Understanding Neurodiversity

By Meagan Polain

Senior Speech Pathologist

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioural traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population. Neurodiversity embraces the idea that every human is unique with a unique combination of abilities and needs.

The term neurodivergence usually refers to traits and characteristics associated with a number of diagnoses:

  • ADHD
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Developmental Coordination Disorder (Dyspraxia)
  • Developmental Language Disorder
  • Dyscalculia – a mathematical learning disability
  • Dyslexia
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Tic Disorders, including Tourette’s Syndrome

Neurodiversity understands and embraces the differences in the way humans think and behave. It aims to increase the acceptance and inclusion of all people by embracing neurological differences.

Words Matter

The neurodiversity movement promotes inclusive and non-judgmental language. Many organisations prefer person-first language (“a person with autism”, “a person with dyslexia”). However, some research suggests that the autistic community prefers the use of identify-first language (“an autistic person”). Rather than making assumptions, it is best to ask the individual about their preferred language.

Person / Environment Fit

To quote an autistic person “We are freshwater fish in saltwater. Put us in fresh water and we function just fine. Put us in saltwater and we struggle to survive”.

Understanding and embracing neurodiversity in communities, schools, and workplaces can improve inclusivity for all people. Creating an environment that is helpful to neurodiversity and recognises everyone’s strengths and talents while also providing support for their differences and needs is important and could look like:

  • An appropriate setup in the workplace/school that supports sensory preferences such as noise and movement
  • Clear communication styles that consider each individual’s needs like the use of visuals schedules and avoiding sarcasm or indirect language

Neurotypical Expectations

Neurodiversity opposes attempts to cure or normalise behaviours to conform to “neurotypical” expectations. With the belief that society should work to remove stigma, create accommodations, and fully accept neurodiversity.

It aims for the acceptance of unfamiliar characteristics that cause no harm rather than teaching “neurotypical” behaviours that may result in masking. 

Masking is when a neurodiverse individual hides or controls behaviours that are not considered neurotypical. Masking can have severe effects on mental and physical health, inducing conditions like;

Keys considerations under the neurodiversity framework include:

  • Understanding the impact of the environment on each individual and supporting changes to the environment as required
  • Supporting the development of physical, sensory, and emotional regulation
  • Adopting a strengths-based approach emphasising pleasure, natural learning, social connection, and well-being
  • Promotion of autonomy

What support is available?

At Therapy Focus, we have a dedicated team of experienced Autism Diagnosticians, Speech Pathologists and Psychologists who can provide support for neurodiverse people. Whether that’s working towards receiving a diagnosis or getting support to complete day-to-day activities, our comprehensive services are here to support those who are neurodiverse.

Get support for neurodiversity

We provide comprehensive therapy services for neurodivergent individuals and their families.