Neurodivergence is More Than a New Label

Have you noticed that many labels carry an associated stigma? As we seek to unravel the mysteries of the human mind ever more, we have come to a better understanding of how potential should not be diminished by any labels.

Neurodivergence, a term coined in the late 1990s by the autism community, describes people whose neurological development and functioning diverge from the norm or typical population. It is a broad term encompassing a range of neurodiverse conditions, including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other developmental differences. The concept of neurodiversity was introduced by sociologist Judy Singer, who suggested that neurological differences should be recognized and valued as a form of human diversity rather than as a disorder or deficit. This idea was later expanded upon by activists and scholars in the autism community, and the term “neurodiversity” gained popularity in the early 2000s to promote the celebration and accommodation of neurological differences rather than their labeling and stigmatization.

Khushboo Chabria, a Behavioral Analyst and the Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager at Neurodiversity Pathways has firsthand experience working with neurodiverse children and families. She grew up with neurodiversity in her family, leading to a deep understanding of both the challenges and abilities of individuals with neurodiverse conditions. In her work, Khushboo encountered parents who expect their neurodivergent children to conform to societal norms. These parents would ask questions like, “Why aren’t you working on math? When will they be able to XYZ?”

Khushboo’s response was to ask them, “Can you predict when I will get into the Olympics for archery?” She emphasizes that parental acceptance of their neurodiverse child as they are, without trying to fit them into the mold of what society views as “normal,” is a crucial predictor of their child’s success. When parents shift their perspective to unconditional love and support for their child’s unique abilities and differences, the child knows they are valued and supported in becoming their best self.

Accepting that a child is neurodivergent and embracing their differences can be one of the best things a parent can do for their child. It is essential to encourage their strengths and allow them to engage in self-soothing behaviors, such as stimming (repetitive or unusual movements or noises), without embarrassment or shame. It’s important to remember that each neurodivergent child experiences the world differently and supporting them in their own ways of being sets the child up for success.

Receiving a diagnosis of a neurodivergent condition for a child can be overwhelming for parents; it comes with a label that may carry a stigma and fear about their child’s future. However, reframing the conversation from a medical model of disorder to one of neurodiversity can help parents understand that their child is not broken but simply experiences the world differently from what is considered “normal.” Khushboo, who was later diagnosed with a neurodivergent condition herself, reassures parents that it is not a life sentence but rather an understanding that certain things may be harder for their child while other things may be easier for them. She emphasizes that there will be relationships and experiences that will fulfill their child in every way.

One challenge that parents of neurodiverse children may face is a lack of understanding and support from neighbors, family, and friends, who have expectations of “normal” behavior from the child. Khushboo observed in her clinical work that many parents feel isolated because they lack a proper community of care around them. She encouraged parents to speak up for their children and be willing to say, “This is how it is.” It may also require a shift in the parent’s perspective, recognizing that their child’s worth is not determined by their ability to conform to societal norms but rather by their unique abilities and gifts. Parents are encouraged to seek out support groups, either locally or online, to be in a supportive and non-judgmental space where they can explore their feelings and share strategies to keep peace in their homes.

Societal ideas of “normal” behavior are part of the problem. Just like trees in a forest, there is no such thing as a “normal” tree. All trees are individual and unique, and the same goes for people. The idea that everyone must fit into the box society deems normal is outdated.

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