Neurodiversity – a useful way to think of different minds.
The term “neurodiversity” was first coined in the late 1990’s by Australian sociologist Judith Singer. Referring to life-long, largely heritable differences in brain structure and function, neurodiversity arose out of campaigning by those in the autism community who saw themselves as different rather than disordered.
While initially referring to High Functioning Autism (HFA) or Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), the term has expanded to include other differences such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, handedness and ADHD. When we explore neurodiversity a little further, it becomes obvious that the human brain is not easily categorised with these variations best understood as continua or spectrum differences. There is no clear boundary between pathology and the rest of us.
Disability or Difference?
Neurodiversity is an important concept because it challenges the assumption that any difference has to mean a disability or something to be cured. Some differences such as exceptional mathematical or musical ability are highly valued while others, such as global learning disability are not. Speaking on BBC Radio 4 in 2014, Professor Lennard Davis from University of Illinois defined “normal” as a “setting on a washing machine”.
How do we decide whether we are looking at a disability, a normal variation or a valuable difference? Until it was essential for everyone to read, dyslexia wasn’t even identified and in relatively recent times, being left-handed was seen as problematic. Culture, timing, values, norms and environmental demands are all important in determining whether someone might be judged to be normal, a genius or a liability.
Neurodiversity in Business
Many businesses seek to engage with different personalities to get best performance. Awareness and understanding of neurodiversity can help them do this better, particularly with “geeks” and “super geeks” who have highly valuable technical capabilities but find people relatively mysterious. In a knowledge-based economy that is dependent on technology, what might this mean for a business that can do this better than its competitors?
and, on a lighter note…
What’s in a name?
Being curious about when it is OK to call someone a “geek” or if some alternative was more acceptable, I put the question out to some linked-in groups for STEM (Scientists, Technologists, Engineers and Mathematicians) and those with the word “geek” in their name.
What I learned was:
- There are over 500 groups on linked-in that have “geek” as part of their name.
- It’s fine to ask someone if it’s OK to call them “geek”.
- It was OK for me to call someone “geek” if they could call me “shrink”. (Seems fair)
- “Geek” is generally accepted as a collective term as long as distinct professional identities are also respected.
- One suggestion for an alternative collective term for brilliant geeky types – Mentally Enhanced Normans (MEN).
Do you want to know more about using insights from neurodiversity in coaching? Come to our Masterclass :“Coaching Supergeeks” this coming May in Central London. Find out more and book your place here.