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Common Misconceptions About Neurodiversity

The terms neurodiverse and neurodiversity are relatively new, coming about in the early 90’s. They were developed by online groups of people, primarily representing autism, to push for create civil rights for the neurodiverse. It is now commonly understood to represent a natural human variation, not a disorder.

There is a lot of confusion around the terms, even within the community advocating for rights.This confusion can lead to poor communication, and many outside of the community equate neurodiversity solely with autism, which is not accurate. That confusion and the misconceptions that abound around autism are the inspiration for this post. We want to clear up a few things for allies as well as members of our community.

An individual is not neurodiverse.

A community, or a group of people, is neurodiverse. And individual is neurodivergent. It may seem like nitpicking, but the goal is to have very clear communication and we can only do that by fine tuning our language.

The neurodivergent are not less intelligent.

Because communication is critical to human engagement, it alters the way we see one another. Often those who communicate differently than societal norms are perceived as less intelligent, or more intelligent than the average person. Neither is true. Communication is not a function solely of intelligence.

Neurodiversity is not an illness that needs to be cured.

Neurodiverse people should not be treated as disabled. Neurodiverse individuals can lead fulfilling, fully functional lives with careers, families, and all of the other elements we perceive as “normal.”

You don’t have to “believe” in neurodiversity

There is a range, or a “spectrum” of neurodiversity that can range from a speech-language disorder, to autism, to many other neurological variations, but it is a biological fact, not subject to opinion.

The neurodiversity movement is not only about autism.

It is seeking civil rights and social justice for neurodivergent individuals, just like other social justice movements.

Neurodiversity does not only describe “high functioning” people with autism.

ALL autistic people are neurodivergent, period.

No two neurodivergent people are exactly the same.

People in the neurodiverse community may have any range of differences, including ADD/ADHD, Dyslexia, Autism Spectrum, Speech-Language Disorder, DCD/Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, and Tourette’s Syndrome. They may have one of these variations, or a combination of them.

As business, and society, move toward greater diversity and we all reap the benefits, we’ll be following a path of enlightenment. More and more of us will engage with the neurodiverse community, and it’s important that we understand what being neurodivergent really means. It is also extremely important that business recognizes that understanding the incredible benefits hiring neurodivergent individuals can bring, but that they cannot be siloed within the business. Too often companies hire someone who is neurodiverse and make no effort to bring them into the work culture. Not only is that not right, it is bad for the both the individual and the business. 

Photo credit: Howard Sandford You’ve lost me via photopin (license).

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Jill Willcox
Jill Willcox has worked in various human resources positions over the past 16 years including as HR Manager, Benefits Consultant at Aon Hewitt and as a Health Service Representative, working with people who had catastrophic work injuries. She is the mother of two children who are talented and contribute to society in a very meaningful way.
Jill Willcox

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