Neurodivergent is a term with many different definitions. It can refer to someone who has been diagnosed with autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, etc. It often refers to people whose brain is in some way wired differently than neurotypical brains tend to be.
People who are neurodivergent tend to need accommodations when it comes to socializing and working around other people. This can include things like being allowed time off for therapy appointments or being able to socialize only in short spurts every week rather than all day long when at work or school. These are just examples of the kind of thing that might be needed by an autistic person vs an NT (neurotypical) person.
There are also people who are neurodivergent, but don’t fit into these diagnostic categories. Maybe they’re very intuitive or have an especially high IQ. Their brains just function differently without being affected by something that would be labeled as a disorder or disability in everyday speak.
People who are neurodivergent face additional struggles outside of the realm of society at large because of their differences, though to many neurodivergents it feels like the opposite sometimes – that everybody else is living under a microscope while all they want is to live their lives normally.
Neurodivergence is not widely understood and often bandied about carelessly with little regard for how it may affect those who are actually neurodivergent, so it’s important to know what you’re talking about before throwing the term around. It can be used as an adjective or noun just like any other – i.e., “That was a really stupid decision for someone who is neurodivergent.” or “Some of my friends are neurodivergent.”
People who are neurodivergent also have additional challenges in their lives that others cannot understand. These people require accommodations at school and work, but if they do not disclose their differences, they can run into discrimination when asking for these things even though these requests are often legally protected. Many autistic adults report being fired because they struggled with communication, had meltdowns during stressful days at work, or simply did not fit into the traditional workplace environment. The same can happen to autistic people in school settings when they are unable to complete assignments on time because of sensory sensitivities. Without accommodations for their differences, neurodivergent people often face difficulty in academics and work environments that others do not have to think twice about.
One other issue that faces many neurodivergent people is ableism . Ableism is discrimination against disability or difference in general, so it’s really anything done by somebody who isn’t considered to be disabled (i.e., neurotypical) which discriminates against somebody else who has a different brain than what is considered “normal.” It’s subtle things like making assumptions about someone’s intelligence based solely on their outward appearance, making fun of people who are different even though they have no effect on your life whatsoever, or mocking autistic people because you don’t understand what it’s like to live with autism. It can also be more explicit biases against neurodivergent minorities when they attempt to come together and advocate for themselves – in America in particular, this has become a big issue when trying to protest the latest addition to the DSM, which seems specifically designed to label anyone who isn’t neurotypical as having a mental disability that needs “treatment.”
There are many types of disabilities that come under the category of neurodivergence. The most well-known is autism spectrum disorder, but there are many others including ADD/ADHD, bipolar disorder, dyspraxia, epilepsy, and others. Many people don’t understand the nature of these disabilities or believe in their existence because they are in a different brain than what is considered “the norm.” The idea that someone else’s brain could function completely differently than yours up in your noggin’ just doesn’t compute for some. It’s important to remember that neurodivergents don’t choose to be this way – their brains just work differently than other types of brains. Not only do they require accommodations at school and work, but society needs to become more aware about neurodivergence if we want our friends and family who are neurodivergent to feel like they belong here too.
The term neurodivergent was first coined by Kassiane Asasumasu who is an autistic author, artist, and activist.