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The rainbow infinity sign symbolizes neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity is the assertion that atypical (neurodivergent) neurological wiring is a normal human difference that is to be tolerated and respected as any other human difference. John Elder Robison's version of this is neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like Autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome.[1] The concept of neurodiversity is embraced by many Autistic individuals and people with related conditions, who believe that Autism is not a disorder, but a part of who they are, and that curing Autistic people would be the same as destroying their original personalities. Proponents prefer the term over labels such as "abnormal" and "disordered".


The term was originally coined by Australian social scientist Judy Singer, herself on the Autistic spectrum.[2] Harvey Blume was the first person to put it into print, without attributing Singer, on September 30, 1998 in The Atlantic. This was seen as an extension of the very first Autism Rights statement by Jim Sinclair in 1993 titled "Don't Mourn For Us".[3] The proposal has grown from there, with Phil Gluyas referencing neurodiversity thus; "As I remember, when the term was first coined in the late 1990’s, it meant what it said: “neuro” meaning “brain” and “diversity”. The idea that all brains are different in the same way every human being is different, even within the Autistic community, let alone the neurotypical community."[4]

Autism Positivity

Neurodiversity proponents often pose that mental disabilities come with strengths as well as difficulties.

Autism Strengths

Many autistic people benefit from the following characteristics:[5][6]

  • Excellent memories
  • Non-judgmentalness and sincerity
  • Outperforming neurotypicals on auditory and visual tasks[6]
  • Curiosity
  • Loyalty
  • Strong values (which crime data supports)[7]
  • Perceptiveness and skill with noticing patterns
  • Perseverance

Self Esteem

Karla McLaren notes that Autism positivity is meant to "stave off despair."[8] Autistic children and adults are at serious risk for anxiety and depression. Describing Autism as something other than a burden may help them view themselves more positively.[9] Anger issues are also prevalent, particularly in response to bullying.

Social Model of Disability

The social model of disability, a key tenet of neurodiversity, considers disability to be a social construct.[10]

The social model of disability holds that people are disabled not because their minds or bodies are somehow inferior, but because society has not fully accommodating them. For example, nearsightedness is not a disability because glasses and contacts are readily available, and no one is discriminated against for less-than-perfect vision. Autism is a disability because it is not fully accommodated or accepted by society, so Autistic people struggle to cope.

In practice, this means accommodating disabled people with various supports to help them live as well as they can.[11]

The social model of disability is also promoted because it shifts the onus of accommodation onto society as a whole, rather than forcing disabled people to try to adapt to a world that doesn't accommodate them (often failing or experiencing pain in the process). This can help them see themselves not as burdens or broken people, but as worthwhile people who can make a contribution to the world.[12]

In order to achieve a fair chance at a reasonable life, governments have implemented various laws to overcome the pitfalls that the application of the social model reveals - such as discrimination on the basis of the condition. The United States has the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA),[13], the United Kingdom has the Equality Act 2010[14] (over the previous Disability Discrimination Act 1995) and Australia has the Disability Discrimination Act 1992[15] as examples. The United Nations has a Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.[16]


Autistic activists who support neurodiversity have received pushback, most notably from parent-run organizations such as Autism Speaks that argue that Autism is indeed a tragedy, and that neurodiversity proponents all are too high-functioning to understand the horrors of real Autism.

The idea that neurodiversity proponents think Autistic people are perfect, or that they think autism is not a disability, is common in neurodiversity opponents. Ari Ne'eman notes that

"There’s a strange idea out there that neurodiversity advocates think that autistic life is all flowers and rainbows, but I don’t know anyone who thinks that way. Most of us have had deeply personal experiences of social isolation, bullying and abuse, lack of support, discrimination, and plenty of other problems. But it’s much more productive for us to focus on how we can improve people’s lives than to keep presenting people as pitiable burdens.

No more pity. It doesn’t help anybody."[17]

This also erases the presence of more severely disabled people, such as nonverbal autistics like Amy Sequenzia, who play key roles in Autistic activism. Autistic people also note that people who are called "high functioning" often have real struggles, many of which may not be apparent simply by reading something they wrote.[18][19]

"The seed is not the plant. The child is not the adult. And children are such mysteries when compared to seeds. [When your say your child will never be like me] you are saying that you don't believe in your child. You are saying that your child cannot grow to be what I am, do what I have done."[20]

Autistic people have commented that just because a child is severely disabled now, that does not mean that the child will not grow into an articulate and thoughtful adult just as they have.[20][21]

Another misconception is that neurodiversity is the name of a movement. Phil Gluyas reflects on this stating that;

"I get very frustrated every time I see anyone on either side of the fence refer to the “neurodiversity movement“. The reason is that it is used by opponents of Autistic rights as a negative term, and in the process demeans neurodiversity’s true meaning."[22]

Known opponents of neurodiversity prey on their own lack of the skills noted as positives, preferring instead to focus on the negatives. People who engage in this sort of conduct include, but are not limited to, Jonathan Mitchell, Yuval Levental and Oliver Canby. Mitchell's catch phrase is "We don't need no stinking neurodiversity". Canby wants neurodiversity punished with the death penalty.[23]

In other mental and behavioral manifestations

Some groups apply the concept of neurodiversity to ADHD and developmental speech disorders as well as dyslexic, dyspraxic and hyperactive people. Such a wider expansion of the definition, if progressed further in coming decades, may put forth a challenge to expand the rights of those who possess different mental and behavioral settings than the accepted norm in human society.


  1. Psychology Today: What is Neurodiversity?
  2. The Autism Rights Movement
  3. Don't Mourn For Us
  4. The True Neurodiversity
  5. Cynthia Kim: Aspie Strengths and Superpowers
  6. 6.0 6.1 Live Science: Autism Can Be an 'Advantage,' Researcher Says
  7. Psychology Today: Asperger's, Autism, and Mass Murder
  8. Focusing on autism-positive approaches (to stave off despair)
  9. Neurowonderful - Active Acceptance: Why Does It Matter?
  10. PWD: The Social Model of Disability
  11. Scope: The social model of disability
  12. Blind Canadians: The Social Model of Disability Explained
  17. Wired Exclusive: First Autistic Presidential Appointee Speaks Out
  18. The Mighty: A Letter to Parents of Children With Autism, From an Autistic Adult
  19. John Elder Robison: High Functioning People Like You Don't Speak for My Child!
  20. 20.0 20.1 We Are Like Your Child: Do You Believe In Your Children?
  21. The Things You Want People To Do To Your Kids
  22. Autism Daily Newscast: The True Neurodiversity