Autistic History: Neurodiversity

Neurodiversity. We always talk about it but never explored the history of this wonderful phenomenon. It is a neologism that was made popular in the 1990’s. Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist, and Harvey Blume, an American journalist for The Atlantic, coined the term. Neurodiversity is the variation in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood and other neurological and brain functions in a non pathological way.


“Neurodiversity may be ever bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general.” – Harvey Blume
The term takes the suffix “Neuro” meaning brain and the word “diversity” to create the term. This starts the social model of disability.
There was been some controversy with “autism advocates” not autistic advocates. They say that neurodiversity conceptualizes the autism spectrum and does not reflect realities of people with high support needs. They would say “low functioning people with autism.”

Judy Singer created the word neurodiversity. She used the term in her sociology honors thesis in the late 1990’s. This was a way to move away from the theories that blamed mothers for not loving their children enough. It was first believed that children who were not loved by their mothers were destined to be autistic. She had been corresponding with Harvey Blume. The term first printed in his article in The Atlantic on September 30, 1998.

On June 30, 1997, there was a previous article in the New York Times by Blume. He did not use the word Neurodiversity but he did explain the idea of “neurological pluralism.” Blume was an early advocate for how neurodiversity is represented on the internet.

There are some authors say that earlier work of an advocate by the name of Jim Sinclair advanced the concept of neurodiversity. Xe was the main organizer of the international online autistic community. Xe had a speech named “Don’t Morn for Us.” This emphasized that being autistic was a way of being. Xe started the concept that you cannot separate the person from autism.

Since the introduction of the term Neurodiversity, it has been introduced to the Developmental Adult Neurodiversity Association (DANDA) in the United Kingdom.

The neurodiversity paradigm had been first accepted by the autistic community. Since then, it has been embraced by the ADHD, speech delay, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysnomia, intellectual disabiity, and Torrette’s syndrome. Some mental health conditions are also included. They are Bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder  and obsessive personality disorder. Autistic advocates emphasize that autism, ADHD, dyslexia and other neurodevelopment disabilities do not need a cure. Support systems are advocated for instead.  The purpose of this is that it honors authentic human diversity, self expression and dignity. This does not force people to become the typical people that they are not.

There was a study in 2009. In this study 27 students who were on different areas of the neurodiversity spectrum (autism, dyslexia, developmental coordination disorder [now known as apraxia], ADHD and stroke) were separated into two groups. These groups were a “difference” view and a weakness group. The difference view was the neurodiversity view. They were seen as different and incorporated strengths. The weakness view was where being neurodiverse was considered a weakness. The findings were in the difference view were indicated higher academic self -esteem and confidence in their abilities. 73% of this group expressed career ambitions with positive and clear goals. These students were reporting that they were gaining this view of themselves through the contact of neurodiversity advocates in online support groups

There was an online survey in 2013. This survey measured the conceptions of autism and neurodiversity. The results was that it found the deficit as a difference view of autism suggested the importance of harnessing autistic traits in developmentally beneficial ways, transcending a false dichotomy between celebrating differeneces and ameliorating deficit.

Without change there is never the absence of controversy. The dominant paradigm pathologizes the human brain. From the medical model, these brains have medical conditions that need to be treated

The common critique is that neurodiversity excludes those with high support needs. The autistic advocate Nick Walker had said that neurodivergencies refer to specifical”pervasive neurocognitive differences are intimately related to the formation and constitution of the self. “

The Term ‘Neurodivergent’

The term neurodivergent was coined by Kassiane Asasumasu (was formally known as Kassiane Alexandra Sibley). She is biracial, Hapa, Hafu, Eurasian, Mongolian, Romanian, Japanese and Croatian autistic rights activist and blogger from Oregon. She is a gymnastics instructor and an archer.
The term neurodivergent is used to describe a person with atypical neurological makeup. This includes developmental disabilities, learning disabilities and mental illness.

2 thoughts on “Autistic History: Neurodiversity

  1. Pingback: Problematic Professional: Sue Larkey - Fierce Autie

  2. Pingback: Rebuttal: Dr Dinesh Bhugra: My Fear Over 'neurodivergent' Tik Tok stars who make ADHD and autism seem cool → Fierce Autie

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