What is Neurodiversity and am I Neurodivergent?

A woman demonstrating neurodiversity by holding up a cardboard with an eye and a mouth drawn on it placed slightly off-center.

Like our fingerprints, our brains and the way we think are unique. That is essentially what neurodiversity is; people who think, communicate and behave in diverse ways. This wide scope encompasses what it means to be neurodivergent.

The term neurodivergent tends to be used to describe people with neurological conditions like learning disabilities. However, in reality, everyone’s neurological processes exist on a spectrum – each one of us is unique or neurodiverse.

So, what is neurodiversity? Let’s take a closer look.

A young girl wearing headphones in a classroom explores inclusive learning practices that cater to her neurodiversity

What does neurodivergent mean?

The term ‘neurodivergent’ is used to describe people with cognitive processes that diverge from the majority of people’s cognitive processes. Because we’re talking about neurology and divergence (or diversity), we can call this neuro + divergent, or neurodivergent / neurodiversity.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a word that showcases how many diverse ways there are of thinking, behaving, seeing the world, communicating and interacting.

Someone whose mental processes differ slightly or extremely from what’s perceived to be the norm may be known as neurodivergent, while their process is neurodiverse.

Diversity is valuable

All healthy systems tend to be diverse. For example, plant, animal and entire ecosystems tend to be seen as healthy when they are diverse. In genetics, diversity leads to healthy reproduction of a species, whereas a limited (lacking in diversity) gene pool can result in more genetic disorders or hereditary conditions.

Therefore, one could say that diversity = healthy. That said, when it comes to society, there tends to be a stance that conforming to set ideas, behaviours, and ways of communicating (social codes) are not just the standard, but also the correct way of doing things.

While many of these social codes, such as not hurting people and working in a nine to five, do in fact help society as a whole thrive, they can sometimes be used to devalue people who don’t conform to them. People who think in unique ways or interpret other people’s behaviour in unique ways or learn through different processes have often been subjected to ridicule.

A young girl holding a skeleton model of the human body, curious about neurodiversity.

Who came up with the term neurodiversity?

Australian sociologist Judy Singer invented the word “neurodiversity” in 1998. Judy’s mother and daughter were both on the autism spectrum and she sought a word to describe their experiences that was inclusive. She took inspiration from the concept of biodiversity and applied it to autism as a diverse neurological process:

“Why not propose that just as biodiversity is essential to ecosystem stability, so neurodiversity may be essential for cultural stability?” – Judy Singer

Diversity is part of creativity, invention and life itself. Neurodivergence is not just something to be embraced but also to be viewed and understood as a natural part of human life.

Speaking of understanding, why not read why autism in girls might be harder to diagnose. You might also be interested in myths about Asperger’s syndrome (aka autism) that we’re dispelling.

A girl with a red flower in her hair, celebrates what neurodiversity is

What is considered neurodivergent?

Although we all see the world in our own unique ways, most people recognise and adhere to social codes. Many people learn to act, speak and communicate according to these socially accepted behaviours.

For example, being polite, or tolerant in specific contexts, like at school or work. Or, for instance, not raising your voice or speaking your mind around people you aren’t close to. Those who don’t are considered neurodivergent.

Social norms aren’t everybody’s norms

Neurodiverse people who don’t recognise these codes, or can’t for whatever reason, are considered neurodivergent. People with cognitive disabilities – people who think, learn or communicate differently to the vast majority are among these.

But in reality, every one of us as humans is neurodivergent.

A teacher spends time with two neurodivergent children, teaching them in a more informal setting than a typical classroom

Diverse approaches to diverse neurology

Most people learn the codes of society and happily carry them out terms of what’s expected. More and more these days, however, customised solutions to learning, working and living in general are being implemented.

While these are being supported both as institutional policy and as cultural norms, a tailored approach is often more costly. For example, a child that needs one on one learning support needs those costs covered.

Sometimes these costs are covered by early intervention. Find out more about NDIS early childhood early intervention (for participants nine years and younger).

Understanding what neurodiversity is means being understanding

As this process continues, neurodiversity will be better understood and the lines between what a person should be like versus what they actually are like can fade. People will perhaps eventually no longer ask “what is neurodiversity?”. Rather, we can look for new ways to live our daily lives that cater to the myriad of cognitive processes that exist.

One might say the only problem that exists, or has existed, around neurodiversity is society’s inability to provide the appropriate support for neurodivergent cognition. After all, many of the world’s geniuses have been deemed as neurodivergent.

These include Albert Einstein, Emily Dickenson and Michelangelo to name just a few. These are people who for one or another reason found something that motivated them – something to focus their intense passion around – and success to great heights.

A woman with a cup of coffee in hand, holding a cardboard box adorned with a drawing of facial features to represent the experience of thinking or doing things differently to the social norm.

How do I know if I am neurodivergent?

Ultimately, everyone is neurodiverse, but some neurological processes, most especially cognitive disabilities, are typically named as such. Often people who find themselves feeling that they don’t quite fit in or suit the normal social codes feel they may be neurodivergent. The next step is generally doing some research.

There are plenty of online screenings (like this and this). These allow a person to assess how likely they are to be neurodivergent. It’s important to remember when looking at what neurodiversity is, is that this umbrella term for divergent cognitive processes isn’t a diagnosis.

Depending on how hard you’re finding it engaging socially, you might want to back up your research by getting a diagnosis from a medical professional.

What is the most common neurodivergence?

Neurodiversity is quite common, in fact, many well-known celebs are neurodivergent. Some common divergent brain functions include those we’ve already mentioned, like autism and dyslexia. They also include DCD (Dyspraxia), Dyscalculia and Tourette Syndrome.

Even those with exceptional sensory experience, who are sometimes overwhelmed by the way things feel, smell, sound or taste, can be neurodivergent.

Is ADHD a form of neurodivergence?

Yes, ADHD is among many types of neurodivergence. In the past, people with dyslexia were often treated as less intelligent at school. Those with autism were mocked and teased in social situations. People with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) were deemed naughty.

Yet ADHD, dyslexia and autism are simply some examples of diverse cognitive or neurological processes.

These diverse ways of processing life are not problems but they do need to be catered to and supported properly. For example, by using adaptive educational processes that include rather than exclude a diverse range of neurological approaches.

A young boy who is  neurodivergent learns with a tablet in a one on one environment to cater to his individual learning needs

Now that you know what neurodiversity is, here’s something else valuable to consider

Like neurodiversity, disability is a broad term that encompasses many different ways of existing. For example, there are cognitive (and neurodiverse), physical and invisible disabilities.

Many of these push the boundaries on the social norms because in order to be fair and respectful, society needs to learn not to see these so much as different, but rather as unique and valuable.

At Blue Badge Insurance, we work with a broad range of people living with disabilities every day, because we insure mobility equipment. We understand that there’s no single way for everyone to be, and we value that.

That’s also why, not only do we provide wheelchair, mobility scooter insurance and disability car insurance but we also provide Assistance Dog insurance. We know that autism Assistance Dogs can help support those who need them. But that even these dogs sometimes need an unexpected trip to the vet.

  • Mobility equipment and car insurance.

Our wheelchair insurance and mobility scooter insurance helps pay for unexpected costs for repairs. It also helps pay to replace these valuable items if they get accidental damage that’s beyond repair or stolen. As Australia’s first disability and independence insurance specialist, we offer car insurance for wheelchair accessible vehicles and disability converted cars too. If you hold a valid disability parking permit, you could get up to 25% off your premiums.

  • Assistance Dogs and pet insurance

Because we understand how costly unexpected vet bills can be, we offer up to 25% off Assistance Dogs insurance and up to 15% off pet insurance! Unlike human health care, vet bills aren’t government subsidised. Pet insurance can help pay vet bills for non-routine visits.

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