We all know someone who is a little different than everyone else we know. In fact, you probably know several people who you may think are 'quirky' or a little socially awkward. They 'dance to the beat of their own drum,' as my grandma used to say. Well, grandma wasn't familiar with neurodiversity, which is the concept that there are differences in the way that people's brains process information.
Neurodiversity considers the differences to be normal and not caused by diseases or health-related defects. Neurodiversity also recognizes many different types of behaviours and degrees of expression. ADHD, autism, Asperger's syndrome, dyslexia, dyspraxia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette syndrome, and epilepsy are just some neurodiverse conditions. By some definitions of neurodiversity, even anxiety, left-handedness, and sexual orientation are included. We talk about people neurodiverse individuals as being ‘atypical’, while everyone else is ‘neurotypical’.
A Little or a Lot of Neurodiversity
Some neurodiversity can be expressed in varying degrees, for example, autism is considered to be a spectrum of behaviours. People with Asperger's syndrome may have more or less difficulty with social interaction ranging from mild to debilitating. People with dyslexia may experience minor challenges in learning while others experience major ones.
The point here is that there are a lot of people with neurodiverse tendencies - so many that it makes you wonder if being neurodiverse is really that uncommon or atypical.
Could You be Neurodiverse?
For example, you consider yourself to be neurotypical, but you have a habit or so-called quirk that fits the definition of neurodiversity. Let's say you are well known by your family and friends for your two left feet, crushing the toes of your dance partners, and tripping over yourself in sports and exercise class. You might brush it off and call yourself clumsy or uncoordinated. But rather than labelling yourself as a lousy dancer and conceding that you are terrible at sports, maybe you are mildly dyspraxic.
Dyspraxia is a neurodiverse condition in which people have trouble coordinating body movements as well as planning and carrying out multiple steps in a sequence (for example, catching a ball, then throwing it to a teammate). Are you a failure on the dance floor and sports fields, or are you challenged by the way your brain works? How you answer that question could leave you feeling inadequate, or it could empower you to be ok with not being a star athlete and to find other things at which you excel. By the way, dyspraxic people tend to be empathetic, humourous, creative and resilient.
Speaking of Inclusion
By implying that neurodiversity is common, we don't mean to minimize the importance of recognizing neurodiversity being enormously challenging for some people. We simply put the question out there, in some ways, are we all neurodiverse? Some studies estimate that about 20% of the population could be considered neurodiverse. That's 1 in 5 people and a large enough group that neurodiverse people should be considered right alongside minorities in conversations about diversity and inclusion.
While we're at it, let's think about the good things that can happen if we focus on people's challenges rather than their weaknesses. That way, we can encourage children to explore their strengths to find activities they enjoy and can excel at naturally. We can also support them in overcoming their challenges so that they never feel inadequate or inferior.
We've made it our business to support neurodiverse people with tools they can use to reduce anxiety, focus energy and get the sensory input they need to function at their best. That could be children and adults with ADHD who have trouble maintaining attention, kids who need the heavy work of chewing to relieve anxiety, and autistic people with needs for sensory input to help them cope with their environment. These are small (but not insignificant!) ways that we are helping to support neurodiverse individuals in overcoming their daily challenges.