Glossary of Neurodiversity


Neurodivergent describes a person whose brain ‘diverges’ from the majority. (See also: neurotypical)

Neurodiverse characterises the diversity in the set of all possible diverse brains, none of which is ‘normal’ and all of which are simply different.

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term rather than a specific diagnosis, and the concept is a respectful way of thinking about our colleagues and communities. It is compatible with the civil rights pleas to be accorded dignity and acceptance such as the BLM and LQBTQ+ movements, and challenges the default assumption that those conditions or disorders need to be eradicated, prevented, treated or cured.

Neurotypical describes the ‘majority brain’ – i.e. a person who does not either have a diagnosis of a neurodivergent condition or self-declares as being neurodivergent.

Pathological demand avoidance (PDA)
PDA is an autism spectrum condition that describes those whose main characteristic is to avoid everyday demands and expectations to an extreme extent.

Pervasive development disorder, not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)
PDD-NOS was one of several previously separate subtypes of autism that were folded into the single diagnosis in 2013. PDD-NOS was the diagnosis applied to children or adults who are on the autism spectrum but did not fully meet the criteria for a full autism diagnosis.

Reasonable adjustment
A ‘reasonable adjustment’ is a change in the workplace to remove or reduce the effect of an employee’s disability so they can do their job. Typical examples for neurodivergent conditions include: providing an autistic employee with access to a quiet place to work (due to sensitivity to background noise), and providing a dyslexic employee with a computer desktop profile featuring large fonts and high-contrast colours to make reading text easier. Reasonable adjustments for disabled employees are mandated by the Equality Act – they are tailored for the individual’s needs and will typically be negotiated with the employer.

Theory of mind
Theory of mind is the ability to ‘mind-read’ other people and instinctively know what others are thinking and feeling. Theory of mind describes the ability to understand and attribute different mental states, such as beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, knowledge, to ourselves and to other people; to understand that other people have beliefs, intentions, and perspectives that are different from our own, and to recognise, label and regulate our own emotions as they occur. Theory of mind is important for all social interactions and relationships, and is used when understanding other people’s behaviour, seeing things from another person’s perspective and understanding other people’s points of view. Difficulties with this is sometimes described as mind-blindness.

Differences in theory of mind are one of the key criteria for an ASD diagnosis. (See also: executive function & weak central coherence)

Tourette syndrome
Tourette syndrome is a chronic tic disorder characterised by the presence of both chronic motor tics and vocal (phonic) tics. Motor and vocal tics are defined as sudden, rapid, non-rhythmic, and recurrent movements or vocalisations, respectively. In order to be diagnosed as Tourette syndrome, both motor and vocal tics must have been present for at least one year, although they may not manifest concurrently or consistently throughout that period.

Weak central coherence
Weak central coherence is refers to the way people process information. In general most people tend to see the whole of a situation or get the ‘big picture’ and get the ‘gist’ when being told something verbally. We extract meaning from context and ‘read between the lines’ in situations. This means that people subconsciously prioritise and filter out details that aren’t relevant in a situation, and tend to intuitively focus on social information when they walk into a room. A tendency to instead focus on (perhaps irrelevant) details is referred to as weak central coherence, and this is essentially a different style of processing information and a different priority system.

Weak central coherence is one of the key criteria for an ASD diagnosis. (See also: theory of mind & executive function)