Neurodivergent vs. Neurodiverse

The terms “neurodiverse” and “neurodivergent” are related, but they have slightly different meanings.

“Neurodiverse” refers to a place, not an individual. “Neurodivergent” is an umbrella term that is used to describe individuals with a wide range of neurological differences, such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other conditions that affect the way a person thinks, learns, and communicates. The term “Neurodiverse” multiple neurotypes, and focusses on the presence of neurological differences within a group or place. Just like Biodiversity, does not relate to a individual animal or tree, but to the fact that in an ecosystem, there is a level of diversity within that system.

As Judy Singer puts it: All humans are neurodiverse, because each one of us has a unique brain, comprised of our genetic heritage (Nature) and cultural and experiential recordings (Nurture). Thus it can be seen that Neurodiversity is simply a catchy name for “Human Nature”. This reminds us that there is an environmental basis for respecting the variability of cognitive differences, both abilities and disabilities.

This has implications for education, and workplaces. If we are going to create Neurodiverse Workplaces, it includes a responsibility to assess such behaviours which are often found in people in leadership positions, to ensure that all are protected from the negative aspects.

The term also emphasizes the idea that neurodivergent conditions are a variation of human diversity, rather than ‘disorders’ or ‘deficits’ as the medical paradigm frames neurodivergent individuals. The word is often used to promote the acceptance and inclusion of individuals with neurological differences, and to recognize and value their unique strengths and abilities, even when its not used in exactly the way the word is defined by. “Neurodiverse” is a word which is often used in the wrong way, by people meaning “neurodivergent”, or another word describing the neurologically distinct. The Neurodiversity Foundation is therefore mild when persons used this term wrong, most people do, but also expects leaders of organizations using these words, to understand what they mean, and not make the confusion worse, by giving credibility to wrong interpretations of the word.

A short explanation could be: A group or place can be neurodiverse, a individual cannot be neurodiverse. “Neurodiversity” spans all types of humans, both neurodivergent and neurotypical. Or as we say at the Neurodiversity Foundation: “Neurodiversity, means all of us”.

“Neurodivergent” is a more specific term that is often used to describe individuals who have a neurological condition that is considered to be different from the dominant societal norm. The term is often used as an alternative to the traditional medical model, which often views these conditions as disorders or deficits that need to be fixed. It also provides a way for individuals to assert their own identity and autonomy, rather than being defined by medical labels or societal expectations.

All the three terms are important in the neurodiversity paradigm, in promoting acceptance, inclusion and understanding of individuals with neurological differences. In education and workplaces, recognizing and understanding the difference between the terms can help educators and team members/leaders, to provide the right support, accommodations and inclusive environment for neurodiverse groups and neurodivergent students or employees/team members.

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