In 1998, Australian sociologist Judy Singer coined the term “neurodiversity” in a thesis documenting the emergence of a new “disability and social movement” led by and for mildly affected autistic individuals – such as her own mother, as well as her daughter, who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Singer modeled her new term after the word “biodiversity,” which offered a compelling analogy: “Why not propose that just as biodiversity is essential to ecosystem stability, so neurodiversity may be essential for cultural stability?” she wrote.
Singer’s proposal collided with the nascent Autism Self-Advocacy Movement – which had launched five years earlier when Jim Sinclair famously scolded parents not to “mourn” for their autistic kids – to create a cultural phenomenon that today informs every aspect of disability philosophy, policy, and practice.
The problem? Neurodiversity has morphed into what Singer calls a “Pollyanna/Pangloss” ideology that bears little resemblance to the movement she launched more than a quarter-century ago. Afraid to say anything for years because of the aggressive trolling critics typically receive on social media, Singer finally decided that she needs to speak out. “I could put it [neurodiversity] out there, but I couldn’t control it,” she told me in a recent interview.