Neurodiversity: Part I Neurodiversity with Dr. Cre
Updated: Feb 11, 2022
Neurodiversity is a word that has become increasingly popular (and important!) in recent decades. Understanding what neurodiversity means has significantly shaped my own clinical thinking. The neurodiversity movement really resonates with my roots as an activist (marching, calling senators, protesting, I love it all). For a really long time, people with disabilities, including autism, were ignored or talked over in places where their voices should have been amplified. And part of this was driven by how we think about “disability.”
To really understand neurodiversity, i think it’s important to understand how we think about “disability” so please indulge me on this brief historical summary~
For many conditions, whether you are “healthy” or “sick” is a fairly easy determination using the “medical model.” The medical model can be visualized like this: you have two groups of people and there’s a thick line separating the two. As an example, let’s consider the flu. On one side of our model, you have “healthy” people- no flu! On the other side, you have “sick” people- fevers, chills, general unpleasantness. We can test for the flu. And then at some point, the flu resolves and boom, person moves to the other side of the line to join the “healthy” people. Straightforward.
Let’s introduce my little friends, mental health and developmental disabilities. As awareness of different diagnoses increased, the medical model was the main way to think about conditions. Intellectual disability or autism or anxiety- these were viewed as being “sick” and a really negative stigma existed (and still exists, sadly!) around these diagnoses. This is problematic for a lot of reasons. Enter the social model of disability. The social model of disability posits that inaccessibility in society creates disability. So for instance, if the loudness of a space prevents someone with a sound sensitivity from comfortably using that space, the responsibility to improve that is on the designers of the space, and not the person with a sound sensitivity. This somewhat simple reframing from “your symptoms are the problem!” to “the space is the problem!” is an important one for improving accessibility and reducing stigma. Can you think of accessibility improvements that are pretty standard? Closed captioning, wheelchair ramps… all of these are examples that are fairly expected now (although of course, there’s always more work to be done).
Somehow, I’ve made it through a blog post about neurodiversity without really discussing neurodiversity… so I am going to rename this Neurodiversity: Part I and ACTUALLY discuss neurodiversity in part II….