NeuroDiverse Thoughts on Neurodiversity

Neurodiversity: (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 word “neurodiversity” was first coined by Judy Singer, an autism rights advocate, and Harvey Blume, a New York journalist. Popularized by the autism rights and advocacy movement, “neurodiversity” has grown to encompass a variety of “neurological and developmental conditions” to quote Harvard Health Publishing. Nowadays, it is frequently used as a purposefully inclusive umbrella term to allude to conditions including ADHD and dyslexia.

Recent years have seen a much-needed rise in discussion and awareness about neurodiversity, largely aligning with the rise of the internet. Rosanna K. Kataja ’24, who finds herself to be very similar to her autistic brother but is undiagnosed, believes the movement and its social media use have led to an amplification of neurodivergent experiences: Neurodiverse people “are more heard now. Naturally, through social media, everything gets more traction or easier traction.”

In her own activism, the internet has played a powerful role, from the insightful pieces she has written on disability and neurodiversity to the petition that she and Nina M. S. Jensen ’25, created against Sia’s movie, Music, which has been criticized for being ableist towards autistic people. Currently, the petition has 152,479 supporters.

The neurodiversity movement aims to center, uplift, and embrace diverse neurological and cognitive differences. In many ways, the increased dialogue has lent itself to fostering a community for individuals who identify as neurodivergent or with the neurodiversity movement.


Kataja describes the changes she’s seen surrounding dialogue and community regarding ADHD and autism: “I’ve seen personally, ADHD gets a lot of attention, but it used to be like, ‘I have ADHD. I can’t tell anyone’; ‘I have autism. I can’t tell anyone.’ Now, people are like, ‘oh, guess what? I have this.’” In other words, neurodiversity is beginning to receive the attention it hasn’t historically received.

I’ve found the neurodiversity movement to be one that has empowered me. That’s simply the case for me — finally learning that I had ADHD and anxiety provided me with an explanation I’d been searching for desperately. In the movement’s widespread solidarity and awareness, I felt like I wasn’t alone. Instead, I felt inspired to share my own lessons and experiences as I continued to grow and learn about the ways my brain works.

This is not a take shared by everyone. Alexander J. Chen ’24 offers a different perspective: “Since [neurodiversity’s] rising popularity in conversation, it has always been attached with a bit of a negative salience built-in. In that, when people say, ‘Oh, you know, I'm neurodiverse,’ it always precedes or proceeds a conversation about struggles.”

That much can only be expected — after all, as Chen notes, “People who are outwardly neurodiverse have struggled within our society, whether either structural limitations or personal confrontations and emotional damage.”

Like with any movement, neurodivergent terminology continues to change. Particularly with a cause so deeply personal, how individuals identify and relate to it may vary significantly; like any other group or movement, the neurodiversity movement is not a monolith.

Take the use of “neurodiverse” versus “neurodivergent.” On a grammatical level, individuals may argue that only groups of people can be diverse, which is why they believe that individuals who identify with the movement should be referred to as “neurodivergent.” It’s a take that Chen disagrees with based on the implications of the word “divergent”: “Frankly I prefer neurodiversity — because neurodivergent implies a sort of norm.” He continues, “When people say, ‘Oh, look, so-and-so is neurodivergent,” they're implying that there's a sort of norm that everyone has to adhere to.” Ultimately, it’s up to everyone to use the movement’s language as it suits them best.

It’s also a movement, like any movement, with its own limitations and room for improvement.

Kataja sees many of the problems of the neurodiversity movement as ones that are due to problems with the internet, considering the movement’s significant digital scope and reliance. Anonymous individuals, emboldened by the guise of the internet, may harass and bully neurodiversity advocates, potentially not realizing how harmful their behavior is, she details.

That isn’t to say that the movement’s shortcomings are exclusively internet-based.

Kataja provides several examples of its non-web-based flaws. There are “actual problems, not just ‘we have a movie that doesn't represent us well.’”

Of course, media representation comes with its host of secondary issues.

“Many people think, ‘Well, it's just a movie,’ but that's how people start to view autism and be like, ‘Oh, they're just like this,’” she adds.

That, in turn, can lead to “employment problems or not getting your diagnosis and having problems with the doctor's office because of all these stereotypes.” She hopes “the movement would lead to more than just, funny memes on Tik Tok,” though she acknowledges that it is a start in engendering dialogue.

Kataja recounted a story from her own life, with her brother’s autism diagnosis: “The doctors were like as if somebody had died, ‘I'm so sorry about the news. He's autistic.’” But in reality, her mother was grateful to know what was going on.

It’s a stark reminder of how pervasive the stigma is around neurodiversity. Simply put, as Kataja says, “being neurodiverse is not a death sentence.”

Chen also points to neurodiversity’s philosophical limitations, by delving deeper into the cultural and linguistic nuances of neurodiversity’s implications. He explains the following: “I'm really glad that the word neurodiversity has really gained more and more societal acceptance over the past decade. Frankly, in my personal opinion, I don't think the word should be limited. I think the word still retains a stigma of being a substitute for words that we no longer want to use. I think the word should be here in a variety of different fields, whether academic or in social discourse.”

He believes that neurodiversity “should be used to destigmatize to the point where everyone is neurodiverse,” while acknowledging that there are nuances, especially when one’s “own manifestation of neurodiversity is outwardly apparent,” which may “be the case with people, with ASD, maybe with ADHD at times,” and his own experiences with stuttering.

He concludes: “I do identify as neurodiverse.” But, he adds, “I wish for a day, where saying that ‘I identify as neurodiverse,’ isn't a shocking thing to anyone. ‘Yeah, okay, cool. And the sky is blue.’”

For all our diverse thoughts on neurodiversity, it’s up to all of us to provide space and understanding for the infinities of experiences we hold within ourselves and our worlds, past, present, and future.

Neurodiversity isn’t merely about neurodivergent individuals. It’s about all of us; after all, considering our brains will never be the same, your experiences contribute to neurodiversity, in the most literal sense, as do mine. In Chen’s words, “we should all be able to accept that.”

​Anuksha S. Wickramasinghe ’24 is a Neuroscience concentrator and Crimson Editorial editor in Mather House. Her column “Adhdventures” appears on alternate Wednesdays.