Neurodivergent Is a Great Word, It's Just Not Always The Right Word

I like the word neurodiverse. It's a really lovely word that puts me in a community with a lot of different people. Neurodivergencies include Dyslexia, Schizophrenia, ADHD, sometimes-but-not-always-depends-who-you-ask epilepsy, OCD, Down syndrome, DID, PTSD… If I managed to conjure an exhaustive list of neurotypes there wouldn’t be any room left in this article to talk about anything else. It’s an umbrella term, and it’s a big umbrella. I don't have a problem being referred to as neurodivergent instead of autistic, because I am both. I’m Neurodivergent, colon, Autistic. But for the love of god if you mean autistic just say that. It’s not a bad word. If you're looking for someone autistic, if you are describing someone as autistic, if you are writing an autistic character, if you're putting a call out for an autistic actor - just say autistic. Neurodiverse is not a less offensive way of describing autistic people. "Autistic people," identity first language, is already the preferred term by the community.

Neurodiverse is a really great word to describe the myriad of ways brains work. But it isn’t synonymous with autism. All autistic people are neurodiverse but not all neurodiverse people are autistic.


If you are not autistic you are considered by the autistic community to be allistic, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t neurodiverse. I have noticed an increasing tendency of people to use neurodivergent as a synonym for autistic. People on TikTok, casting directors on Twitter - okay, the casting director might not have meant autistic, but people certainly read it as autistic summoning their autistic friends left and right. I can’t pretend to know the intentions of people based on frustratingly vague statements - if I could, a doctor would probably take my autism diagnosis back off me - but it’s hard to believe that a casting director would be looking for something as broad as ‘neurodivergent’. I’m not in the habit of assuming that anyone is acting maliciously, that they do the things they do to deliberately cause harm. Unfortunately this has the side effect of forcing me to assume ignorance, sometimes idiocy. To regularly see people make statements like "being neurodivergent means you can’t pick up social cues!" or "neurodivergent traits include [A List Of Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnostic Criteria, Or Sometimes ADHD Ones That Make Me Think I Should Call My Doctor]" or "the neurodivergent experience is … " not only fuels misinformation about what autism is, it also actively erases the experience of allistic neurodivergent people. Many, many people who are neurodivergent don’t struggle with socialising. There is no such thing as a neurodivergent trait. There is no diagnostic criteria for neurodivergent. The neurodivergent experience is existing in a world built around the expectation of a singular neurotype and all that entails on an individual level. The ways in which I struggle because of the way our society is structured are vastly different to the way that other neurodivergent people do. The support and structures I need to put in place so that I function in the world might be actively unhelpful to other neurodivergent people. It’s a reality that accommodating different neurodivergent people in the same space is complicated, because we’re all so different. Neurodiverse is a very useful word to describe this experience, but it’s woefully imprecise when it comes to the intricacies of huddling under this umbrella together. And as an autistic person, I have a doctor’s note that says I love specific language.

About The Author

H. Pauline Dunne is an Autistic Arts Worker and Illustrator, living and working in the Irish Midlands

Twitter: @h_paulinedunne