We are living in a time when social movements want to make visible those concepts that have been stigmatized with negative connotations. The medical dictionary and scientific etymology, especially that of a psychological nature (autism, ADHD, dyslexia) have been taking charge of labelling groups that often suffer discrimination from others.
What we know as the neurodiversity movement encompasses the group of people diagnosed with mental disorders or neurological alterations who are treated in a discriminatory manner by society and who claim their rights. Let’s see what it consists of.
The neurodiversity movement was initiated by the autistic community to refer to the diversity of human characteristics that are neurologically affected. The intention is none other than to substitute one vocabulary for another, using terminology without stigmas as opposed to concepts such as illness, pathology or mental deficiency. Initially, this idea has gained a lot of momentum within the scientific and social sector, but there are increasingly critical critics of the application of these measures.
The concept of neurodiversity is used to emphasize the nature of neurological and/or biological problems. In other words, the aim is to normalise in some way the differences that exist between people who present mental disorders and those who do not experience them in the first person. For example, being dyslexic is something normal in the sense that it is a condition that should not affect the personal or professional development of individuals, nor serve as an excuse to receive discriminatory treatment. It is simply a different condition, neither better nor worse. They are natural variations of the human brain, nothing more.
The birth of this movement is attributed to the excessive medicalization that this community suffers and that, according to their complaints, only serves to increase the prejudices and differences with the rest of human beings. They are attended to in special schools, in special classes, they are put together with people of the same situation, avoiding contact with others. They are led to specific jobs, usually unskilled labor, which makes it difficult for them to develop their interests and talents.
In addition, the neurodiversity movement highlights the fact of the constant terminological damage assigned to autistic people and others, this approach being only negative, as something that has to be solved or can damage the whole society. The renowned doctor specializing in autism, Simon Baron-Cohen, or Dr. Thomas Anderson, a specialist in the neurosciences, have been especially critical of the classic vocabulary of “disorders”, and have already replaced terms such as diversity disorder, or difference by disability.
Arguments in favor of the concept
The first thing that comes to mind when we say or read the word autistic, is that it is a person that we should not get together with or, directly, we call him/her weird or strange. Well, according to experts in the field, neither ADHD nor many other psychological conditions can be considered diseases because it is not a problem that lies in the functioning of the body as something isolated. In fact, the causes of these phenomena are unknown. For an abnormality to have the status of a disease, it must be curable or initiated by abnormalities in a particular area of the body or DNA.
Among many of the arguments that exist to defend the concept of neurodiversity, the most important is that of preventing the “affected” person from feeling despised, violated or considered to have fewer rights. Moreover, many autistic people consider the opposite. They claim to develop cognitive abilities that are superior to those of the average population, and they reaffirm that they have a special and healthier way of perceiving everything that surrounds them.
Another of the beneficial elements of neurodiversity lies in focusing on how to build on the strengths of people with these kinds of differences instead of trying to find the problems they bring with them. One of the tools used to carry out this approach is the Universal Design for Learning of the University of North Carolina. However, it should be noted that the neurodiversity movement does not deny the difficulties faced by affected individuals.
Without completely contradicting the reasons and arguments in favour of the existence of neurodiversity, most scientific and medical experts in the neurosciences warn of the need not to underestimate the serious problems experienced by people suffering from autism or other related disorders . They also consider autism as a serious disorder, and not as a simple variation of human diversity.
On the other hand, neuroanatomical anomalies have been detected in the brains of those affected by disorders involved in the movement of neurodiversity, although not specific “starting points” for these alterations. Many family members also warn of the importance of not underestimating or normalizing this phenomenon too much, and point out the serious drawbacks of having an autistic family member: in many cases self-injury, lack of communication and unexpected attacks of anger are frequent.