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What is Neurodiversity?

As most of you know World Autism Awareness Day was on Saturday, April 2nd. Every year, the United Nations determines a theme for this day and this year it is Inclusion and Neurodiversity. Most people understand the concept of inclusion, but neurodiversity is a relatively new topic that is gaining traction.

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is the concept that humans don’t come in a one-size-fits-all neurologically “normal” package. Instead, this it recognizes that all variations of human neurological function need to be respected as just another way of being, and that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal / natural variations in the human genome. One of my favourite books is Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Dr. Barry M. Prizant, who portrays autism not as a tragic disability, but as a unique way of being human. In his 40+ year career working with those with autism, Dr Prizant found the most successful approach was not trying to “fix people” by eliminating symptoms, but rather seeking to understand an individual’s experience and what underlies their behaviours.

Why is the idea of Neurodiversity important?

Neurodiversity is seen as a movement by many towards more equal treatment and more widespread acceptance for those on the spectrum, and with disabilities in general. The idea is that if autism is seen as a normal variation of the human experience, then those with autism will be treated more humanely and with more understanding that they might have different needs or different ways of coping. Rather than trying to bend someone with autism into a definition of “normal” behaviours, society might bend to allow for differences in behaviour and needs, and create more opportunities for inclusion in schools, and workplaces etc…

The promise of leaving no one behind…

In September 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted the ambitious new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets that promise to leave no one behind.

While all SDGs are universally applicable, disability and persons with disabilities are explicitly referenced in the following goals:  4) Quality Education; 8) Decent Work and Economic Growth; 10) Reduced Inequalities; 11) Sustainable Cities and Communities; and 17) Partnerships for the Goals.

It is important to have this agenda in place for people to refer to and understand the goals we are working towards. Last year’s employment theme saw the launch of many new initiatives in that field worldwide. We still have a long way to go, though, to create an inclusive society which respects the neurodiversity of those on the spectrum. We have to shed our old notions of normalcy and trying to get those with autism to fit into that realm.

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