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  • Writer's picturePetra

The Neurodiversity Movement: A Shift in Perspective on ADHD and Autism

In the realm of psychology and mental health, emerging frameworks can profoundly shape how we understand, diagnose, and treat conditions like ADHD and autism. The neurodiversity movement is one such paradigm, offering a perspective that contrasts with the conventional medical model. In this blog post, I will explain some of the main tenets of the neurodiversity movement, mention some of its leading contributors, and discuss how it compares to the medical model, particularly in the context of adult ADHD.

What is the Neurodiversity Movement?

The neurodiversity movement advocates for the acceptance and accommodation of neurological differences as a natural variation within humans, rather than as disorders to be treated or cured. This framework posits that conditions like autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, among others, are simply alternative forms of neurodevelopment that are evolutionarily useful and should be respected and integrated into society.

A Google image search of "neurodiversity" reveals diagrams including various conditions such as ADHD, autism, learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia), dyspraxia, Tourette's syndrome, intellectual disability, and a range of mental health disorders including mood and anxiety disorders. The term "neurotypical" is used to refer to people who fit into the larger group for whom significant neurodivergence is not evident.

Key Contributors

Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist, is credited with coining the term 'neurodiversity' in the late 1990s, referring to autism. Subsequently, authors like Steve Silberman, who wrote NeuroTribes, have played a significant role in bringing neurodiversity into mainstream discourse. Silberman's work explores the history of autism and, by extension, sheds light on the broader spectrum of neurodevelopmental variations.

Other notable contributors include Dr. Devon Price, whose writings emphasise the importance of understanding and accommodating neurodivergent experiences, and organisations like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), which champions the rights of neurodivergent individuals.

Comparing Neurodiversity and Medical Models

For many years, the medical model has been the prevailing approach to understanding and treating neurodevelopmental conditions like ADHD and autism. This model categorises such conditions as disorders that require diagnosis and treatment, often involving medication and behavioural interventions. However, the neurodiversity movement challenges this model by offering an alternative perspective that reframes neurological differences as natural variations rather than defects or disorders.

Conceptualising Neurodiversity:

  • Neurodiversity Model: Views conditions like ADHD and autism as natural variations that have evolved as part of human diversity.

  • Medical Model: Considers these conditions as disorders or diseases that need to be diagnosed, treated, and potentially cured.

Goal of Treatment:

  • Neurodiversity Model: Focuses on accommodation and support to help individuals thrive in their own unique way.

  • Medical Model: Aims for symptom reduction or removal, often through medication and behavioural interventions.

Stigma and Self-Perception:

  • Neurodiversity: Encourages a more positive self-image, as individuals are not labelled as 'disordered' but rather as differently abled.

  • Medical Model: The label of 'disorder' can lead to stigma, impacting self-esteem and societal views.

Cultural and Social Context:

  • Neurodiversity: Strongly advocates for systemic change, including educational and occupational adaptations to accommodate neurological differences.

  • Medical Model: Less emphasis on systemic change and more focus on changing the individual to fit into existing societal norms.

Considerations for Clinical Practice in Adult ADHD

As a clinical psychologist and a parent of neurodivergent children, I find that a variation on the neurodiversity model allows for an approach that understands and accepts differences, finds strengths, and also taps into evidence-based treatments for the benefit of the client. My clients and I cannot individually effect the social changes necessary for many neurodivergent people to truly act as themselves in all situations without being penalised. Therefore, I see a place for individuals seeking assistance to help with symptoms and endorse the use of evidence-based medications and therapies to assist.

There is no cure for either autism or ADHD, or many other conditions that may fall under the neurodiversity umbrella. Treatments should encourage a focus on identifying strengths and leveraging them to help clients live fulfilling lives, rather than solely targeting symptom reduction. Treatment should also focus on reducing stigma, reducing masking, and encouraging people to be accepting, or even proud of their unique characteristics.

This approach is often called neurodiversity-affirming therapy. If you are looking for therapy in line with this approach, some therapists will advertise this, or you may wish to ask if they can provide treatment within this context.


The neurodiversity movement challenges us to rethink our attitudes towards neurological differences, inviting a more inclusive and respectful view of conditions like autism and ADHD. As the conversation evolves, it is important for professionals to be informed about these frameworks, understanding their merits and limitations, to provide well-rounded care and contribute to a more accepting society. Embracing neurodiversity can lead to more effective and compassionate support for those we serve, fostering an environment where all individuals can thrive.

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2 commentaires

28 juin

Wonderful stuff Petra! And what a magnificent picture!

28 juin
En réponse à

That's an AI generated embroidery brain. I agree it's beautiful.

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