The most asked question I get; what is Neurodiversity?
For a long time, I thought the answer was really difficult to answer. Because it seems so abstract and unreachable. Yet, it is actually very doable to explain.
Neurodiversity is a subset of biodiversity. So to understand Neurodiversity, we’d have to have a look what Biodiversity means.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, biodiversity means “the existence of a large number of different kinds of animals and plants which make a balanced environment” [link]. The term dates back from the 1980s and was first used to for a strategy to conserve biological diversity in developing countries. [link]
Biodiversity in a way is about understanding what animals and plants need in order to survive, grow and flourish. .
A plant is not just a plant
Imagine the most beautiful cactus. Natively cacti flourish in dry, well drained, hot environments [link]. Like the dessert.
Now imagine the a blossoming Passion Flower, which grows best well-drained warm soil in a well sheltered environment [link]. Like the jungle.
Both plants can grow and flourish because they live in their natural habitat.
Swap both plants from their natural habitat and they’ll will both perish.
Cats aren’t dogs
Of course this is a very crude example. But it speaks to the imagination. We can apply the same principal to Neurodiversity.
Let’s have a look at the animal kingdom and stay close to home. A cat isn’t a dog. While one is a scavenger, the other is a hunter. They not only physically are different, but also their psychological systems are different. [link]
But even within the subgroups of animals, there are huge differences. A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel will crave for cuddles all day on the couch or run in the garden, while a Siberian Husky wants to explore the wild together with you. Both dogs, but their needs – and their habitats in which they thrive – are completely different.
And these needs differ to the very detail of existence. Even within the same litter, two puppies can be quite different – in physical appearance but also in behaviour and social needs.
There is diversity in diversity
and this is what brings us back to Neurodiversity.
It is no surprise that these differences apply to humans too.
Neurodiversity is about the natural variance of the human mind and that there is no one right way of thinking. [link]
At some point in the evolution our brains evolved to becoming hunters or survivors. Our brain specialised in being aware of our surroundings and our senses, looking out for prey and bursting into action to make the kill.
In time, we’ve evolved from hunters to gatherers and later on farmers. However, this doesn’t mean that those neurological traits we had as hunters are gone. Some hypothesis support the idea that the hunters are still around us, that they might even be what we nowadays often label as ADHD. [link] In this light, ADHD can be seen as a natural brain variation and not a deficit – and this goes for other natural brain variances as well.
Ever since the industrial revolution, we’ve shaped the world to our needs at a dazzling speed. In the last hundred years, we’ve changed the world more than what we did in the last million years – and with AI and Augmented Reality, this is only going faster. [link]
Where nature had millions of years to evolve, we’re giving our brains a fraction of the time.
Our brave hunters from the past no longer hunt for prey. But are now hunting for Lootboxes in Free To P(l)ay games and Likes on Social Media, together with with the rest of the world. However, they are struggling.
In our modern world, the ADHD brain is three times more vulnerable to substance abuse than the non-ADHD brain [link]. But also the addiction to gaming is very real with this group [link] or impuls buying things you don’t really need [link].
The hunt goes on. But the question is; who is the hunter and who is being hunted?
Also, they no longer reside in their natural habitat. The great outdoors, where every sound, smell or reflection meant either to eat or to be eaten, has been traded in for carefully arranged office gardens, where the same amount of sounds, smells and reflections mean absolutely nothing but still enter the brain with the same priority as before. Thus overwhelming the brain, causing energy drains and eventually a higher rate of burnouts [link].
Social anxiety is real, as ADHD’ers are often wrongly labelled as unsociable, oversharing, party poopers, unreliable or blabbermouths [link] – and every time they get (poorly) labelled, the trauma grows bigger as most ADHDers overthink everything all the time. [link]
In our hunger to change the world to our needs, we forgot that we need to look further than what our typical needs are. The needs of the many have outweighed the needs of the few. We’ve shaped our (western) world in a perfect (neuro)typical habitat.
However, these Neurodivergents are still out there, literally trying to survive in a world that is no longer supporting them.
Suicide is the leading cause of early death for people with Autism (ASD) [link]. These often brilliant people, choose to end their life instead of living it. Within the same group, we see the highest unemployment rates. Only 1 out of 5 Autistic people actually can keep a job [link]
Yet, the greatest thinkers of all time are considered to be Autistic; Einstein, Darwin, Michelangelo, Newton, Mozart, Jung, Da Vinci, Elon Musk, Bill Gates… The list just goes on.. [link]
Every single one of them pushed our civilisation into the next iteration.
No matter the label, we need all of these creative, explorative, structured, associative and highly divergent thinkers to survive and move forward – and with all the problems we are facing in the world, we need them now more than ever.
Biodiversity is about the preservation of plants and animals.
Neurodiversity is about the preservation of humanity as a whole.