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Friday, March 15, 2024

Origins of the Neurodiversity Concept

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the neurodiversity movement.   

 Botha, M., Chapman, R., Giwa Onaiwu, M., Kapp, S. K., Stannard Ashley, A., & Walker, N. (2024). The neurodiversity concept was developed collectively: An overdue correction on the origins of neurodiversity theory. Autism, 0(0).  Lay abstract:

This letter discusses the origins of the concept and theory of neurodiversity. It is important to correctly attribute concept and theories to the people who developed them. For some time, the concept of neurodiversity has primarily been attributed to one person, Judy Singer. We consider the available evidence and show that the concept and theory in fact has multiple origins. We draw particular attention to recent archival findings that show the concept of ‘neurological diversity’ was being used years earlier than previously thought. ‘Neurodiversity’ means the same thing as ‘neurological diversity’ and does not change the theory in any way. We conclude that both the concept of neurological diversity or neurodiversity, and the body of theory surrounding it, should be understood as having been collectively developed by neurodivergent people.

From the article:

Against this backdrop, we wish to draw particular attention to a recent and important archival discovery from Martijn Dekker (2023). Dekker is the founder of Independent Living, the email list on which these ideas were developed (Chamak & Bonniau, 2013). Dekker has recently begun to carefully review his extensive archives from Independent Living, and has discovered clear evidence that the neurological diversity concept was fully formed in 1996, before either Singer or Blume were involved. (Dekker obtained permission from those involved in the discussion to be able to publish it.) In this 1996 discussion (Dekker, 2023), one poster, Tony Langdon, writes of the ‘neurological diversity of people. i.e. the atypical among a society provide the different perspectives needed to generate new ideas and advances, whether they be technological, cultural, artistic or otherwise’. In response to a reply from another poster (longtime autistic advocate Phil Schwarz, who endorses the idea), Langdon adds that ‘a lot of this “curing” needs to be applied to society at large’ rather than to autistic individuals. Here, we see a 1996 community discussion where the concept is already developed and being used.