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


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