Glossary of Neurodiversity


Neurodevelopmental disorder/condition
‘Neurodevelopmental’ refers to a condition present from birth. Autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and AD(H)D are examples of neurodevelopmental conditions.

‘Neurodivergent’ describes a person whose brain ‘diverges’ from the neurotypical majority. This may be due to a condition that is present from birth (e.g. autism) or acquired during a person’s lifetime. (See also: neurodevelopmental disorder/condition, acquired brain injury)

Neurodiversity refers to the concept of different types of brain and different ways of thinking. It is sometimes referred to as cognitive diversity. Although neurodiversity encompasses all brain types in the human population, it is commonly taken to refer to neurodivergent conditions such as autism and dyslexia.

Neurodivergent people may be particularly skilled in certain areas – the neurodiversity movement advocates for recognition of individual strengths and acceptance of differences in ability.

The concept of neurodiversity is comparable with the civil rights pleas of the the BLM and LQBTQ+ movements to be accorded dignity and acceptance, and challenges the default assumption that neurodivergent conditions or disorders need to be eradicated, prevented, treated or cured.

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

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a form of mental illness caused by exposure to traumatic events. A person with PTSD will often relive the events through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of guilt and anxiety, insomnia and difficulty maintaining concentration.

Although DSM-5 specifies ‘trauma’ to involve death or violent acts, research indicates that other life events – such as repeated bullying or discrimination suffered by an autistic person – may also trigger PTSD.

Emergency services staff are at risk of developing PTSD due to the nature of their work – trauma risk management (TRiM) is provided after particularly distressing incidents.

Self-stimulation (‘stimming’)
Self-stimulation or ‘stimming’ refers to behaviours often used by autistic people to assist with calming down, aiding concentration or shutting out overwhelming sounds. ‘Stims’ include repetitive actions such as rocking back and forth, flapping hands and vocalising.

Social model of disability
The social disability model says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment, disability or difference. Barriers may be physical (e.g. a building not being fitted with ramps and lifts to provide access to wheelchair users) or by the attitudes of other people towards disability, (e.g. assuming that a disabled person can’t do certain things, which leads to the person being refused a job they are capable of doing). This contrasts to the traditional medical model which views conditions such as autism as disabilities in themselves.

Specific Learning Difficulty/Difference (SpLD)
SpLDs affect the way the brain processes information. They occur independently of intelligence, but can have significant impact on education and learning and on the acquisition of literacy skills. (See also/not to be confused with: learning disability)

Dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia and AD(H)D are classed as SpLDs.

Spiky profile
The ‘spiky profile’ concept is a way of illustrating that neurodivergent people tend to excel in certain areas of work and may struggle in others. A line drawn on a graph of cognitive ability vs IQ for such a person would show a series of pronounced peaks and troughs. This contrasts with the neurotypical profile which tends to be flatter.

A person exhibiting a spiky profile may experience difficulties in certain vocations such as policing that carry an expectation of being able to perform well in a wide range of roles and working environments.

Theory of mind
Theory of mind is the ability to instinctively know what others are thinking and feeling. It 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.

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 respectively defined as sudden, rapid, non-rhythmic, and recurrent movements or vocalisations.

Workplace/reasonable adjustment
A workplace adjustment (also known as 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 and progress a career. Typical adjustments for neurodivergent staff include:

  • Providing an autistic employee with access to a quiet place to work (due to sensitivity to background noise)
  • Providing a dyslexic employee with a computer desktop profile featuring large fonts and high-contrast colours to make reading text easier

Adjustments for disabled employees are mandated by the Equality Act 2010 – they are tailored for the individual’s needs and will typically be negotiated with the employer. (See also: Equality Act, disability)