I was introduced to the idea of neurodiversity a few years ago at an event which included performance art, music, and a few speakers. One of the speakers (from the hearing voices movement) talked about her experience with hearing voices, and how she had come to accept and embrace the voices. When the voices ceased, she really missed them. The voices had became guides on a difficult road. This got me thinking about depathologizing and ending stigma around atypical mental states in general. It got me reflecting on my own experiences of myself and the world, which were often neurodivergent (diverging from the apparently typical). While I had and continued to struggle with mental health issues, being able to reframe things in this way has helped me better accept the things I struggle with, embrace them as part of who I am, and recognize positive elements of these experiences. This helped me to stop seeing myself as an ill person, or a person with an illness or a disorder, but rather as a unique individual with unique experiences involving positive and negative elements, and sometimes requiring support to navigate.

When I began experiencing plurality (switching into other selves), I had these ideas to fall back on. Had I not, I might have quickly run to the nearest psychiatrist for help. Instead, I see my other self states and headmates in a similar way to how the speaker from the hearing voices movement saw her voices: as companions on a difficult road, who I might miss immensely should they ever disappear or integrate. I’ve been able to find a therapist/counsellor that supports this conceptualization and works with me not to be more “normal”, but in any way I find necessary to navigate my life.  (And right now, that means keeping the headmates.)

Neurodiversity and neurodivergence reframes the diversity of experiences around mental states into a non-pathologizing framework. It ends the binary typically associated with mental illness, and recognizes that we are all intricate beings with complex combinations of characteristics. Within the context of our own culture and lives, we might find these characteristics beneficial, difficult, both, neither, or something else altogether. We might be happy with these characteristics the way they are, or work to change or better navigate them. Embracing neurodiversity means rejecting the notion of an ideal set of characteristics.  It means accepting ourselves as we are, or changing ourselves on our own terms. It means continuing to work towards a world that better accepts and deals with the immense diversity of human experience, self-conceptions, and self-definitions.

The Wikipedia article on neurodiversity has some good general information including history of the neurodiversity movement (beginning with self-advocacy from autism-spectrum communities).

Also related is this article on being disabled. Neurodivergent people may be disabled by a society that does not support their particular characteristics, more than by the characteristics themselves.

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