internship at the National Psychology Training Consortium with specializations in assessment and rural mental health. Currently, she specializes in trauma-informed and neurodiversity-affirming care, and she is certified in telemental health. Dr. Marschall runs a private practice, RMH Therapy, where she provides individual and family therapy as well as psychological assessments across the lifespan. Dr. Amy Marschall is an author and professional speaker.

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