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Neurodiversity

Neurodiversity refers to the idea that neurological differences, such as those seen in autism or ADHD, reflect normal variations in brain development. Neurodiversity is often contrasted with the “medical model,” which views conditions like autism or ADHD as disorders to prevent, treat, or cure. There has been a push to move away from this idea of pathology and more toward a more nuanced perspective with variations of what is “normal.”

Who Is Neurodiverse?

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The word neurodiversity—a portmanteau of “neurological” and “diversity”—was first coined in the 1990s by Australian social scientist Judy Singer, who is herself on the autism spectrum. It has gained significant ground in recent years, particularly among advocacy communities. The term originally referred most commonly to autism but has since come to include ADHD, dyslexia, Tourette's, synesthesia, as well as other learning and developmental differences.

Does society pathologize the neurodiverse population?

The neurodiversity paradigm suggests that, because neurological differences are normal and have existed throughout human history, they should be respected, understood, and supported, rather than pathologized or viewed as disordered. There is nothing to cure. Modifying the environment of a neurodiverse individual, reducing stigma, and prioritizing each person’s inherent dignity will, proponents argue, allow for such individuals to discover innate talents and thrive within a diverse society.

Should low-functioning, severe autism be viewed separately?

Parents of children with severe autism argue that portraying the autism spectrum as just “different” minimizes the challenges that many autistic individuals and their caretakers face. They point out that those with extreme neurological differences are simply not capable of caring for themselves. The opposing argument says that neurodiversity can help the severely autistic, not hurt them. They propose that seeing severely affected individuals from a traditional medical perspective hurts everyone.

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Neurodiverse and Brilliant

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In one study of child prodigies, researchers found that these children scored high in autistic traits. For example, their attention to detail was on the obsessive end, which is a hallmark of the autism spectrum. The Austrian pediatrician and medical theorist Hans Asperger—after whom the syndrome was named—even referred to children with precocious aptitude as "little professors.”

What is a savant?

Some neurodiverse individuals have keen memory and recall, others are prodigious at math. These savants are often hyper-focused on details and may have a specialized interest. One example is Rubik’s cube speed solver Max Park, who was diagnosed at a young age with autism. He is a world champion who set world records solving the puzzle, even with just one hand.

What does Rain Man mean?

The term Rain Man is a derogatory term that identifies a mentally and, or, socially impaired individual; it’s also a term that often refers to autistic individuals. The term was highlighted in the 1988 film of the same name. The story was based on the life of Kim Peek, who was considered a megasavant but was not known to be autistic. He had a prodigious memory even at the early age of 16 months. In later years, he was able to read an entire book in an hour and retain the information in it. He could also read the left page of a book with his left eye, as well as the right page with his right eye. Peek was thought to have FG syndrome, whereby one or more recessive genes are located on the X chromosome.

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