A brief history of “Neurodiversity”: Defining a powerful social movement
Neurodiversity is a term that acknowledges the diversity of how we think, learn and process the world around us.
This term has always had a social mission and outlook.
Neurodiversity has triggered an increased awareness and drive towards neuro-inclusion, which looks at how people and organisations can change to support different thinkers in education, the workplace and everyday life.
We all deserve the same rights and opportunities, and the growing neurodiversity movement also seeks to challenge the way we view neurological differences, such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and many more, as part of our broad human diversity rather than something “deficient” or “abnormal”.
A modern, balanced perspective of these differences is becoming apparent in the research and is also gaining more and more mainstream awareness. We now recognise the strengths that individuals experience because of their distinct neurological traits, not despite them.
But what’s the full story behind this term? And what is its role in the wider Disabled People’s Movement?
A brief history of neurodiversity
“Neurodiversity” was coined by Sociologist Judy Singer in her 1998 Honours thesis, titled:
Odd People In: The Birth of Community Amongst People on the “Autistic Spectrum”
A personal exploration of a New Social Movement based on Neurological Diversity.
This thesis was based on observations of groups within the Autism Self-Advocacy Network, a grassroots disability rights group in America run by and for autistic people to advocate for themselves. It remains a highly influential organisation today.
Singer also explored her own experiences of “being the middle of 3 generations of women on the Autistic Spectrum”
Her insights highlighted the social movement unfolding within the autistic and disabled community:
“For me, the significance of the ‘Autistic Spectrum’ lies in its call for and anticipation of a ‘Politics of 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.”
Singer’s work was pioneering. We have to remember that at this time, public understanding of autism and other neurological differences was extremely low, and people faced significant barriers and prejudice in society.
Many of these barriers still exist today, but the progress we have made is thanks to voices like Singer.
It truly was the birth of an idea.
However, there were other changes happening that fed into this shifting narrative.
What is the Social Model of Disability?
The Social Model of Disability is the idea that “disability” is created by society and is not something created by someone’s mind or body.
It establishes that people are not inherently disabled. However, they can be disabled by the world around them. These could be physical barriers in different environments, social barriers because of people’s attitudes or institutional barriers that prohibit equal access to or support within certain spaces and services.
Mike Oliver was a disabled academic, and he coined “the social model of disability” in 1983. This model is incredibly liberating for many disabled people. It changes the burden of “not fitting in” from people to society.
It is up to all of us in society to change the way we do things, adapt how we teach people in schools or work with colleagues, to ensure we are not “impairing” people who experience barriers because of their psychological or physical traits.
If we could achieve this, we would all simply be different and not perceived as less than.
This is the foundation of much of the work around neuro-inclusion. Organisations recognise that they need to change, and people are increasingly speaking out against discrimination when it happens.
Our work at Cognassist centres around building effective neuro-inclusion in education and work. No one should be left without support or feeling too anxious to ask for it. People need to know their rights and responsibilities.
We can empower people and organisations to help bring wide-reaching benefits in improving educational outcomes or workplace wellbeing.
Everyone deserves to thrive.
Disability and reasonable adjustments
Under UK law, disability is a protected characteristic. Whether or not someone identifies as disabled, it does not change their protection under UK law.
Neurominority people do not always consider themselves disabled.
For many people, the word still carries the idea that someone is inherently disabled, rather than representing the idea that people are disabled by a world that is not built for them.
And this should impact how organisations approach their neuro-inclusion efforts.
Our research has found that:
Cognassist specialises in neuro-inclusion training and a protected disclosure framework to support neurodistinct staff in the workplace and also creates early assessment opportunities for learning needs to support neurodiverse learners in education.
It matters what we do to take action on neuro-inclusion.
And it matters how we talk about neurodiversity.
Cognassist takes a holistic approach to embracing neurodiversity and creating evidence-based support and insights to help drive meaningful neuro-inclusion.
We are proud to be part of the neurodiversity movement, working as part of an incredible community that continues to fight for increased visibility and support.
How will you do your part and ensure that diverse minds can thrive?
Help build a thriving workplace
Click here to enrol on to our free ‘Introduction to neurodiversity in the workplace’ training course.