Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in different ways.
ADHD, Autism, Asperger’s, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, and Tourette’s syndrome are all examples of neurodivergent conditions.
Before you look at the resources take a few minutes to think about your current level of knowledge about the labels listed above. How do you think people who identify with them experience the world? Where did you acquire your knowledge and has it helped your care of patients and work with colleagues?
When I first wrote this page I struggled to know whether to use ‘person first language’ (person with autism) or ‘identity first language’ (autistic person).
I am grateful to the numerous people with lived experience for their advice and hope that the language on the page reflects best practice in the UK. Reading the feedback reminded me that complicated issues rarely have simple solutions. This research paper discusses the variation in the acceptability of PFL and IFL. I’ve reproduced some key points from the paper.
The words we use to describe autism and people with autism reflect and shape the way we think about autism, and words may therefore (unintentionally) contribute to stigmatization. Stigmatization of autistic persons includes society ascribing stereotypical traits to persons on the autistic spectrum and consequently defining them by their autism instead of perceiving every autistic person as a unique individual.
Authors of various studies conclude that there is not one single correct way to describe autism. Although consensus might be difficult to achieve, it has been proposed to select terms on the basis of what the majority prefers, likely resulting in more identity-first language in the UK. To be compassionate and inclusive in our care we need to use the right language.
Here are some art resources to help develop your understanding.
Like all good literature, the books listed give a personal view of the author/character’s world and so don’t reflect the breadth and depth of lived experience.
Diary of a Young Naturalist Dara Macanulty – The book explores the natural world through the eyes of a young autistic teenager.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Mark Haddon – A detective story told through the eyes of 15-year-old Christopher, who is autistic (also a play) Although this book was helpful in raising awareness it has been criticised for portraying a stereotypical picture of autism.
A Boy Made of Blocks Keith Stuart – A novel by video game journalist, Keith Stuart about a neurotypical father’s struggle to connect with his autistic son.
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend Matthew Dicks – A story about the power of the imagination and the companionship of an imaginary friend. You can listen to this being discussed on the podcast Bedside Reading 16th Nov 2021
Love Anthony Lisa Genova – A mother’s quest to understand the world that her young autistic son inhabited for his short life.
Earthed Rebecca Schiller – Reflections on being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.
The Reason I Jump Naoki Higashida (also a film) The inner voice of a 13-year-old autistic boy.
Drama Queen Sara Gibbs At the age of 30, Sara was diagnosed as being autistic. The book looks back through her life at the impact that autism had upon her.
Amelie (2001) This film is not specifically about neurodiversity but on seeing the film many people commented that the main character Amelie, displays behaviours associated with autism.
Rainman (1988) When asked to think about films that portray neurodiversity, people often mention Rainman. Although the film views the world through the eyes of Raymond (played by Dustin Hoffman) who is autistic and has Savant Syndrome, the film is now outdated and presents a stereotypical view of being autistic. They maybe merit in watching it purely to understand why it faces such criticism.
Recent drama gives a more accurate and acceptable representation e.g. Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory, Brick in the American TV show The Middle and Atypical on Netflix (although the actor playing Sam is not autistic)
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) – The film explores the family dynamics between, Gilbert, his autistic brother and their mother.
Adam (2009) A romantic drama about a young autistic man without any specific learning difficulties.
Thanks to Steven Schlozman for some of these suggestions taken from his book Arts for Health – Film
The American children’s show Sesame Street introduced the concept of neurodiversity in their programme by creating a new autistic character called Julia.
Take a look at this clip, it would make a good resource to discuss with a colleague or in a tutorial.
British-Nigerian multidisciplinary artist Nwando Ebizie’s work uses inspiration from science fiction, Black Atlantic ritual cultures, biophilia, neuroscience, her own neurodivergency and Nigerian heritage to create her art.
These are her words:
‘One of the main reasons for this project is to propose the idea that perception (perception in this case means the overview of the vast array of sensory information that is gathered by the brain and projected out onto reality) underpins our sense of reality – it is fundamental to who we are and how we experience the world. All humans sit somewhere on a neurodiverse spectrum – our brains are unique. Our own unique neurology has an implicit effect on perception of the world – forming bias, prejudices and the way we see our place in the world.
I propose acceptance of a neurodiverse spectrum as a radical way to make changes in society. To create a society which grants all diversity, space to flourish.’
Watch her art, Distorted Constellations Vol 2: A Visual Snow Alternate Reality by Nwando Ebizie is a multidisciplinary, Afrofuturist exploration of neurodivergency inspired by the artist’s experience living with Visual Snow Syndrome.
If you would like to explore this further take a look at this interview between artist and psychologist.
While researching for this page I came across reports that neurodivergent people gain benefits, including relaxation, stress relief and improved focus from listing to 8D audio. Take a look at this website to find out more and to listen to 8D audio (you will need your earphones) or look at 8D audio on Youtube and see what appeals to your taste.
Take a look at this anthology of poems from India and South America dedicated to autistic children and their parents published on the platform Global Truths – A Global Participatory Social Justice Platform.
In what way do these poems help you understand the challenges faced by a neurodivergent child?
#14 Differently Abled by Elsy Satheesan from Angamaly, India made a significant impression on me.
Take a look:
Great Minds Think Different
Many people with neurodiversity find expressing themselves through painting, drama, and music easier than through the written word or speech. This has led to a large number of art collectives and groups supporting the work of neurodivergent artists and encouraging more involvement from other neurodivergent community members.
One of these projects, Project Art Works was short-listed for the 2021 Turner Art Prize.
Resources suggested for clinicians by clinicians
and this from TikTok
And for those of you who want to explore this subject further, these resources have been recommended.
Neurotribes by Steve Silberman – looks at the history of autism and autism research, and then looks at the concept of neurodiversity and a path to a more humane world for people with learning differences. Much quoted by neurodiversity ‘experts’, as being groundbreaking.
Divergent Mind by Jenara Nerenberg – Looks at neurodivergent women – those with ADHD / autism – why the traits are overlooked in women, and how society benefits from allowing strengths to flourish
Unmasking Autism by Devon Price – Written for the many ‘masked’ individuals, who pass as neurotypical because they don’t fit the stereotype of autism. Particularly acknowledges that autism is significantly under diagnosed in women, people of colour, trans and gender non-conforming people.
Page created December 2022
with help from Liz Stonell (GP and TPD)