AC Education
3 min read/Published On: September 5, 2023/517 words/


The Neurodiversity Paradigm and ADHD

This could be somewhat heavy going initially, but please bear with us and we hope the enlightenment it brings will make your efforts feel worthwhile.

Neurodiversity is a word coined by a sociologist, Judy Singer, in 1998 and she called for a politics of neurological diversity; just as scientists tell us that increased biodiversity is essential for a healthy ecosystem, so Singer suggested that neuro-cognitive diversity should be valued in the same way. So, instead of using diagnostic labels – like ADHD, autism, dyspraxia etc – to explain the different ways that human beings think, learn, behave and process – we need to accept that these are deviations from a norm and their very difference enriches our humanity. And we avoid the labels that can diminish and sometimes spoil the personhood of others.

The neurodiversity paradigm (a term coined by Nick Walker in 2012) evolves naturally from the premise that neurological diversity enhances our collective cognitive and cultural richness as a species. It states that instead of being labelled by society as normal or abnormal, those who are more enabled in our community are more correctly ‘neurotypical’, while those who diverge from normative functioning are termed ‘neurodivergent’.

Dr. Robert Chapman (a neurodiversity paradigm proponent) writes: ‘I see the cultural paradigm shift as quite similar to the change we have been seeing regarding the LGBT community, away from pathologization and towards pride, acceptance and inclusion.’

So what has all this got to do with ADHD and children in care? Basically, the neurodiversity paradigm reframes ADHD as neurodivergent and regards it as a natural brain variation. So it is no longer seen as a disorder that society has labelled as a deficit – which can be tough for the child and problematic for the family; rather it is seen as a divergence from the norm. If you have a child placed with you who has a diagnosis of ADHD and you make it clear to the child that this diagnosis is not a big deal, that being different can have its advantages, then the child is likely to feel better about themselves and is more able to go questing for the hidden spring of worth that is bubbling somewhere inside them. In experiencing that sense of being worthily different they are empowered to move forwards and explore the paths ahead of them with more confidence, developing resilience along the way. This is a much more positive and enabling environment to occupy than the one that says ‘You have ADHD and need medication in order to function in a classroom.’

Thus our task as parental figures is to create environments that accommodate and empower our children with ADHD so that they thrive in our homes and classrooms, as opposed to joining forces with those who want to label the child without necessarily helping them to explore their internal world. The latter mindset is likely to undermine the child’s confidence to achieve and leave them feeling marginalised. Under the neurodiversity banner we can celebrate difference and find ways to help the child see themselves as different and special.

Martha and Rachel