What is Neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is the spectrum of variations in individual brain functions and behavioural traits and is understood as a form of human diversity that is subject to the same social dynamics as other forms of diversity (including the dynamics of power and oppression). The term has now gained a growing foothold in academia, literature and praxis, especially in the English-speaking world.
What do "neurodivergent", "neurotypical" etc. mean?
Neurodivergent, Neurodistinct, Neurospicy, Neurominority, Neuroexpansive (synonym adjectives) / Neurodivergence, Neurominority (synonym nouns) describes individuals whose neurocognitive brain functions deviate from those that society defines as lying within the norm, i.e. as neurotypical or neuromajority. Neurodivergencies are for example: Autism, AD(H)D, Dyspraxia, Tourette Syndrome (TS), Bipolarity, Dyscalculia, Dyslexia, Synaesthesia, Hyperlexia, and further. There are currently many different self-designations of neurodivergent people in use and further development according to personal preferences.
Neurodiverse or neurodiversity describes the combination of or consideration for neurodivergent and neurotypical people. For example: My work is neurodiverse as it takes into account neurominorities as well as the neuromajority.
Lectures, Keynotes, Workshops & Creative Work on
Why and what for Neurodiversity?
The self-coined concept of neurodiversity offers a way to shift the sovereignty of interpretation over terminologies, contexts and classifications into the responsibility of neurodivergent people themselves. Current estimates see 20% of people falling into the neurodivergence spectrum, this estimate has risen in recent years and may continue to do so because human diversity is more complex than our societal norms tend to allow it to appear.
Neurodivergent brain functions have been proven to work differently than those of the neurotypical majority. However, it should also be borne in mind that neurodivergent brain functions are completely individual from one person to the next, even among those with the supposedly same diagnosis. What becomes apparent here, among other things, is that the formal pathologisation and categorisation of neurominorities to date is one that looks at those affected from an external neurotypical perception, and not one that sufficiently takes into account the actual life realities and perceptions of neurodivergent people themselves. In my experience, for example, I often have a lot in common with neurodivergent people with other official diagnoses, in terms of perception and processing, while we differ greatly in outward expression. If neurodivergent people had developed categorisations themselves, it is quite possible that completely different classifications - or perhaps simply none at all - would have emerged.
In addition, there is the aspect of pathologisation itself, which classifies people as sick, having a disorder, functioning, non-functioning, etc., which leads to shame, prejudice, exclusion and paternalism of neurodivergent people. Neurodiversity, on the other hand, focuses on equal participation, reduction of discrimination and adequate support possibilities for neurodivergent people, as well as a dissolution of harmful stereotypes, attributions and unconscious biases. There is a lack of free spaces and development opportunities for neurodivergent people whilst facing continuous sanism, ableism and discrimination. An incomplete list of examples:
Enormous human potential is lost in the process, not only for those affected, but for society as a whole. Recognising people in their true diversity and enabling them to actually participate is the right of all of us for all of us. And in effect, spaces, workplaces, activities, etc. that have been designed for neurodivergent people, and in the best case have been (co-)designed by them, become generally more accessible, diverse, socially aware and thus more forward-looking. Whilst allowing for more flexibility and adaptations in communication and interaction methods helps to make communication more efficient and precise overall.
Already at an early age, I became aware of the fact that my perceptual experiences seemed to deviate from the majority, but I also learned to understand and take into account those of my environments. Unfortunately, this was often a one-sided effort and learning experience, but nowadays, I have the capability to take into account a variety of worlds of experience (neurodivergent and neurotypical) in all of my work. Finding my own ways and new approaches, thinking creatively, responding flexibly to others' ways of communicating and thinking, developing self-determined ways of working and living, also supporting others in these processes - these are just a few of the competences I developed as a neurodivergent person in a neurotypical world.
So, why was I only diagnosed in adulthood?
International studies (which themselves unfortunately apply a purely binary gender system) prove that neurodivergence is under-diagnosed in girls and women (which under a more intense lense, seems to actually to often refer to non-cis males), as well as BIPoC (Black People, Indigenous People & People of Colour) / racialised persons being demonstrably under-diagnosed in e.g. AD(H)S and Autism. Especially in German-speaking countries, there is a lack of concrete studies and debates around this at all. This means that people who are affected by a multitude of discriminations and unconscious biases are much less likely to be detected by the diagnostic structures and mechanisms.
This has a complex variety of reasons. Stereotypical - predominantly false - attributions about Autism and Neurodivergencies in general play a role here, which created images among teaching staff and environments, for example, which I naturally did not fit. In addition, there is also the factor of social conditioning and further discriminatory factors. As a Black, East-German, female-read person (and I deliberately put it that way), with early violent experiences and evident queer discourses, additionally exposed for a long time to an environment of extremely conservative and above-average privileged people as the child of a single mother and with all of the above, it was very clearly signalled to me from a very young age that I should never, at any price, stand out, step out of line or even make the slightest misstep, as this led to immediate and consequential condemnation and exclusion. The fact that according to the definition of societal norms, I was out of line already simply through my very existence, naturally made this an impossible task to navigate. But these are ultimately forming experiences that lead to, for example, autistic traits being massively suppressed and expressed differently, making the affected persons even less likely to conform to the expected stereotypes. So maybe we could just leave it alone with the stereotypes, right?
Further inputs from me on Neurodiversity
Autismus. Räume. Schaffen
Übrigens, ich bin autistisch.
(German, Article, Rosa-Mag, 2021)
True Colours of Neurodiversity
(German, Podcast, BIWOC* Rising, 2022)
Das Innere nach außen kehren: Tessa
(German, Portrait, ZIMT Magazin, 2023)
Sharing-Circle for Black neurodivergent people
(since 2021, appr. bimonthly meetings)
Artistically Ultimately Tangibly Intensely Shamelessly Myself
(Performance in development, 2023)
Further Inputs & Keynotes for example:
Discrimination, oppression or social prejudice against people with disabilities.
(derived from the English "able")
Binary Gender System
The binary (western) gender system assumes that there are only two genders and associated social roles, namely male and female. The system thus suppresses inter-gender, non-binary, trans*, gender-fluid, agender and other identities.
(derived from the Latin "binarius")
Refers to persons whose gender identity matches the sex assigned at birth.
(derived from the Latin "cis").
A school of thought that aims to break away from Eurocentric hierarchies of knowledge and ways of life in the world, and is dedicated to perspectives before, beyond and after colonisation through Western cultures.
A concept for understanding how a person's different social and political identities interact to produce different forms of discrimination and privilege.
(derived from the English "intersections")
Discrimination, oppression or social prejudice against persons who are classified as neurodivergent, so-called cognitively impaired or mentally ill, among others.
(derived from the English "sane")
Note on the Contents
Personal experience and scientific research on the topic of neurodiversity are detailed here. None of this - or ever - can or should speak for the experiences of all neurodivergent people, because this is just impossible (that's the point). Sources are linked where relevant, as well as listed below.
Links to sources or further information are provided for deeper contextualisation, but do not necessarily reflect my personal opinions, some of them they may also reproduce discriminatory language.