For a very long time, autistic children were seen as broken versions of “normal” kids. It hurts my heart to type that sentence, but I’m so grateful to live during a time when that paradigm is shifting. Thanks to the tireless work of writers with autism, disability advocates and other professionals, the neurodiversity movement has entered the mainstream conversation.

What is neurodiversity?
Writer and Aspergian John Elder Robinson put it very well: “Neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome. This represents a new and fundamentally different way of looking at conditions that were traditionally pathologized; it’s a viewpoint that is not universally accepted, though it is increasingly supported by science. That science suggests conditions like autism have a stable prevalence in human society as far back as we can measure. We are realizing that autism, ADHD and other conditions emerge through a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental interaction; they are not the result of disease or injury.”

Why does neurodiversity matter?
While the definition might just seem like words, it’s so much more than that. Embracing neurodiversity means truly seeing difference—not disease—when interacting with individuals with autism. It means understanding that forcing kids on the spectrum to try to lose a diagnosis or appear “normal” might actually be harming them. It means conceding that our neurotypical way of moving through the world is not the only one and it’s not de facto the best one.

What does this mean in my own life?
Learning about neurodiversity changed everything in our house with regard to my own son, who has autism. It means that my husband and I no longer chase “cures” for our son, and that we now lean into his difference. It means that the rhythms of our days now better match his needs for routine and his sleep patterns. It also means that his hand flapping, his desire to watch Elmo repeatedly, and his need to leave an over-stimulating environment are now respected. We see these aspects as parts of his difference, not things to be chased/shamed/trained away. I think we’re better parents for learning more about neurodiversity. He’s certainly a happier child now that he lives in a house where his difference is understood, celebrated and respected.

Further Reading and Resources
There are a lot of great books and blogs that promote, explain and celebrate neurodiversity.
Neurotribes by Steve Silberman. Clearly lays out the history of autism-as-disease, shows how it’s something that has existed for centuries and makes a compelling argument for neurodiversity through anecdotes, interviews and extensive research.

Nothing changed my views of autism more than reading the words of people who are autistic. Here are a few of my favorite sites:

Ollibean – A dynamic community of parents, families and advocates working together for a more socially just, accessible and inclusive world.
Autism Women’s Network
Emma’s Hope Book
Ido in Autismland

Other sites that approach autism from a neurodiverse perspective:
Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism
Parenting Autistic Children with Love and Respect – Their motto: “Change the world, not your autistic child.”

Jamie Pacton blogs for a national parenting magazine and writes young adult and middle grade fiction. Learn more at www.jamiepacton.com.