What Does It Mean To Be Neurodivergent?

Neurodivergent is a term being used more and more lately, but what does it mean? It might sound synonymous with mental health issues or intellectual disabilities, but it's not. In fact, neurodivergent isn't a medical term at all, according to Cleveland Clinic. It's simply a term used to describe people whose brains work differently. It doesn't mean that you're sick or have deficits, but rather that your brain operates in a different way than someone who has developed "typically."

Because no two brains are the same, there's no real definition of what a "normal" brain is (via Cleveland Clinic). In 1998, an Australian sociologist named Judy Singer coined the term "neurodiversity" to explain this concept. She emphasized that everyone's brains work differently, and so everyone's capabilities are also different. Adults and children alike develop differently, with their own challenges and competencies. If you have brain differences that affect how it works, you're what's called neurodivergent. If you don't have any challenges that impact how your brain works, you're considered neurotypical.

Neurodivergence vs neurodiversity

Neurodivergent means that your brain processes information differently than someone who is neurotypical, and you may behave in different ways than are culturally accepted (via Medical News Today). If you have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a learning disability such as dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder, or Tourette's syndrome, you might consider yourself neurodivergent. While neurodivergence usually means the difference is neurological or developmental in nature, some people include some mental health diagnoses fall under this term, especially if thoughts and behaviors are impacted by them.

However, not everyone agrees that this term is helpful, according to 2021 research published in the journal Synthese. While neurodiverse is an inclusive term, neurodivergent feels like a term of exclusion to some. Everyone is neurodiverse, but not everyone is neurodivergent, making it a term that can feel ostracizing and can contribute to stigma. Some argue that all brains are "normal," regardless of how they develop and process information, making the term neurodivergent harmful.