Neurodiversity – Part 2 – Divergence

Last time [link] we covered that the concept of neurodiversity is to accept that humans are varied – such as eyes colour, height, blood type and thought types. Neurodiversity is the aspect of how we think that varies from individual to individual, where most humans are called neurotypical and a proportion of individuals are considered neurodivergent.

As the concept is relatively new and many people are working on this field from around the world, we started off with some terminology in brief. I highly recommend that you take a review of it to get the main terms so that we are speaking the same language.

In this Part we are going to look at divergence from the norm and what that means.

Neurotypical vs Neurodivergent – What it Means

The average IQ for humans is 100. However most people who fill in an IQ test won’t get 100, they will get around it. If your result is 105, does that make you atypical? No. Average IQ is a range of scores that most people fall in. For IQ, the standard deviation is 15 points. If you score between 85 and 115, you are considered to be average, or typical. For IQ specifically, 68% of the population is considered to be “average”. We could refer to this average population as IQ-typical.

To represent this, we use a bell curve. It is a useful concept to understand how must people fit in to this “average” space, and some of the population are outside of it.

Bell curve showing that most people are neurotypical but not all
More people are neurotypical than not, but not all people are neurotypical

It is hard to determine the percentage of the population that is neurotypical. When the neurodiversity concept was first being tossed around, it was originally picked up by autistic people as a way to redefine the definition of autism from the stigma of disorder (something is wrong) to different (variation is ok). While neurotypical was being used as shorthand for “not autistic”, it was 99% of the population. As other thinking styles have been added to the umbrella of neurodivergent the population of who is not neurotypical has expanded. When ADHD was included in the definition of neurodivergent, the percentage jumped quite a bit, from 1% (autism only) to about 12%.

As the definition of neurodiverse varies, this ratio of neurotypical is going to move.

There are good points to making the neurodivergent definition more inclusive of those who are clearly not neurotypical. If only 1% of the population requires special consideration, this small minority group is easy for governments to shrug off. The larger that “minority group” is, the harder it is to ignore.

There is also a problem with neurodivergence being adopted by everyone. If everyone is neurodivergent, then what does it mean? How does this help us? We might as well say that you are human. In a way, that is true – you are human. We all are. How does you being human help me understand who you are? Another aspect of this is that if you are in the population labelled as having ADHD, that doesn’t make you the same as my other friend also who has ADHD, so the label is not a definition of you, but might give me some clues about what you need to feel comfortable and function well over and above the label “human”.

Some labels have some fairly heavy stigma attached to them. Autism is often seen as a non-functional socially inept individual. Fortunately that is starting to shift a bit as more people with autism come out who previously blended in or are seen as quite functional.  ADHD is often ascribed to as “naughty” or “misbehaved” rather than “has troubles prioritising” and “very active”, mostly because the “treat everyone the same” teaching and parenting methods fail to take into account the thinking pattern that people with ADHD have, with the consequence that they act out. Psychopathic people are also being considered as neurodivergent and the stigma attached psychopathy is “ruthless murderer”. The majority of people who have compromised compassion feedback loop aka psychopathy, are not murderers and are just trying to get on with their lives. The stigma of some of these diagnoses means that it can feel uncomfortable being considered under the same umbrella as the other diagnoses – I may be neurodivergent, but I don’t want to carry the stigma of that other condition, my own is enough.

How to Measure Divergence

Another point to consider with the term is how different does someone have to be to be considered divergent versus typical? While I appreciate that dyslexia is a difficult brain difference to manage, does it really make someone neurodivergent?

Depending on the type of dyslexia, written words can have quite a different pathway to conscious thought. My form of dyslexia means that I say each read word “out loud” within the confines of my head, hearing the written word rather than just knowing the written word. I will also sometimes substitute a word in my head for what is on the page, actually seeing that substituted word – a form of optical delusion. Another aspect of my dyslexia is that when I construct a sentence to write, I see what I have constructed in my mind on the page (an optical delusion), not necessarily what my hand has written – which can be radically different. This makes proofreading particularly tricky. Clearly this changes the way that I process written words, but does that make me neurodivergent, or just on the edge of neurotypical? How divergent does your thinking need to be to be considered outside of neurotypical?

This is reflected in the IQ scale. Technically an IQ of 101 is above the mean average, but because IQ range isn’t measured on the mean, it actually falls within the standard deviation and is considered to be average. In a similar way, thinking a bit differently may not make you neurodivergent, just odd.

There are many people who are neurodivergent that appear neurotypical. Often this is because they have worked hard to appear that way. Their personal struggles have lead to a hard life and a great deal of adaptation problems, but they have finally managed to blend in. There are also many people who are neurodivergent that are obviously not neurotypical and are quite dysfunctional.

Defining neurotypical and neurodivergent based on functionality seems to be a mistake. It is more important to look at how the separation of how the different ways of processing and thinking places a person away from the neurotypical average. It is often said that the school teaching methods for primary and high school is ideal for 1/3 of students, adequate for another 1/3 of students and not helpful for the last 1/3 students. I posit that the last 1/3 of the student population listed above are likely to be neurodivergent, where the teachers attempting to explain in a typical way how a thing works does not computer for most of the last students. Some of this 1/3 of students are also just poorly behaved due to other reasons.

Part 3 – Living with Neurodivergence

Next time we will look at what it is like to be neurodiverse and not know it.


Neurodiversity – Part 1

Humans are diverse. We have a range of different aspects, such as skin colour, eye colour, blood type, height, gender preference, sex, gender identity, culture, food preferences and so forth. Neurodiversity is the word used to discuss how our brains and minds work in a range of different ways, highlighting those who are neurotypical, in the middle of the bell curve, and those who are neurodivergent, at away from the middle of the bell curve.

In this Part we will cover some of the terminology and a little of the history.


Neruodiversity was first coined by Judy Singer, an Australian social scientist on the autism spectrum around 1990 and was first seen in print in 1998. The idea was to recognise that diverse peoples have always existed throughout the history of humanity and that being divergent from the local social norm is not a pathological condition, but a factor of being human.

The concept was rapidly embraced by individuals who identified with Autism, and was quickly adopted by other peoples who wanted to move away from “mother blaming” and toward recognition that there is nothing inherently wrong with them, that there is just difference.

Jim Sinclair 1993 speech is incredibly important. While Sinclair is talking specifically about autism here, replace any of the axis and it is still true.

“Non-autistic people see autism as a great tragedy, and parents experience continuing disappointment and grief at all stages of the child’s and family’s life cycle. But this grief does not stem from the child’s autism in itself. It is grief over the loss of the normal child the parents had hoped and expected to have … There’s no normal child hidden behind the autism. Autism is a way of being. It is pervasive; it colors every experience, every sensation, perception, thought, emotion, and encounter, every aspect of existence. It is not possible to separate the autism from the person—and if it were possible, the person you’d have left would not be the same person you started with. This is important, so take a moment to consider it: Autism is a way of being. It is not possible to separate the person from the autism.”

While neurodiversity was initially first embraced by Autism people and groups, other peoples have also embraced the concept.

ADHD, developmental speech disorders, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysnomia and intellectual disability; mental health conditions such as bipolarity, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, sociopathy, bsessive–compulsive disorder, and Tourette syndrome and the medical condition Parkinson’s disease.


For an excellent more in depth discussion on terminology, I recommend you check out Neurocosmopolitanism’s website [link].


Neurodiversity is the diversity of human brains and minds within our human species. It recognises that we are not all the same, we are not clones or copies of each other.

Neurodiversity is a biological fact, not an opinion or movement.


The neurodiversity paradigm is a specific perspective on neurodiversity that follows these basic 3 principles:

1) Neurodiversity is a natural and valuable form of human diversity

2) The idea that there is one “normal” or “healthy” type of brain or mind, or one “right” style of neurocognitive functioning, is a culturally constructed fiction

3) The social dynamics that manifest in regard to neurodiversity are similar to the social dynamics that manifest in regard to other forms of human diversity (e.g., diversity of ethnicity, gender, or culture)


The Neurodiversity Movement is a social justice movement that seeks civil rights, equality, respect, and full societal inclusion for the neurodivergent. If you consider other diversities that have made progress towards equality you will find that they too had social justice movements behind them.


Neurodivergent, sometimes abbreviated as ND, means having a brain that functions in ways that diverge significantly from the dominant societal standards of “normal”, as defined by the local bell curve.

Neurodivergent is quite a broad term as it can refer to many different aspects of divergence from the “norm”.


A person who is divergent from “normal” in more than one axis.


Someone who is born divergent from the “norm”.


Someone who develops neurodivergence in response to a life event or experience


Neurotypical, often abbreviated as NT, means having a style of neurocognition that falls within the local dominant societal standards of “normal.”

Neurotypical can be used as either an adjective (“They’re neurotypical”) or a noun (“They’re a neurotypical”).

Much like Straight is to Queer, Neurotypical is to Neurodivergent.


A neurominority is a population of neurodivergent people about whom all of the following are true:

1) They all share a similar form of neurodivergence

2) The form of neurodivergence they share is one of those forms that is largely innate and that is inseparable from who they are and is thus pervasive to their personality

3) The form of neurodivergence they share is one to which the neurotypical majority tends to respond with some degree of prejudice, misunderstanding, discrimination, and/or oppression (often facilitated by classifying that form of neurodivergence as a medical pathology)

The word neurominority can be used as either a noun (“ADHD are a neurominority”) or an adjective (“ADHD are a neurominority group”).


Where one or more members of the group differ substantially from other members, in terms of their neurocognitive functioning.