Neurodivergent or neurodiverse? Why getting it right really matters

word define on spelling dictionary page

It might seem nit-picky or even ableist when people talk about the importance of using ‘Neurodivergent’ over ‘Neurodiverse’. I talk about it often and I am certainly not part of the grammar police because – all cops are bastards, my typing isn’t great and as long as I get your meaning then who cares what it looks like!?

There is a social and political reason why it is important for us to get the distinction between these two words correct, especially for academics and ND organisations.

Neurodiversity – includes everyone, including neurotypical / neuromajoritives.

Neurodivergence – involves everyone outside of neurotypical. It is inclusive of ALL oppressed neurotypes. These can be acquired neurodivergence such as a stroke or brain injury, or they can be NDs we are born with such as autism or foetal alcohol syndrome.

Neurodivergent – was coined by Kassiane Asasumasu, who is Autistic and otherwise ND, this word includes ALL people who are not NT. Kassiane has said that the word should not be used as another way to marginalise and gatekeep people.

The word Neurodiversity is used by our oppressors to ignore our support needs. This was not the intention of the person who coined the term but this is not the first time Disabled people’s words have been used against them (or any marginalised group for that matter).

Neurodiversity is used everywhere in neuro-normative run organisations and research. The term includes neurotypical people, who will always be heralded as ‘normal’ and therefore most important.

When people use the word neurodiverse instead of neurodivergent the meaning of what they are saying changes – it is the difference between an oppressed group and our oppressors.

Using the wrong word spreads misinformation which feeds into the disordered rhetoric of all neurodivergences.

Some of us may buy into being ‘disordered’ and some of us want or need substantial support to live a life we want to live (I thank the God’s every day for my relative control over my OCD and cPTSD, for example).

I’m not going to call-out individual Disabled people for how they talk about themselves personally, but I do think its important to shine a light on systems and individuals that oppress us and use the word neurodiversity / neurodiverse to show fake concern, support and inclusion.

Now, people getting it wrong online or in general is not the end of the world, but when academics do it, especially academics who are neurodivergent themselves, it is spreading harmful misinformation.

Some years back I was getting all of this so muddled and incorrect and that was doing a disservice to the disabled and ND people I work with and our community in general (and myself really).

Language is really important, it can be used to dehumanise us and make it easier to keep up oppressed.

Words have meaning and we can’t control our own narrative using the words of our oppressors – and in the case of neurodiversity – a word which our oppressors have co-opted.

The language we use is important, especially if we want to be taken seriously by a world which will do anything to ignore or discredit us.

For further info look into Kassiane Asasumatu, Nick Walker, Dora Raymaker, Remi Yeargeau… the people who coined these terms and continue to make ND lives easier and better.

Another brilliant read on this can be found here at the Radical Copy Editor.

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