8 Neurodiversity


Rebecca Hiebert

Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.

While you read, consider the following:

  • What information is new?
  • What did I used to think?
  • How can I use this information to welcome others?

The word neurodiversity refers to the diversity of all people, but it is often used in the context of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as other neurological or developmental conditions such as ADHD or learning disabilities. The neurodiversity movement has aimed to increase acceptance and inclusion of all people while embracing neurological differences. Rather than viewing neurodiversity as a difficulty or a condition, it is viewed as a particular way of viewing the world. Knowledge about neurodiversity and respectful language is important to create an inclusive environment for all people, including people with neurodevelopmental differences.[1]

Although there is broad diversity across the population, some people have neurological variations that make it particularly challenging for their communication, self-expression, and interactions with others. Neurodivergence is a broad umbrella and neurological variations can include autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and tics. Judy Singer, who coined the term neurodiversity, proposes that we are all neurodiverse because no two humans on the planet are exactly the same.[2]

Neurodiversity is a combination of traits that are seen as both strengths and challenges. Depending on the neurodiverse variation and its intensity, individuals can display different features. Below is information about some neurodivergent variations.

Autism or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder)


People who identify as autistic may:

  • have average to very high intelligence;
  • have good verbal skills and rich vocabulary;
  • have the ability to think in visual images and identify patterns;
  • have the ability to retain large amounts of information, especially about topics of special interest;
  • have an ability to focus for long periods on areas of interest;
  • have the ability to perform repetitive tasks where accuracy and routine are important;
  • be reliable and punctual, and enjoy schedules.[3]
People who identify as autistic may:

  • have trouble speaking;
  • have trouble recognizing non-verbal communication;
  • make repetitive actions;
  • be overly sensitive to sounds, sights, or smells;
  • be less sensitive to pain.[4]

Autism is considered to be a lifelong, developmental condition that affects how a person thinks, communicates with and relates to other people, and interacts with the world around them. Autism is much more common than was previously thought. One in 66 people in Canada are thought to be on the autism spectrum.[5] You may know someone with autism, or be on the autism spectrum yourself.

The Canadian college system is set up for neurotypical people. This means that colleges have brightly lit classrooms, classes are run with the expectation that students will interact freely, and students are expected sit quietly while instructors lecture. Many people with autism have strategies for adapting their needs to fit into to this neurotypical setting.

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)


People who identify as having ADHD may:

  • have the ability to hyper-focus;
  • have higher levels of creativity and curiosity;
  • be innovative and inventive;
  • have leadership abilities;
  • have high energy, spontaneity, and productivity.[6]
People who identify as having ADHD may:

  • have difficulty completing or planning for future events;
  • resist activities that don’t have a clear goal;
  • have difficulty re-engaging with a task after being distracted;
  • communicate freely;
  • have trouble regulating their emotions;
  • have increased anxiety.[7]

It is estimated that 1.1 million Canadian adults have ADHD according to the Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada.[8] People who identify as having ADHD may have strategies to adapt their needs to fit into the Canadian college experience to manage meeting long-range assignment deadlines, regulating their emotions in class, and staying focused when moving between tasks.



People who identify as dyslexic may:

  • have improved visual processing and pattern recognition;
  • have good spatial knowledge;
  • see things more holistically;
  • have mechanical aptitude;
  • have sharper peripheral vision;
  • be highly creative.[9]
People who identify as dyslexic may:

  • have difficulty learning to read and write;
  • have difficulty coding, learning, and retrieving associations between verbal and visual information;
  • have trouble with mental arithmetic;
  • have trouble with directional or sequencing information.[10]

According to the Ontario Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, it is estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the Canadian population have dyslexia. That is an estimated five million people.[11] People who identify as having dyslexia may use strategies to fit into the Canadian college experience such as using screen readers, taking extra time to complete tests or assignments, or presenting information in alternative formats.

Key Takeaways

Neurodiversity describes the fact that we all have different ways of interacting with the world through thinking, learning, and behaving. Those who identify as neurodiverse, with neurological variations such as autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, may experience challenges when interacting with others and need to make accommodations in order to manage. People with neurodivergent features may or may not choose to share their experience with you. Whether someone identifies themselves as neurodivergent or not, you can be open to working with people in diverse ways in order to make space for people who may experience the world differently from you. If you are unsure, you can ask the individual what kind of interactions would best support them to be included in activities.

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-neurodiversity-202111232645
  2. Used with permission: https://www.neurodiversityhub.org/home
  3. Used with permission: https://www.neurodiversityhub.org/what-is-neurodiversity
  4. Understanding autism by OpenLearn. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. https://www.open.edu/openlearn/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=66946&section=2.1
  5. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/infographic-autism-spectrum-disorder-children-youth-canada-2018.html
  6. Used with permission: https://www.neurodiversityhub.org/what-is-neurodiversity
  7. https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-in-adults-new-diagnostic-criteria/
  8. https://globalnews.ca/news/4027630/adhd-adults-symptoms/
  9. Used with permission: https://www.neurodiversityhub.org/what-is-neurodiversity
  10. Understanding dyslexia by OpenLearn. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. https://www.open.edu/openlearn/education-development/education/understanding-dyslexia/content-section-1.4.1
  11. https://www.bgcsoutheast.ca/programs/reading-clinic/dyslexia

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