Neuroableism is a term that combines "neurodiversity" and "ableism" to describe discrimination or social prejudice against people with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other neurological differences. This concept highlights how society often extends privileges to people whose neurological development and functioning are considered typical and marginalizes those who do not fit these norms. 

A family playing together at home.

Understanding Neuroableism 

Neuroableism emerges from the belief that being neurotypical is the preferred or superior way of functioning. This view may lead to various forms of discrimination against neurodivergent people, such as: 

  1. Employment challenges: Neurodivergent people often face difficulties in traditional workplaces, which are typically designed around neurotypical needs and behaviors. This can include challenges in communication styles, sensory processing, and social interaction expectations. 

  2. Educational barriers: Educational systems frequently emphasize conformity and standardized ways of learning, resulting in disadvantages for those who learn differently. 

  3. Social exclusion: Stereotypes and misunderstandings about neurodivergent behaviors can lead to social isolation and exclusion. 

  4. Healthcare disparities: A lack of understanding and accommodation for neurodivergent people in healthcare settings, which can lead to misdiagnoses, inadequate treatment, and mental health challenges

Combating Neuroableism 

Addressing neuroableism involves both individual and systemic changes: 

  1. Awareness and education: Educating oneself and others about neurodiversity, and the unique strengths that neurodiverse people bring to their workplaces, schools, communities, and relationships, is essential in reducing neuroableist views. Understanding that different does not mean deficient can foster a more inclusive mindset. 

  2. Inclusive policies and practices: Workplaces, educational institutions, and healthcare systems, among others, should play a leading role in developing inclusive policies that accommodate neurodivergent needs, such as flexible communication methods, sensory-friendly environments, and tailored approaches to working and learning. At Cortica, our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee works to implement inclusive practices in our workspaces across the country.  

  3. Support and advocacy: Offering support to neurodivergent people and advocating for their rights and needs can help to combat neuroableism. 

  4. Celebrating Neurodiversity: Recognizing and valuing the unique strengths and perspectives that neurodivergent people bring to society can help shift the narrative from deficiency to diversity. 

The rainbow infinity symbol is the official symbol of Autistic Pride Day and has become a powerful symbol of autistic identity and pride.

What to look for in Neurodiversity-Affirming Care  

Neurodiversity-affirming care refers to a type of care that values and prioritizes neurodiversity and is based in principles of neurodiversity. It means acknowledging that someone's personal development and unique personal characteristics are important and should be valued, not changed unless they are drastically impacting the person's life in a negative way. If there is something that is impacting the person's life in a negative way, extrinsic factors are examined first, such as environmental factors, rather than assuming that the person themselves needs to change. The values, interests, and strengths of the person are taken into consideration and influence how care is designed and implemented. This type of care can come in all different forms, such as occupational therapy, music therapy, ABA, counseling, and many more.   

Another component to look for in neurodiversity-affirming care is that assent is given. Assent-based care, the participation consent of those not legally able to consent, is a major component of neurodiversity-affirming care. The goal is a person-centered approach to assessment, intervention, and all other forms of decision-making along the care journey. Assent can be verbal or non-verbal – vocal or even functional communication is not needed. Examples of demonstrated assent include:  

  • Smiling or nodding 

  • Looking towards the therapist or the materials (eye contact is not required) 

  • Active engagement or participation in therapy activities 

  • Reaching for the therapist 

  • Cooperation 

  • Affirmative statements when asked to participate 

Finally, look for therapists or care providers who use neurodiversity-affirming language. This means language that focuses on a person’s strengths and unique abilities instead of differences or deficiencies. Red flags might include referring to an autism diagnosis as a “disability” or believing that certain goals are not possible because of a diagnosis.     

Neuroableism is a pervasive form of discrimination that prevents neurodiverse people from thriving, sharing their unique gifts with the world, and fully participating in their communities. By understanding and addressing this issue, we can work towards a more inclusive society that values and respects neurodiversity. This requires a collective effort to change attitudes, policies, and practices to support and celebrate people’s diverse ways of experiencing and interacting with the world.