How we talk about neurodiversity
The conversation around neurodiversity is growing, and we want to support this conversation to drive positive attitudes, understanding and inclusion.
The language we use is a big part of how we frame our conversations and how people approach the fundamental concept of neurodiversity – in work, education and our personal lives.
This guide looks at the language of neurodiversity and how we can all be part of this evolving space.
Using language to shape our understanding of neurodiversity and drive change
Language isn’t just a primary tool for communication. It helps us define and express our very identities.
How we define ourselves.
How we define the world around us.
How we relate to each other and share our knowledge.
Language evolves with us, and the language of neurodiversity is no different. How we talk about neurodiversity has shifted in the last decade and will only continue to change.
And how we talk about neurodiversity is also very subjective. Some people prefer specific terms over others, and no one will agree entirely on these preferences.
What’s important is that there is not always a right or wrong approach, and to be mindful of correcting others too quickly.
We can have differing viewpoints – that is part of embracing neurodiversity. However, we must prevent inappropriate language and unhelpful dialogue.
Cognassist’s neuro-inclusion terminology
Like anyone else, companies also have a choice on how they talk about neurodiversity.
Neurodiversity is part of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) space. Organisations that don’t consider their approach risk pushing people away and reducing the creativity and innovation that come with greater diversity.
We take our mission around neurodiversity very seriously.
We aim to help build a world where diverse minds can thrive, where everyone proactively works to champion neuro-inclusion every day.
As such, we use terminology that reflects our collective cognitive diversity while acknowledging the identity of those of us who experience the world differently.
“Neurodivergent” is the most common term for neurological differences like autism, ADHD, dyslexia and more. “Neurotypical” is a shorthand description for anyone who does not experience these differences.
However, Cognassist has chosen not to use neurodivergent and neurotypical for the following reasons…
#1 Neurodivergence comes from the medical model of neurodiversity
The early medicalised view of neurodiversity sought to define our expected differences as deviating from a standard or “normal” brain.
However, there is no standard or entirely neurotypical human brain.
We’re all complex and different.
The term neurodivergent is inherently attached to ideas that a normal or “neurotypical” brain exists, and we want to change this perception.
Cognassist’s digital cognitive assessment measures nine key cognitive domains that look at how we think and learn. Our data shows that less than 10% of people fit within the typical range across all nine cognitive domains we measure.
However, these findings don’t mean that 90% of people have the kind of spiky profile that comes from more recognisable neurological differences and more unusual traits.
What this data does show is that the average human mind we might expect is incredibly uncommon and the neurotypical standards we so often hear about don’t really exist.
Some cognitive diversity is always expected.
The differences we experience aren’t only around cognition or information processing either. Neurodiversity also encompasses our social differences, behaviour, personality and co-occurring mental health.
Diversity is a normal expectation of being human.
If the average thinker doesn’t really exist, why have we been designing environments that exclude so many?
Neuro-inclusion needs to be part of normal life too. Everyone should have the support and tools they need to succeed, no matter their inherent differences or way of thinking.
#2 Neurodivergent and neurotypical can be othering
Seeing the world as a binary grouping of “us and them” can create widespread generalisations and artificially reduces the complexity of human experiences.
We can also look to other social justice movements and protected characteristics under UK law to consider this type of language.
For example, no one would ever say that someone is ethnically or sexually divergent. Equally, people wouldn’t say someone is racially or religiously typical. Our protected characteristics should not be defined by their relation to perceived majorities and cultural expectations, which are often outdated, inaccurate and can quickly change.
Yet, neurodivergent and neurotypical remain widely accepted. Possibly because the conversation around neurodiversity is still relatively new.
There is still much to explore.
Even with this reasoning, we don’t consider using neurodivergent or neurotypical as wrong. Many people embrace the idea of neurodivergence and not being “normal” as part of their identity and enjoy claiming this word as their own.
Whether it’s on our website or our platform, we do not change individuals’ language use if they prefer specific terms. It’s essential to welcome all perspectives. And in the past, we haven’t always used the language we do now.
It’s always an ongoing conversation.
It’s also important not to shy away from challenging conversations or vital debates, and it’s ok to agree to disagree so long as we’re all pulling in the same direction to improve outcomes for the neurodiversity community.
Cognassist uses a range of alternatives to neurodivergent within our content, including:
This is an adaptive list, and we are always looking to expand our knowledge and understanding through compassionate and good-natured dialogue.
The Cognassist neuro-inclusion platform has been developed by neuropsychologists and psychometric experts to help people understand their unique cognitive profile and the differences they may experience.
We want to break down the science behind how we think and learn to empower everyone in education and work.
We take a compassionate and supportive approach, reducing the jargon and supporting people on their neuro-inclusion journey, wherever they are on this journey.
And this approach is reflected in our writing.
Our voice follows some fundamental principles:
- Knowledgeable – We utilise best practices and academic links to provide expert-led insights and advice. We help you learn from the best, from the likes of our Independent Scientific Advisory Board and advocates who experience neurodifferences.
- Curious – We are fascinated by the human experience and people’s different perspectives. We share our curiosity with others and show you the meaningful outcomes that neuro-inclusion can bring.
- Empowering – neurodiversity brings many positives. By recognising people’s strengths and celebrating neurodiversity, we create a more rounded view of what it means to experience neurodifferences.
- Personal – we use a people-centred approach because neurodifferences are not separate from the person. We use identity-first language.
- Compassionate – Our content contains a compassion check, “How would I feel if this was written about me?”
Using inclusive language matters
Attitudes to neurodiversity are changing.
There is more public awareness, with more people speaking out about their experiences – although we still desperately need to drive visibility!
The message we send has an impact, and the stories we tell matter.
Here are just a couple of our stories…
Together, we can change the conversation.
Want to nurture and celebrate neurodiversity in your organisation? We are here to help. Get in touch below, and our team will reach out for a chat.