Put simply: “It's just saying, the way you approach things, the way you think, is different,” says Sandra Friedman, MD, an expert in developmental pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Colorado. But just because a person’s brain works differently doesn’t mean it’s “bad” or “wrong.” In fact, it’s just the opposite. Neurodiversity is a celebration of the fact that no two brains — or people — are alike.
“Neurodivergence is a form of human diversity,” says Julia Barnes, PhD, a child and adolescent psychologist at the Pediatric Mental Health Institute at Children's Hospital Colorado. “Just like there's no normal, correct or superior race, gender, ethnicity or culture, there's no one normal, right or superior type of brain.”
Neurotypical, on the other hand, broadly refers to people who are not neurodivergent. Their brain functions and behaviors are often considered the norm in our society, and as such, our environments, like schools and workplaces, tend to accommodate this group of people. That’s part of the reason that the neurodiversity movement exists — to shift perspectives about what is considered “normal.”
Instead of focusing on “dysfunctions” or “deficits,” neurodiversity encourages tapping into a person’s unique strengths to fill in the gaps and help them adapt to their environment, whether that's school, social settings or at work. Oftentimes, people who are neurodiverse need special accommodations to help them succeed. For kids in the classroom, this could mean allowing noise-canceling headphones, providing more opportunities for movement or extra time for test-taking and other changes to the classroom environment.