There is an increasing pressure to focus on the differences in our brain, not the deficits. This broad view of “normal” is a big part of something called neurodiversity. Advocates hope this idea expands how we think about developmental disorders, which include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
If the concept goes mainstream, it could lead to major changes in education and workplace norms, says Alecia Santuzzi, PhD, an associate professor at Northern Illinois University specializing in socio-industrial and organizational psychology.
“It lets people take a step back to think creatively about all the different approaches to work or school,” says Santuzzi.
Judy Singer, a sociologist with autism, began using the term “neurodiversity” in the late 1990s. This refers to the concept that some developmental disorders are normal changes in the brain. And the people who have these characteristics also have some special qualities.
For example, people with ADHD may have trouble with time management. But they often show high levels of passion, drive, and creative thinking.
“Even their impulsiveness can be an advantage,” says Sarah Cussler, assistant director of undergraduate writing and academic strategies at the Yale University Center for Teaching and Learning. “Because they will say things that other people are afraid to say.”
Neurodiversity is not the same as disability. However, people with neurodivergent features may require accommodations at work or school.
“Neurodiverse students are amazing students,” Cussler says. “They can be really creative, big picture, out-of-the-box thinkers. But with some of the classic types of assessment, they have more difficulty.”
In addition to ADHD, neurodiversity usually refers to people:
Whether it’s elementary school or college, Cussler says it’s important to think about a student’s learning profile. This is the idea that people process information in different ways.
But some children may fail to receive educational support.
Cussler says the neurodiversity approach casts a wide net that “catches them all.”
“On campus now, there’s a shift toward the term neurodiversity as opposed to the term disability,” Cussler says. “There is some value in this because we do not want to focus only on legal definitions of disability, but want to include larger groups.
“This includes people with or without a documented learning disability or difference.”
People with neurodivergent features may spend a lot of time trying to adjust to their work environment. They may need to manage their social influences or find ways to block out distractions.
Over time, Santuzzi says, this extra effort can take a toll on work performance and physical and mental health.
“It really sets up an unfair situation for the worker,” she says.
If the modern workplace embraces the concept of neurodiversity, Santuzzi thinks it could alleviate some of the stigma and stress affecting these workers. This includes people who shy away from help because they fear judgment from their co-workers or boss.
“They don’t want people to think they’re trying to game the system,” Santuzzi says.
If you’re an employer, here are some tips on how to make adjustments:
- Create jobs for different types of workers.
- Allow for different work schedules and environments.
- Create a flexible work design (when, where and how work happens) that welcomes people.
Neurodiversity advocates suggest that too much attention is paid to the impairments that come with conditions such as ADHD. They feel that a better approach is to focus on what is good in someone, not what they lack.
For example, there is some evidence that:
People with ADHD have high levels of spontaneity, courage, and empathy. They may hyper-focus on certain tasks.
with them autism Pay attention to intricate details, have a good memory and show some “specialty” skills. Experts agree that this can be an asset in certain jobs such as computer programming or music. As noted by one researcher, Wolfgang Mozart had a strong musical memory and perfect pitch.
People with dyslexia can understand certain types of visual information better than nonverbal ones. This skill can be useful in jobs like engineering and computer graphics.
We need more research, but experts believe that the genes for these developmental “disorders” stick because they come with evolutionary advantages. For example, behaviors such as hyperactivity and impulsivity may have helped our ancestors find food or get away from danger. And strong non-social skills, like those possessed by some people with autism, were good for our prehistoric ancestors who lived in nature.
Medical experts and people with neurodiverse facilities do not always agree on what neurodiversity means. Some people think that conditions like autism are always
to disable And people differ greatly in how they want to identify themselves. Some prefer identity-first language while others do not.
“There are activists with autism and there are autistic activists,” Santuzzi says.
While there is a distinction between neurodiversity and disability right now, “some people want to embrace disability recognition to acknowledge that workplace and school settings have not yet adjusted,” Santuzzi says. “And they’re still at a loss.”