What exactly is neurodiversity?

Staff Perspectives

Hello, my name is Nicholas Forgue. I am a high functioning autistic man diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. In the past few years there has been a lot of talk about neurodiversity, especially in circles concerned with disability rights. As someone on the spectrum I feel it is important for people to understand what exactly neurodiversity is and why they have become hot topics in the realm of modern activism.

What is neurodiversity?

According to psychologist Thomas Armstrong, neurodiversity is variation within the brain regarding sociability, learning, and mental functions. Since the 1980s saw an increase in the diagnosis of autism a growing number of activists and psychologists have argued autism and other neurodivergent groups are disabled not by nature but by social barriers. Essentially neurodivergents see and operate in the world slightly different than most people, and are disadvantaged by social structures not built to accommodate them. Opponents of this theory argue that this does not address the realities of neurodivergents with high support needs.

While I feel these opponents are right to criticize the social barrier theory for being too broad, there is still a grain of truth to the idea that some neurodivergents aren’t intellectually disabled but socially disadvantaged. Those on the autism spectrum, ADHD individuals, dyslexic individuals, and people with other learning disabilities are capable of being just as intelligent, knowledgeable, and self-reliant as everyone else. They simply need accommodations to help them achieve their full potential, especially if they are young children or students.

Ways to accommodate someone with neurodiversity

Children with ADHD can be helped with printed outlines for note taking and visuals like graphs to help illustrate points. Dyslexic children should be given double the time other students need to complete a test or assignment and a quiet environment to work in. Autistic children work best in routine environments and should be told ahead of time if there are any changes to a class’s schedule.

Are neurodivergents “special”?

Some people might ask the question “what do neurodivergents bring to the table?” I feel this is an incredibly skewed way of looking at things. The movie Rain Man has given people this expectation that neurodivergents must have some secret savant abilities, an innate talent, that makes up for their social failings. But the truth is most neurodivergents are utterly average people. We either have average or slightly above average intelligence. As much fun as it is to theorize that men like Einstein were naturally gifted because they might have been autistic, it can also be disheartening to look back at yourself and see your own mundane accomplishments.

The worth of neurodivergents is not in some innate hidden super power so we can tolerate the things we don’t like about them. They should be given respect and accommodations because they are just as much a member of society as anyone else is.



Nicholas Forgue

Nicholas Forgue is a Contractor in the Arc of Monroe’s Marketing & Communications Department.