There are many different perspectives and ideas regarding the use and meaning of the word neurodiversity. Below we have included writings by two different individuals. Raven House invites you to come to your own opinions and conclusions, and welcomes all open and respectful dialogue on the topic!

Dr. Thomas Armstrong, American Institute on Learning and Human Development Nick Walker, author of blog Neurocosmopolitanism

According to Dr. Thomas Armstrong, with the American Institute for Learning and Human Development:

The word neurodiversity was coined in the late 1990’s by two individuals: journalist Harvey Blume, and autism advocate Judy Singer.  Blume wrote in the September 1, 1998 issue of The Atlantic:  “Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment? Cybernetics and computer culture, for example, may favor a somewhat autistic cast of mind.” Singer in a 1999 book chapter titled:  “Why Can’t You Be Normal For Once in Your Life?” observed:  “For me, the key significance of the ‘Autistic Spectrum’ lies in its call for and anticipation of a politics of Neurological Diversity, or what I want to call ‘Neurodiversity.’  The ‘Neurologically Different’ represent a new addition to the familiar political categories of class/gender/race and will augment the insights of the social model of disability.”The Wikepedia defines neurodiversity as:  “…an idea which asserts that atypical (neurodivergent) neurological development is a normal human difference that is to be recognized and respected as any other human variation.”    The online Double-Tongued Dictionary characterizes neurodiversity as:  “the whole of human mental or psychological neurological structures or behaviors, seen as not necessarily problematic, but as alternate, acceptable forms of human biology.”

By using the concept of neurodiversity to account for individual neurological differences, we create a discourse whereby labeled people may be seen in terms of their strengths as well as their weaknesses.  Dyslexics, for example, can be seen in terms of their visual thinking ability and entrepreneurial strengths.  People with ADHD can be regarded as possessing a penchant for novel learning situations.. Individuals along the autistic spectrum can be looked at in terms of their facility with systems such computer programming or mathematical computation.  Those with bipolar disorder can be appreciated for their creative pursuits in the arts.  While proponents of the concept of neurodiversity do not shirk from the realization that people with dyslexia, ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric conditions, often suffer great hardships, and that those hardships require a lot of hard work to overcome, they realize that until an individual’s strengths have been recognized, celebrated, and worked with, nothing substantial can be accomplished with regard to their difficulties.

Eight Principles of Neurodiversity:

  1. The Human Brain Works More Like an Ecosystem than a Machine.  Up until now, the most often used metaphor to refer to the brain has been a computer (or some other type of machine).  However, the human brain isn’t hardware or software, it’s wetware.  The characterization of the brain as an unbelievably intricate network of ecosystems is much closer to the truth than that of a complex machine.  We should devise a discourse that better reflects this new conception of the brain.
  2. Human Brains  Exist Along Continuums of Competence. Rather than regarding disability categories as discrete entities, it’s more appropriate to speak of spectrums or continuums of competence.  Recent research, for example, indicates that dyslexia is part of a spectrum that includes normal reading ability.  Similarly, we use terms such as autistic spectrum disorders, to suggest that there are different gradations of social ability that merge ultimately with normal behavior.  This suggests that we are all somewhere along continuums related to literacy, sociability, attention, learning, and other cognitive abilities, and thus all of us are connected to each other, rather than being separated into “normal” and “those having disabilities.
  3. Human Competence is Defined by the Values of the Culture to Which You Belong.  Categories of disability often deeply reflect the values of a culture.  Dyslexia, for example, is based upon the social value that everyone be able to read.  One hundred and fifty years ago, this wasn’t the case, and dyslexia was unknown.  Similarly, autism may reflect the cultural value that suggests that it’s better to be in relationship than to be alone. We should recognize that diagnostic categories are not purely scientifically-based but reflect these deeper social biases.
  4. Whether You are Regarded As Disabled or Gifted Depends Largely on When and Where You Were Born.   In other times and other places, there have been different disability/ability diagnoses depending upon cultural values.  In pre-Civil War America, for example, there was a disorder called “drapetomania” said to afflict blacks. Its meaning was “an obsession with the urge to flee one’s slave masters” and reflected its racist roots. In India, today, there are people who would be labeled in the West as schizophrenic, but who are regarded as holy beings by the local population.  We should not regard diagnostic labels as absolute and set in stone, but think, instead, of their existence relative to a particular social setting.
  5. Success in Life is Based on Adapting One’s Brain to the Needs of the Surrounding Environment.   Despite Principles 3 and 4, however, it’s true that we don’t live in other places or times, consequently the immediate need is to adapt to our current contemporary culture.  This means that a dyslexic person needs to learn how to read, an autistic individual needs to learn how to relate to others socially, a schizophrenic individual needs to think more rationally and so forth.  Tools such as psychoactive medication or intensive remediation programs can help achieve these aims.
  6. Success in Life Also Depends on Modifying Your Surrounding Environment to Fit the Needs of Your Unique Brain (Niche Construction).  We shouldn’t focus all of our attention on making a neurodiverse person adapt to the environment in which they find themselves, which is a little like making a round peg fit in a square hole.  We should also devise ways of helping an individual change their surrounding environment to fit the needs of their unique brain.
  7. Niche Construction Includes Career and Lifestyle Choices, Assistive Technologies, Human Resources, and Other Life-Enhancing Strategies Tailored to the Specific Needs of a Neurodiverse Individual.  There are many tools, resources, and strategies for altering the environment so that it it meshes with the needs of a neurodiverse brain.  For example, a person with ADHD, can find a career that involves novelty and movement, use an iPhone to help with organizing his day, and hire a coach to assist him with developing better social skills.
  8. Positive Niche Construction Directly Modifies the Brain, Which in Turn Enhances its Ability to Adapt to the Environment. In experiments with mice, neuroscientists have shown that a more enriching environment results in a more complex network of neuronal connections in the brain. This more complex brain, in turn, has an easier time adapting to the needs of the surrounding environment.

In conclusion, the potential is great for the neurodiversity movement to create significant social transformation.  Already, for example, there are software firms that have recognized the special programming gifts of certain people with Asperger’s syndrome and others on the autistic spectrum, and have hired significant numbers of them to improve their productivity.  Similarly, more people are understanding that ADHD brings with it special abilities as well as difficulties, and that appropriate career selection can be an important part of determining whether one will be successful or unsuccessful in a particular job. It is hoped that the concept of neurodiversity will help combat “abelism” or the belief that people who are “abnormal” should be discriminated against, condescended to, and ultimately kept out of the basic affairs of society.  Neurodiversity brings with it a sense of hope, that all individuals, regardless of how they read, think, feel, socialize, or attend, will be recognized for their gifts, and accorded the same rights and privileges as any other human being.


According to Nick Walker, author of the blog Neurocosmopolitanism:


What It Means:

Neurodiversity is the diversity of human brains and minds – the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species.

What It Doesn’t Mean:

Neurodiversity is a biological fact. It’s not a perspective, an approach, a belief, a political position, or a paradigm. That’s the neurodiversity paradigm (see below), not neurodiversity itself.

Neurodiversity is not a political or social activist movement. That’s the Neurodiversity Movement (see below), not neurodiversity itself.

Neurodiversity is not a trait that any individual possesses. Diversity is a trait possessed by a group, not an individual. When an individual diverges from the dominant societal standards of “normal” neurocognitive functioning, they don’t “have neurodiversity,” they’re neurodivergent (see below).

Example of Correct Usage:

“Our school offers multiple learning strategies to accommodate the neurodiversity of our student body.”

Examples of Incorrect Usage:

“Neurodiversity claims that…”
This writer is actually trying to talk about either the neurodiversity paradigm or the Neurodiversity Movement. Neurodiversity, as a biological characteristic of the species, can’t “claim” anything, any more than variations in human skin pigmentation can “claim” something.

“Neurodiversity is a load of nonsense.”
Really? So human brains and minds don’t differ from one another? There’s an awful lot of scientific evidence that shows quite plainly that there’s considerable variation among human brains. And if we all thought alike, the world would be a very different place indeed. The person who wrote this sentence was probably trying to object to the neurodiversity paradigmand/or the positions of the Neurodiversity Movement, and has ended up sounding rather silly as a result of failing to distinguish between these things and the phenomenon of neurodiversity itself.

“My neurodiversity makes it hard for me to cope with school.”
The correct word here would be neurodivergence, rather than neurodiversity. Individuals diverge; groups are diverse.


What It Means:

The neurodiversity paradigm is a specific perspective on neurodiversity – a perspective or approach that boils down to these fundamental principles:

1.) Neurodiversity is a natural and valuable form of human diversity.

2.) The idea that there is one “normal” or “healthy” type of brain or mind, or one “right” style of neurocognitive functioning, is a culturally constructed fiction, no more valid (and no more conducive to a healthy society or to the overall well-being of humanity) than the idea that there is one “normal” or “right” ethnicity, gender, or culture.

3.) The social dynamics that manifest in regard to neurodiversity are similar to the social dynamics that manifest in regard to other forms of human diversity (e.g., diversity of ethnicity, gender, or culture). These dynamics include the dynamics of social power inequalities, and also the dynamics by which diversity, when embraced, acts as a source of creative potential.

What It Doesn’t Mean:

The neurodiversity paradigm provides a philosophical foundation for the activism of the Neurodiversity Movement, but the two aren’t the same. For instance, there are people working on developing inclusive education strategies based on the neurodiversity paradigm, who don’t identify as social justice activists or as part of the Neurodiversity Movement.

Example of Correct Usage:

“Those who have embraced the neurodiversity paradigm, and who truly understand it, do not use pathologizing terms like ‘disorder’ to describe minority neurological variants like autism or bipolarity.”


What It Means:

The Neurodiversity Movement is a social justice movement that seeks civil rights, equality, respect, and full societal inclusion for the neurodivergent.

What It Doesn’t Mean:

The Neurodiversity Movement is not a single group or organization, is not run by any single group or organization, and has no leader. Like most civil rights movements, the Neurodiversity Movement is made up of a great many individuals, some of them organized into groups of one sort or another. These individuals and groups are quite diverse in their viewpoints, goals, concerns, political positions, affiliations, methods of activism, and interpretations of the neurodiversity paradigm.

The Neurodiversity Movement began within the Autism Rights Movement, and there is still a great deal of overlap between the two movements. But the Neurodiversity Movement and the Autism Rights Movement are not one and the same. The most significant distinction between the two is that the Neurodiversity Movement seeks to be inclusive of all neurominorities, not just Autistics. Also, there some who advocate for the rights of Autistics but who cannot rightly be considered part of the Neurodiversity Movement because they still consider autism to be a medical pathology or “disorder,” a view at odds with the neurodiversity paradigm.


What It Means:

Neurodivergent, sometimes abbreviated as ND, means having a brain that functions in ways that diverge significantly from the dominant societal standards of “normal.”

Neurodivergent is quite a broad term. Neurodivergence (the state of being neurodivergent) can be largely or entirely genetic and innate, or it can be largely or entirely produced by brain-altering experience, or some combination of the two (autism and dyslexia are examples of innate forms of neurodivergence, while alterations in brain functioning caused by such things as trauma, long-term meditation practice, or heavy usage of psychedelic drugs are examples of forms of neurodivergence produced through experience).

A person whose neurocognitive functioning diverges from dominant societal norms in multiple ways – for instance, a person who is Autistic, dyslexic, and epileptic – can be described as multiply neurodivergent.

Some forms of innate or largely innate neurodivergence, like autism, are intrinsic and pervasive factors in an individual’s psyche, personality, and fundamental way of relating to the world. The neurodiversity paradigm rejects the pathologizing of such forms of neurodivergence, and the Neurodiversity Movement opposes attempts to get rid of them.

Other forms of neurodivergence, like epilepsy or the effects of traumatic brain injuries, could be removed from an individual without erasing fundamental aspects of the individual’s selfhood, and in many cases the individual would be happy to be rid of such forms of neurodivergence. The neurodiversity paradigm does not reject the pathologizing of these forms of neurodivergence, and the Neurodiversity Movement does not object to consensual attempts to cure them (but still most definitely objects to discrimination against people who have them).

Thus, neurodivergence is not intrinsically positive or negative, desirable or undesirable – it all depends on what sort of neurodivergence one is talking about.

The terms neurodivergent and neurodivergence were coined by Kassiane Asasumasu, a multiply neurodivergent neurodiversity activist.

Examples of Correct Usage:

“Our school aims to be inclusive of students who are Autistic, dyslexic, or otherwise neurodivergent, though there are some types of neurodivergence that we’re still seeking ways to accommodate.”

“This Facebook group is for people who identify as both queer and ND (neurodivergent).”


What It Means:

Neurotypical, often abbreviated as NT, means having a style of neurocognitive functioning that falls within the dominant societal standards of “normal.”

Neurotypical can be used as either an adjective (“He’s neurotypical”) or a noun (“He’s a neurotypical”).

Neurotypical is the opposite of neurodivergent. Neurotypicality is the condition from which neurodivergent people diverge. Neurotypical bears the same sort of relationship to neurodivergent that straight bears to queer.

What It Doesn’t Mean:

Neurotypical is not synonymous with non-autistic.

Neurotypical is the opposite of neurodivergent, not the opposite of autistic. Autism is only one of many forms of neurodivergence, so there are many, many people who are neither neurotypical nor autistic. Using neurotypical to mean non-autistic is like using “white” to mean “not black.”

Also, neurotypical is not a derogatory word, and has no intrinsic negative connotation. Of course, sometimes people use the word in the context of criticizing the behavior of neurotypicals, but that doesn’t make it an intrinsically negative word. A lot of people criticize the behavior of men, too, but that doesn’t make “man” an intrinsically derogatory word.

Examples of Correct Usage:

“If the primary language of the society in which you were born is well-suited to the purpose of describing your sensory experiences, your needs, and your thought processes, you may have neurotypical privilege.”

“My sister is NT, but after growing up with an Autistic father and brother, she’s quite at ease with other people’s neurodivergence.”

Example of Incorrect Usage:

“Is your daughter Autistic or neurotypical?”
This isn’t a well-worded question because there are other possibilities. The daughter in question might be non-autistic, but might also not quality as neurotypical – she might, for instance, be dyslexic or bipolar.


What It Means:

neurominority is a population of neurodivergent people about whom all of the following are true:

1.) They all share a similar form of neurodivergence.

2.) The form of neurodivergence they share is one of those forms that is largely innate and that is inseparable from who they are, constituting an intrinsic and pervasive factor in their psyches, personalities, and fundamental ways of relating to the world.

3.) The form of neurodivergence they share is one to which the neurotypical majority tends to respond with some degree of prejudice, misunderstanding, discrimination, and/or oppression (often facilitated by classifying that form of neurodivergence as a medical pathology).

Some examples of neurominority groups include Autistic, bipolar, dyslexic, and schizophrenic people.

The word neurominority can function as either a noun (“Autistics are a neurominority”) or an adjective (“Autistics are a neurominority group”).


What It Means:

A group of people is neurodiverse if one or more members of the group differ substantially from other members, in terms of their neurocognitive functioning.

Or, to phrase it another way, a neurodiverse group is a group in which multiple neurocognitive styles are represented.

Thus, a family, the faculty or student body of a school, the population of a town, or the cast of characters of a TV show would be neurodiverse if some members had different neurocognitive styles from other members – for instance, if some members were neurotypical while others were Autistic.

What It Doesn’t Mean:

Many people mistakenly use neurodiverse where the correct word would be neurodivergent.

Of all the terminology errors that people make in writing and speaking about neurodiversity, the incorrect use of neurodiverse to mean neurodivergent is by far the most common.

There is no such thing as a “neurodiverse individual.” The correct term is “neurodivergent individual.”

An individual can diverge, but an individual cannot be diverse. Diversity is a property of groups, not of individuals. That’s intrinsic to the meaning and proper usage of the term diverseGroups are diverse; individuals diverge.

In addition, neurodiverse does not mean “non-neurotypical.” The opposite of neurotypical is neurodivergent, not neurodiverse.

The opposite of neurodiverse would be neurohomogenous (meaning “composed of people who are all neurocognitively similar to one another”).

Neurodiverse cannot be used to mean “non-neurotypical,” because neurotypical people, like all other human beings, are part of the spectrum of human neurodiversity.

In North America, Europe, and Australia, white people are the racial group that holds the most privilege and societal power. But we do not use the term “racially diverse” to mean “non-white.” “Racially diverse” means “including members of multiple racial groups.”

To use the term “racially diverse” to mean “non-white,” or to describe a Black or Asian-American person, for instance, as a “racially diverse individual,” would not merely be an incorrect usage of the word “diverse” – it would also be racist.

It would be racist because it would imply that white people somehow occupy a special, unique position separate from the overall diversity of humanity – “There’s us white people, and then there are all those diverse people.” Such usage changes the definition of the word “diverse” to mean “not part of the privileged in-group.” Again, that’s not what the word means, and misusing it in that particular way serves to reinforce a racist mindset in which white people are seen as intrinsically separate from the rest of humanity, rather than as just another part of the spectrum of human diversity.

It is the same with the misuse of the term neurodiverse to mean “non-neurotypical.” To describe an Autistic, bipolar, or otherwise neurodivergent person as a “neurodiverse individual” is not merely an incorrect usage of the word “diverse,” it’s also ableist.

It’s ableist because it implies that neurotypical people somehow occupy a special, unique position separate from the overall neurodiversity of humanity. Misusing the word neurodiverse in that particular way serves to reinforce an ableist mindset in which neurotypical people are seen as intrinsically separate from the rest of humanity, rather than as just another part of the spectrum of human neurodiversity.

Humanity is neurodiverse, just as humanity is racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse. By definition, no human being falls outside of the spectrum of human neurodiversity, just as no human being falls outside of the spectrum of human racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity.

In summary, then: misusing the term neurodiverse to mean neurodivergent (i.e., non-neurotypical) is not only plain old bad English, it also subtly reinforces ableism and undercuts the fundamental tenets of the neurodiversity paradigm.

I hope this explanation will help to encourage people (especially people who identify as proponents of the neurodiversity paradigm or supporters of the Neurodiversity Movement) to avoid this problematic misuse of the term neurodiverse in the future, and, when possible, to correct such misuse where they encounter it.

Examples of Correct Usage:

“We humans are a neurodiverse species.”

“We employ a wide variety of creative teaching strategies to accommodate the many different learning styles represented in our highly neurodiverse student body.”

“My neurodiverse family includes three neurotypicals, two Autistics, and one person who’s both bipolar and dyslexic.”

“I think every single member of their board of directors is neurotypical. An organization that supposedly serves the needs of neurominority children should have a more neurodiverse board.” 

Examples of Incorrect Usage:

“This group welcomes Autistics and other neurodiverse people.”
It’s nice to be welcomed, but there’s no such thing as a “neurodiverse person.” the correct phrase here would be “Autistics and other neurodivergent people.”

“This group is open to both neurotypicals and the neurodiverse.” 
No, no, no. “The neurodiverse?” Seriously? What does that even mean? The spectrum of neurodiversity encompasses the entire human species, so one can’t label any subset of the human species as “the neurodiverse.” And neurotypicals are part of the spectrum of human neurodiversity, so it makes no sense to say “neurotypicals and the neurodiverse,” as if those were two separate things. The correct way to say this would be, “This group is open to both neurotypicals and the neurodivergent.” Or, one could say something like, “This group is open to all forms of neurodiversity” (“all forms of neurodiversity” would include the neurocognitive styles of all humans, including neurotypicals).

Example of Possibly Correct Usage:

“The students in this classroom are neurodiverse.”
This is correct usage if the speaker means that not all of the students in the classroom share the same general style of neurocognitive functioning. However, it is incorrect usage if what the speaker is trying to say is that it’s a classroom for students who aren’t neurotypical – if that’s the case, then once again, the correct term would be neurodivergent instead of neurodiverse.