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Neurodiversity: Home


Disability Studies

Neurodiversity is often studied or thought about through the lens of Disability. If you're looking for more information on broader disability communities or Disability Studies, Syracuse University Libraries has several LibGuides for you to check out!

Community Terms and Definitions

Neurodiversity (noun) The diversity of human brains and minds - the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species. A biological fact.

  • It is not:
    • a perspective, an approach, a belief, a political position, or a paradigm. That is called the neurodiversity paradigm.
    • a political or social activist movement. That is the Neurodiversity Movement. 
    • a trait that any individual possesses or can possess. When an individual or group of individuals diverges from the dominant societal standards of "normal" neurocognitive functioning, they don't "have neurodiversity" they are "neurodivergent."

Definition provided by Nick Walker, PhD in her essay Neurodiversity: Some Basic Terms and Definitions

Neurodivergent (adjective) Having a brain that functions in ways that diverge significantly from the dominant standards of "normal." Sometimes abbreviated as ND.

"Some forms of innate or largely innate neurodivergence, like autism, are intrinsic and pervasive factors in an individual’s psyche, personality, and fundamental way of relating to the world. The neurodiversity paradigm rejects the pathologizing of such forms of neurodivergence, and the Neurodiversity Movement opposes attempts to get rid of them. Other forms of neurodivergence, like epilepsy or the effects of traumatic brain injuries, could be removed from an individual without erasing fundamental aspects of the individual’s selfhood, and in many cases the individual would be happy to be rid of such forms of neurodivergence. The neurodiversity paradigm does not reject the pathologizing of these forms of neurodivergence, and the Neurodiversity Movement does not object to consensual attempts to cure them (but still most definitely objects to discrimination against people who have them).

Thus, neurodivergence is not intrinsically positive or negative, desirable or undesirable – it all depends on what sort of neurodivergence one is talking about."

Also related: 

  • Neurodivergence (noun) - the state of being neurodivergent. 
  • Multiply neurodivergent (adjective phrase) - used to describe a person whose neurocognitive functioning diverges from dominant societal norms in multiple ways. 

Definition provided by Nick Walker, PhD in her essay Neurodiversity: Some Basic Terms and Definitions

Neurotypical (noun or adjective) The dominant neurotype in a given society (e.g the neurology that is considered "normal"). Neurotypicality is associated with normative styles of cognition, embodiment, sociality, and expression. One can be neurotypical (i.e. able to perform in neurotypical ways at all time), or some neurodivergent people may present as neurotypical due to masking. Also: Having a style of neurocognitive functioning that falls within the dominant societal standards of "normal." Sometimes abbreviated as NT. 

Neurodiverse (adjective) A group of people is neurodiverse if one or more members of the group differ substantially from other members, in terms of their neurocognitive functioning. Or, to phrase it another way, a neurodiverse group is a group in which multiple neurocognitive styles are represented.

"Thus, a family, the faculty or student body of a school, the population of a town, or the cast of characters of a TV show would be neurodiverse if some members had different neurocognitive styles from other members – for instance, if some members were neurotypical while others were Autistic."

Common Mistakes: 

  • Many people mistakenly use neurodiverse where the correct word would be neurodivergent. There is no such thing as a “neurodiverse individual.” The correct term is “neurodivergent individual.” An individual can diverge, but an individual cannot be diverse.
  • Neurodiverse does not mean “non-neurotypical.” The opposite of neurotypical is neurodivergent, not neurodiverse. Neurodiverse cannot be used to mean “non-neurotypical,” because neurotypical people, like all other human beings, are part of the spectrum of human neurodiversity. The opposite of neurodiverse would be neurohomogenous (meaning “composed of people who are all neurocognitively similar to one another”).
  • To refer to neurominority groups or neurodivergent individuals as “neurodiverse” is incorrect grammatically, because diverse doesn’t mean different from the majority, it means made up of multiple different types. So an individual can never be diverse, by definition. And a group where everyone is neurodivergent in more or less the same way (e.g., a group composed entirely of Autistic people) wouldn’t be “neurodiverse,” either.

Definition provided by Nick Walker, PhD in her essay Neurodiversity: Some Basic Terms and Definitions

Neurocurious (adjective) Being in an explorative state about one's neurocognitive functioning. An individual may choose to describe themselves as neurocurious for a many different reasons. For example: someone may be exploring what kind of neurodivergence matches best with their own experiences, considering or pursuing a potential diagnosis, or exploring the possibility of being multiply neurodivergent.  

From the Center on Disability and Inclusion:

"Why curiosity? Curiosity invites flexible engagement and exploration while decentering medical diagnosis and pathology. Neurotypical frameworks generally presume neurodivergence as an undesirable thing - something to avoid rather than seek out. In response, neurocuriosity affirms self-identification, self-exploration, self-awareness, and celebration of neurodivergent communities and identities and allows for flexible, self-determined forms of sociality, belonging, and being."


Neuroqueer (noun, verb) Neuroqueer theory draws upon queer theory in its examination of how neurotypicality is culturally constructed, and in doing so, helps us to better understand the meaning of neurodivergence. A neuroqueer individual is anyone whose identity, selfhood, gender performance, and/or neurocognitive style has been in some way shaped by their engagement in practices of neuorqueering, regardless of what gender, sexual orientation, or style of neurocognition they may have been born with.

For more information, see Dr. Nick Walker's essay Neuroqueer: An Introduction (2021) or her book, Neuroqueer Heresies.

Identity-first Language (noun) When describing disabled individuals, identity first language puts the disability identity first.  Sometimes abbreviated at IFL. Many communities have voiced that as a community, they prefer identity-first language. Some examples include:

  • the autistic community / an autistic person
  • the Deaf community / a deaf person

Person-first or identity-first language is equally appropriate depending on personal or community preference. When in doubt, as the person which they prefer. When talking about a community, do your due diligence to research what language that community prefers. This is called using a person's preferred language.

Person-first Language (noun) When describing individual with disabilities, person first language puts the person first. For example: "a person with a disability." Sometimes abbreviated at PFL. 

Person-first language originated as a way to emphasize the personhood and autonomy of persons with disabilities and to avoid language that dehumanizes. Many communities and individuals still prefer this language - but many have argued that the use of person-first language devalues the experience of being disabled. This is particularly true in the case of individuals who feel that their disability is an inseparable part of their identity / personhood. In recent years, there has been a marked shift towards using identity first language. 

Person-first or identity-first language is equally appropriate depending on personal or community preference. When in doubt, as the person which they prefer. When talking about a community, do your due diligence to research what language that community prefers. This is called using a person's preferred language.

Plain Language (noun) clear, straightforward expression, using only as many words as necessary. Language that avoids obscurity, inflated vocabulary and convoluted sentence construction. It is not baby talk, nor is it a simplified version of the English language. Writers of plain English let their audience concentrate on the message instead of being distracted by complicated language. Plain language is useful for everyone improves access to services for users with language barriers or some forms of neurodivergence. 

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 defines plain language as:

"Writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience."

Further Resources on Plain Language:

Disability Studies (noun) Disability Studies scholarship and teaching enhance the understanding of disability by incorporating social, cultural, historical, legal, and political perspectives, including the connections between disability and other identities. Disability Studies also aims to center the experiences of disabled people and emphasize the role of the disability community in defining problems and evaluating solutions by drawing on a variety of disciplines in order to understand the social, cultural, and political situation of people with disabilities including history, sociology, law, policy studies, economics, anthropology, geography, philosophy, theology, gender studies, media studies, architecture, and the arts.

For more information:

DisCrit (noun) Disability Critical Race Theory

DisCrit engages Disability Studies and Critical Race Theory to analyze the deep intersection between racism and ableism. It foregrounds use of Black feminist intellectual traditions, to examine the analysis of educational contexts, and particularly the disproportionate diagnosis of racially minoritized children given the labels of emotional behavioral disturbance and intellectual disability, and the subsequent disparate outcomes for children residing at this intersection (Annamma et al., 2013).