The Concept of Neurodiversity: Not All Brains Look the Same

The Concept of Neurodiversity: Not All Brains Look the Same

By Angelica Cullen, Feature Editor Originally published in Issue 5, Volume 33 of The University Register on November 6, 2020

Neurodiversity is a term used most often in the ADHD and autism communities, although it is not solely comprised of these two conditions. The key belief behind neurodiversity is that rather than seeing brain differences as abnormalities that need to be cured, they are seen as natural variations between human brains. This can include differences in learning, behavior, and thinking. The differences have been found to be in how the brain is ‘wired,’ or the ways that neurons link up with one another. Another key factor in neurodiversity is that instead of having the majority of these individuals change and mold themselves into normalcy to fit into society, society must work harder to accept them as they are and to make itself more accessible.

ADHD

ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is a neurological condition that can affect a person’s thoughts, behavior, and learning ability. There are three types of ADHD: hyperactive/impulsive type, inattentive type, and combined type. The first type is what is most commonly associated with ADHD in popular culture. While it is more easily diagnosed in children, the disorder does not disappear upon reaching adulthood. In fact, some people who did not show many signs of ‘stereotypical ADHD’ as a child have been diagnosed as an adult. In adults, symptoms can include (but are not limited to): impulsiveness, poor time management skills, excessive restlessness, frequent mood swings, problems focusing on a task, low frustration tolerance, disorganization and issues with prioritizing, and problems with following through and completing tasks.

According to a 2016 national survey done by the CDC, approximately 6.1 million children have been diagnosed with ADHD since 2003. This includes 388,000 children from the ages of 2-5, 4 million from the ages of 6-11, and 3 million from the ages of 12-17. Comorbidity (having a secondary condition) is also common in ADHD, with 6 out of 10 children having a second condition such as anxiety, depression, or autism. A part of ADHD, which can also stem from the aforementioned comorbid disorders, is executive dysfunction. From ADDitude Magazine, “Executive dysfunction is a term used to describe the range of cognitive, behavioral, and emotional difficulties which often occur as a result of another disorder or a traumatic brain injury. Individuals with executive dysfunction struggle with planning, problem-solving, organization, and time management.”

Neurodiversity

The term ‘neurodiversity’ was coined in 1998 by Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist. Conditions that fall under the category of neurodiversity include dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Tourette’s Syndrome, among others. Dyspraxia, dyslexia, and dyscalculia are childhood developmental disorders with dyspraxia affecting coordination, balance, and movement; dyslexia affecting reading, spelling, and writing; and dyscalculia affecting logic and problem-solving skills, counting ability, and calculation skill. Tourette’s syndrome is a disorder of the nervous system which can cause uncontrollable tics and repetetive movements or speech.

The Morris Neurodiverse Experience

Here are some Morris students’ personal experiences with ADHD, neurodiversity, executive dysfunction, and neurological issues:

“ADHD is awesome when you randomly hyperfocus on something you actually want to do and/or an assignment, which is... rare. Sometimes you hyperfocus on a piece of media and that’s just OK, sometimes you end up getting stuck watching random youtube garbage instead of doing any of the things you want to do and I’m not a fan of that. ADHD meds help a lot, but sometimes they just mean I can really focus on the random youtube garbage. When I’m not on my meds, I frequently feel like I need background noise or background music and/or I have a song stuck in my head, but it varies. The lesser known symptoms aren’t great. Rejection sensitive dysphoria is, not to put too fine of a point on it, god-awful. Someone does something that implies they might be upset with you and your soul turns inside out. Some positives are when I randomly hyperfocus on something I like and that’s about it. My brain needs stimulation and one thing that is great at stimulating my brain is mentally going through every mistake I have ever made, and another is picking at my skin. Anyway, ADHD is not great. It’s fitting for a “kid’s” disorder because it doesn’t describe what the disorder feels like or does, it describes how it makes the person’s parents/teachers feel about them. ” - Ben Goldstein.

“I’ve been dealing with a still undiagnosed neurological issue that affects my sense of reality and causes me to disassociate and I recently developed a tic. So for the last five-ish years I’ve been dealing with these disassociation problems that have slowly gotten worse to the point that I am now seeking some sort of diagnosis. Thankfully, socially I haven’t had any bad experiences yet, most people I interact with understand and have been accommodating to me when I need it. In the last couple of months, I have developed what seems to be a motor tic of my neck and shoulders where I tense up and twitch, I can suppress it but it’s very uncomfortable when I do. This is a little less easy to deal with socially since now it’s visual and I’ve startled people in class and have caught people looking after a tic happens and it feels very embarrassing.” - Madisen.

Gray Kruse, who is autistic and has ADHD, said, “I’d just say that executive dysfunction isn’t the same as laziness and isn’t the same as a depressive lack of energy (I’ve definitely felt all three). With executive dysfunction, you just don’t know how to do the thing. When I’m really suffering from executive dysfunction, a task as simple as “put my shoes away so they aren’t scattered around my floor” seems daunting and impossible to do, even if I have plenty of energy to, say, reorganize my desktop. It’s different from depression, because with depression I have no energy to do anything, even things I want to do or seem fun. One of the biggest helps for me when I’m in an executive dysfunction funk is some form of instructions on how to complete the task I want/need to do, the more detailed the better. It helps make the task more simple and thus removes the biggest cause of executive dysfunction.”

I also have ADHD, specifically the inattentive type. The symptoms I struggle with most are planning skills, sustaining mental effort toward a lengthy task, memory issues, time management, auditory processing, motivation, and emotional regulation. I often have difficulties academically in turning in assignments on time, completing assignments or tasks with multiple steps that require a lot of mental effort, planning out big projects, and being able to fully pay attention in classes. Socially, ADHD has presented in terms of interrupting people during conversations, having to ask someone to repeat themselves (because I did not process what they said), and being a bit more sensitive to social rejection.

Image on top courtesy of Teen Vogue