Neurodiversity is an approach to understanding autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, developmental dyspraxia, dyslexia, epilepsy, and Tourette’s syndrome as a distinctive and normal condition of a person but not a disorder. Representatives of this approach believe that people with “differently wired brains” have neurological differences that are part of the norm in society (Runswick-Cole, 2014). The main difference from medical understanding is that it perceives autism or other neurological differences as a disorder that needs to be treated, and its causes need to be found (Kapp et al., 2012). The neurodiversity approach emphasizes that people with differences, for example, autism, must focus on their strengths and weaknesses to develop, and society should adapt to these differences.
Since neurodiversity focuses on autism and other disorders, as the natural differences of the brain, it also advocates the introduction of methods that help students with neurological differences learn. Consequently, supporting students with learning disorders is expressed in the creation of conditions for the assessment and development of their intelligence. Learning disorders are not an intellectual problem; therefore, schools and universities should lower the passing score for entry, as well as increase the time for studying topics and passing tests to help students get an education. In this way, students will be able to show their intelligence and abilities.
Using Identity Politics to Advocate for Equality in Neoliberal Times
Identity politics creates the conditions for a new understanding of equality, which is based on the just attitude towards people with neurological differences. Runswick-Cole (2014) refers to this movement as a “biological citizenship,” which creates a new society in which people with neurological differences have the support and can satisfy their needs. In a neoliberal society, this approach helps to create a new political movement that can be successfully implemented. For schools and universities, this approach means creating an environment in which people with neurological differences will be able to get skills for work and will be valued as well as neurotypical people.
The Limitations that Arise from Using Identity Politics
There are several barriers and limits to promoting neurodiversity in the neoliberal world. The first challenge is expressed in avoiding contradiction by emphasizing the “sameness” and differences of neurodiverse people (Runswick-Cole, 2014). In other words, the neurodiversity approach aims to show society that people with neurological differences are the same members of the community as neurotypical people with the same skills, feelings, and desires. At the same time, neurodiverse people require special conditions in training, education, and work to satisfy their needs. Therefore, clarification of this combination of special features simultaneously is a challenging task.
The other complexity also arises from the first policy of the naturalness of neurological differences. Many people with autism and other cognitive differences have limited opportunities for work and receive support from the state. Therefore, people with neurological differences can lose the necessary help if society claims the naturalness of these differences (Runswick-Cole, 2014).In school and university contexts the same tendency also exists, since students need to be a part of society since it is difficult to focus on the “sameness” of all students and at the same time provide part of them with special conditions for learning. In any case, this approach will separate neurodiverse and neurotypical students because they require different classes for attending.
The Strengths and Limitations of a Neurodiversity Approach
The strength of the neurodiversity approach is that it proclaims the equality of rights and empowers people with ASD. This aspect means that society will eliminate restrictions and discrimination against people with ASD in healthcare, education, and work by recognizing them as the same and their abilities as equal (Sumner & Brown, 2015). For example, an employer will not be able to refuse a candidate with ASD without considering his or her ability, as this will be a manifestation of discrimination. Therefore, such a candidate will be able to show his professional skills and get a job.
At the same time, the approach of neurodiversity has several weaknesses that can be applied to its realization. Firstly, autism spectrum disorder has a wide variety, and while some of its manifestations do not interfere with the routine activities of individuals, others are significant obstacles. For example, panic attacks due to minor changes in the situation or loud sounds can impede the work of a person in a team. For the same reason, although neuro-diversity denies the need for the treatment of ASD, it allows for intervention and adaptation measures for severe manifestations of neurological differences (Kapp et al., 2012). Therefore, in this case, the approach demonstrates some contradictions.
This feature also implies another limitation associated with the pace and possibilities of applying the approach of neurodiversity. The willingness and desires of many autistic people or their parents to use intervention to adapt to the neurotypical world slow down the process of adaptation of neurodiverse principles and methods (Kapp et al., 2012). Changing current trends and attitudes towards autism requires a long time, while people with ASD need to adapt today. However, this limitation is more relevant to the shortcomings of modern society but not to the approach itself.
Runswick-Cole explains an approach that divides people in the neoliberal world into “us” and “them.” “Us” refers to citizens who are actively involved and contribute to non-liberal projects, as well as people who are a ‘state of exception’ (Runswick-Cole, 2014). However, those who do not want or cannot enter this category are “them,” which creates institutional racism. Runswick-Cole (2014) talks about the need to eliminate this division and focus on the individual as a central element for understanding humans. In a school or university context, this approach can manifest itself in the absence of a grading system for assessment. In other words, the main goal of education should be to obtain knowledge, and it does not matter how much time each student needs to reach this purpose.
Another Example of a Movement of Neurodiversity in Canada
The gender identity and gender expression movement is very similar to a neurodiversity approach to advocacy in Canada. Today, transgender people are supported by the state, and the C-16 act adopted in 2017 at the federal level introduced the rights of gender identity and gender expression as differences, which cannot be discriminated against (Canadian Aids Society, 2017). For example, the refusal to provide training or work due to gender identity is a crime and is not supported by society. This movement and act are essential because transgender people often face discrimination in schools, at work, and in everyday life.
The main similarity between the movements of transgender people and neurodiverse people is that both expressions of identity are diagnosed and face discrimination. However, in the case of gender dystrophy, the state helps to make the transition of a person to gender, to which he or she considers himself or herself. The state also protects the rights of transgender people to education or work at the legal level. Discrimination exists only on the routine level, but people with neurological differences also face it on the job market or in education. Therefore, the state can apply the same approach to neurodiverse people as for transgender identities by providing the conditions for ensuring their equal rights with neurotypical people.
The Interpretation of Neurodiversity by NCLD in the Youtube
I think the comments would not be much different if the CBC had interviewed individuals with learning disabilities instead of ASD because they also have a wide variety of strengths. The National Center for Learning Disabilities (2013), in its video, demonstrates that many neuro differences affect a person’s ability to perceive and learn information; however, they all have advantages. Just as an autistic person can concentrate on the function of objects, people with NVLD have a good memory of details. For this reason, the main point of speech and commentary would be the same.
The only difference in the speech could be that learning disorders are not so famous in society, since this feature is often less noticeable to people. Autism is usually manifested in a person’s inability to maintain eye contact and focus, so the difference in his or her behaviour is more noticeable (CBC Podcast, 2015). At the same time, the characteristics of a person with dyslexia can appear only during reading and writing, so most people do not notice this difference. However, the strengths of neurodiverse individuals are beneficial and necessary for some jobs. Therefore, the conclusion of Silberman’s interview about beneficial differences is universal for people with autism and learning disorders.
Canadian Aids Society. (2017). Trans rights legislation in Canada.
CBC Podcast. (2015). Rethinking autism through the prism of neurodiversity [Audio Podcast]. Web.
Kapp, S.K., Gillespie-Lynch, K., Sherman, L.E., & Hutman, T. (2012). Deficit, difference, or both? Autism and neurodiversity. Developmental Psychology, 49(1), 59-71.
Runswick-Cole, K. (2014). ‘Us’ and ‘them’: the limits and possibilities of a ‘politics of neurodiversity’ in neoliberal times. Disability & Society, 29(7), 1117–1129.
Sumner, K.E., & Brown, T.J. (2015). Neurodiversity and human resource management: Employer challenges for applicants and employees with learning disabilities. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 18(2), 77–85.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities. (2013). Strengths of students with learning disabilities and other disorders [Video file].