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Neuro… What Now? (A Short Guide to Neurodiversity Terminology)


Language is constantly evolving, and this is especially true when it comes to discussing neurodiversity.


The terms we use to describe a person's experiences and identities can change over time, and it is important to stay informed and respectful.


One example of this is understanding the difference between person-first and identity-first language. Person-first language, like “person with autism”, places the individual before their condition. Identity-first language, such as “autistic person”, embraces the condition as an integral part of the person’s identity. It is important to respect each individual person's preference for how they wish to be described.


Here’s a short guide to some important terms related to neurodiversity.


Neurodiversity


Neurodiversity refers to the idea that people experience and interact with the world differently. In other words, there is no “right” way of thinking, learning, and communicating; everyone is wired differently. This concept embraces the diversity of all human brains and minds, including conditions like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and more.


Neurodiverse


Neurodiverse is a term that describes people with different types of brain function and cognitive processes (so, all people). For example, a classroom with autistic students, students with ADHD, and neurotypical students can be considered neurodiverse. It emphasises the variety of neurological differences within a group.


Humans are neurodiverse, whereas a person who identifies as autistic would be better described as "neurodivergent".


Neurodivergent


Neurodivergent is the term often used to describe individuals whose brain functions in ways that are different from what is considered typical (neurotypical). For example, a person identifying as autistic could be described as neurodivergent.


As illustrated above, a group can be "diverse", whereas only an individual person can be "divergent".


Neurodivergence


Neurodivergence is the state of being neurodivergent. You might discuss a person's neurodivergence, rather than their neurodiversity.


Neurotypical


Neurotypical refers to individuals whose neurological development and functioning – the way they experience and process the world – are consistent with what society considers typical or normal. Someone who is neurotypical is not neurodivergent.


Neuroinclusion


Neuroinclusion is the practice of creating environments and communities that are welcoming and accommodating to people who process, learn, and communicate in different ways. It involves recognising, respecting, and valuing neurodiversity and ensuring that neurodivergent individuals are included and supported.


For more on neuroinclusion, this guide by CIPD is highly recommended and helped inspire this article.


Understanding these terms and using them appropriately can help create a more inclusive and respectful community. It’s always best to ask individuals how they prefer to be described and to stay updated on the evolving language around neurodiversity.


Let us know your thoughts on this article and whether you'd like more guidance on autism-specific language.

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