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Importance of Neurodiversity: Realizing Our Potential

Wellness

neu·ro·di·ver·si·ty

noun

the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population (used especially in the context of autistic spectrum disorders)

The roots of the neurodiversity movement can be traced to the late 1900s; the term got its origin in 1988 by autistic sociologist Judy Singer, to describe an essential form of human diversity – one that accepts that there is no “normal” brain and that neurodivergence doesn't make someone’s brain “wrong.”

While this movement began specially to combat hatred towards autistic individuals, today, the paradigm has expanded beyond autism to encompass other forms of neurodivergence.

Most activities in our daily life include eye contact, noisy group work and over-stimulating environments; essentially, these are environments where neurotypical people thrive. As a result, although 20% of the world is made up of neurodivergent people, they have a mere 15% employment rate; in other words, more than 85% of neurodiverse people are denied employment because they do not fit the mold of the “normal” person.

In the workplace, the neurodivergent population has been researched to be highly creative, possess complex problem-solving skills and data and technology aptitude. When these skills align, neurodivergent people can get ahead of peers and truly shine. Their diverse experiences, drive and perspective can enrich conversations and stimulate debates.

Within schools, promoting neurodiversity supports inclusivity. Students with special needs who are included in regular classrooms develop more positive views of themselves, form friendships with neurotypical kids, and are better able to keep up with the curriculum and learn important academic skills. Neurodiversity helps support inclusion by convincing the regular classroom teacher that adding neurodiverse students will actually make the classroom better; that students with neurodiversity will bring in positive qualities, attributes, and gifts to make a positive contribution to the class.

Neurodiversity as a whole is based upon the idea of emphasizing (and promoting) the gifts and abilities of students with special needs, and projecting a more powerful image. We typically tend to think of those individuals who have had the greatest impact on the world as super-individuals who had extraordinary power and expertise. However, when you begin to look at individual lives, you see something entirely different. For example, Winston Churchill had a conduct disorder and a speech impediment. Henry Ford had learning disabilities. Thomas Edison had clear signs of ADHD and Agatha Christie had dyslexia. The list could go on. This should remind us that the kids with special needs in our classrooms may be the ones to make the crucial discoveries or the key decisions for our world in the coming decades – “Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”

It is our duty as the new generation to encourage this audience and help them grow to realize their potential; and, it begins with creating an inclusive and flexible environment – one that accommodates neurodivergence. Leaders who start working on these lines are sure to see a much more diverse, creative and innovative group of young leaders on track to change the world.

Now, you might be wondering – “How exactly do I do this? How can I support this movement and work to create a more inclusive and empathetic environment for those around me?”

Well, the steps are simple and actionable.

  • You can begin by recognizing that there are different – but equally valid – ways of doing things. Do not be quick to judge individuals for having differing ways of doing things, because that is what works for them.

  • Also, one of the most common "symptoms" neurodiversity is "overwhelm". Neurodiverse individuals are trying their best in a world and society that isn’t right for them – there are loud noises and constant distractions. The best thing you can do in times like this is give them their personal space. Don’t try to pester them and give them time to calm down if they need it.

  • Finally, make sure you treat them as you would any other peer. Don’t demonstrate pity or sympathy for them, and rather recognize their strengths.

Just remember, simply accepting that it is normal to be different can go a long way in increasing self-esteem, confidence and achievement of neurodiverse individuals, enriching classrooms and workplaces with diverse viewpoints.

Ananya Dua
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Ananya is a junior in high school; she is passionate about social justice and leveraging writing and media to help marginalized communities.