Why do we need Neurodiversity?

In a society where ‘labelling’ someone with a neurological difference creates much debate and where some people are accused of wanting labels unjustly, in order for children to be given more time in exams, somebody might question why another label, such as that of being neurologically diverse, is needed. Let me explain why.

While there are always going to be people who disagree with the assigning of labels entirely – and this is perfectly okay – I believe that saying someone is neurologically diverse has some merit. One, you are not sticking a specific label to them “Jack has X problem, while Jill has Y issue,” you are merely saying that their brain works differently to the general population. Given that there is truth to this statement, nothing about this is wrong.

Furthermore, it is a more inclusive term to use, particularly in the case of people who have multiple conditions within this particular spectrum. Because it is possible to be both dyslexic and dyspraxic, for instance, an individual is sometimes neither one nor the other. Consequently, some may argue that it is more accurate to describe someone as neurologically diverse. On a related note, in the same way that “disability” can be used to encompass a variety of conditions, neurodiversity can too.   As a result, it might be that the individual wishes to use the term to describe themselves rather than divulge the specific nature of their difficulty.

As well as being used as a non-specific signifier for those that are maybe wary of putting a particular label on themselves, it can also be used as a unifying force to bring together lots of people. Having previously said that you can be neurologically diverse in more than one way, let us also remember that neurologically diverse is a huge umbrella that contains a great many people with many different traits, strengths and difficulties. However, you don’t have to have exactly the same problem in order to sympathise with a predicament someone else is facing. For example, just because people with dyscalculia struggle with numbers and people with dyslexia struggle with letters, it doesn’t mean the frustrations are not similar, just that they are caused by different things.

Those who are critical of the term may feel it is too broad to be of any real use, possibly arguing that isn’t everyone neurologically diverse in some way? (After all, no two people are the same). To them I would say that there is a world of difference between thinking differently and someone’s brain being wired differently. It’s a question of the difference in how information is processed rather than a difference of opinion on that information itself. Since this is something that is not unique to one condition, neurodiversity is needed as a term to illustrate and take account of that.

Although some people may disagree with any label in principle, there is no getting away from the fact that they are at least partially needed – people need language to allow them to talk about what they are experiencing. In being broad and non-descript, though, the term neurologically diverse enables someone to describe a learning difference in their own way because it makes as little assumption about the problems people may encounter and allows people to tell who they like what they like when they feel it’s appropriate. Unlike dyslexia, which many mistakenly see as purely a reading difficulty, ‘neurologically diverse’ is not a term that has gained enough traction to generate such misconceptions. Due to the breadth of the term, someone can even say “I’m neurologically diverse and this is how it affects me,” which could, in theory, reduce the number of labels needed altogether. Given this, whether you are in the pro or anti label camp, using neurodiversity as a way to describe learning differences is no bad thing.

Gemma Bryant, Resource Centre Volunteer

Barriers to finding my creativity

BudStugglingToBloom_DKSometimes I feel like ‘neuro-normal’ people put verbal vaults in my way to imprison my intellectual and creative gifts.

I often feel like the bud above, trying to blossom in a society that relies heavily on words. I think I am a nonverbal thinker. However, most people want me to explain my plans to them. I think another issue here is my working memory. I often feel worried about going out shopping, to clubs and to appointments [sometimes I’m even hesitant about spending time with friends and family] because life and conversations rarely follow a set script.

Real life is not a rehearsal and I too often feel unprepared. I often don’t answer fast enough, causing people to badger me for my answer (or that’s how it appears to me). If I try to answer quickly the content of my statement tends not to cover everything I would have liked. So in my experience, the person I’m speaking to sees this as proof that I don’t know what I’m doing. They then start judging me and telling me what I should do. I then have a negative emotional reaction and I can’t take control of the situation.

For other people who have dyslexia this may sound rather strange: however, I believe I may have dyspraxia as well. When I was diagnosed back in the 1980s: the phrasing was something like ‘learning difficulties with dyslexic type difficulties’. My gross and fine motor skills were also flagged up as a problem, I think. My belief that I may be dyspraxic is bolstered by how hard I have to work to be organised.

I often feel like a coin in one of those charity whirlpool collecting domes. Imagine you are a 2p coin that has been rolled in through one of the wee slits in the side of the dome. Let’s think of this as a really good roll: the coin goes round and round in tight circles and covers almost every part of the ellipse. My life feels like this roller coaster ride. Round and round in circles – whilst each circumlocution may start at a different point due to what I have learned and experienced (it most often doesn’t feel like that). Occasionally as I metaphorical fall through the hole and look back at how far I’ve come I can see my progress. During these rare times where my self-esteem rises a little and I’m flying through the dark void of the unknown, I get a little respite.

However, I’m just in the space between fractals and in far too short a time I’ve hit the next whirlpool vortex. And round and round I go; feeling sick and dizzy all over again.

My creativity follows the ellipse too. My fine motor skills are not good enough for me to be a fine artist. But I’m extremely creative, I love: knitting, cross-stitching, and card marking etc. People don’t understand my creativity. I often design projects myself. The patterns are pretty useless to me. I can’t decipher cross-stitch grids or knitting patterns. I will often start a project without knowing what the finished article will be. Numerous people ask, ‘What are you knitting?’ I might reply ‘A square, for now’. They are often not happy with this answer.

I’d like to say not every journey needs a defined end point. Travelling along the path can be its own reward. Please let me ride the roller coaster of the vortex as a thrill ride for a change: rather than just feeling under-the-weather all the time!

Doreen Kelly, Dyslexia Scotland member and volunteer