What Is Neurodifference?

Let's start with neurodiversity.

My practice is informed by Judy Singer's coining and conceptualisation of the term neurodiversity.

The term neurodiversity was coined by Judy Singer in 1999 [1] as a political term, intended for advocacy.

She intended for the new portmanteau to represent the concept that biopsychological variation in the human species, whether great or small, visible or invisible, is as diverse, natural and sovereign as the biological variety and variability of life on Earth that we term biodiversity. 

What about neurodivergence?

The term neurodivergence was coined by Kassiane Asasumasu in 2000, to describe any biopsychological experiences or presentations that do not fit neuronormative conceptions, perceptions and expectations.

In most countries and cultures, there is a pervasive sociocultural idea that human biopsychological wiring, experience and presentation is homogenous, with only a certain range of experiential and presentational characteristics being perceived and accepted as "normal" or "healthy". The most commonly used socially constructed terms for this phenomena are neuronormative or neurotypical.

Sadly, many people who are born and live with biopsychological variations that do not fit within the limited bounds of neuronormativity are often labelled and treated as dysfunctional, disordered and "unhealthy", and are expected to change, fix or cure their differences as a first line of response, even when such action causes more confusion, difficulty, and even harm, for the individual.

Why do I use neurodifference, instead of neurodivergence?

The term neurodivergence carries with it unintended connotations of representing only the autism community, whereas in my work and practice, I work with a wide variety of labels, experiences and presentations (see below).

I gave this terminological (and quite frankly, SEO) conundrum a lot of thought and ultimately decided to stick to my original inclination to using a different term—neurodifference—to more accurately represent what I do, and whom I serve.

Hence, in my work and practice, I use the term neurodifference, as a synonym of neurodivergence, to describe any biopsychological experiences or presentations that do not fit neuronormative conceptions, perceptions and expectations, and I work with clients who have such experiences or presentations (see below).

How I work with neurodifference.

Common neurodifferent labels that I encounter in my coaching and mentoring practice are giftedness, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit and/or hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities (LD), sensory processing disorder (SPD), to name but a few.

I also work with clients who have uncommon modalities of cognition, the most common of which are visual (in particular: high dimensional spatial types), and somatic or embodied modalities (ranging from interoceptive to proprioceptive, as well as psychomotor types), as well as synaesthesic combinations of any number of modalities or senses.

Clients have the option to disclose any diagnoses or assessments they may have had, however I no longer work directly with diagnostic or assessment results, beyond them helping clients to realise that they are neither flawed nor broken.

My focus is in helping clients learn to understand their unique experiences and needs in their own words, rather than through labels or criteria alone. 

Labels and criteria lists exist to help licensed professionals classify symptoms and provide diagnoses to guide future care. Without appropriate training and experience, criteria lists can cause more confusion and misunderstanding for laypeople, especially when similar characteristics appear as criteria for different labels, conditions or types. 

I do not discount nor avoid labels; I help clients determine when best to use them and when best not to use them, depending on situational context and desired outcomes. In most of my sessions, my use of labels is as a convenient shorthand to refer to a shared and agreed upon understanding of constellations of characteristics and traits as they are commonly assigned or understood at any point in time. 

I support clients to develop and affirm a sense of being that is grounded in understanding themselves through their practiced understanding of their unique multi-dimensional lived experience, presentation, needs and values. 

I help clients clarify, describe and advocate for their unique needs and wants, while also being respectful and empathetic of the fact that we co-exist in shared space and reality with others who may be very different from ourselves, by helping them learn to navigate the space between self and other with compassion and curiosity. 

References

  1. Singer, J. (1999). Why can’t you be normal for once in your life? From a ‘problem with no name’ to the emergence of a new category of difference. In Corker, M., French, S. (Eds.), Disability discourse (pp. 59–67). London, England: Open University Press.
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