A free online resource developed to support the inclusion of autistic learners in Scottish Early Learning and Childcare settings, Primary and Secondary schools.

What does neurodiversity mean?

Neurodiversity is a relatively new term, thought to have been coined in the 1990s by Judy Singer (an autistic individual, parent of an autistic child and Sociologist). It was originally used by the autistic community, who were keen to move away from the medical model and dispel the belief that autism is something to be treated and cured rather than an important and valuable part of human diversity.


The idea of neurodiversity has now been embraced by many other groups, who are using the term as a means of empowerment and to promote the positive qualities possessed by those with a neurodevelopmental difference. It encourages people to view neurodevelopmental differences such as autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia as natural and normal variations of the human genome. Furthermore, it encourages them to reject the culturally entrenched negativity which has typically surrounded those that live, learn experience the world in a particular way that is sometimes perceived as different.

The whole of society is neurodiverse. Diversity is the trait of a whole group not of an individual. It is estimated that around 1 in 7 people (more than 15% of people in the UK) have neurodevelopmental differences, including autism, which are observed when they learn and process information in a particular way.

The term neurodiversity usually refers to range of specific learning differences including:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD) also referred to as Dyspraxia 
  • Developmental Language Disorder  (DLD)
  • Epilepsy
  • Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Tourettes and Tic disorders 
  • Specific Learning Disorder/ Differences  e.g Dyslexia, Dyscalculia.
Image of a brain with text saying neurodiversity on a rainbow background

Health professionals, industry and commerce are increasingly using the term neurodiversity and this approach supports the child centred education system in Scotland which also highlights the co-occurrences between specific learning differences. Research has highlighted that the  child or adult who has only one area of difficulty is rare ( for example work by Kaplan et al 1998).

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research highlighted this point in a study conducted for ACAS in 2016 (the UK Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), which explained that there is a

 “Propensity for neurodivergent individuals to be stereotyped according to the more well-known characteristics of their condition.” 

The report stressed that not all individuals with autism are highly numerate, nor will everyone with dyslexia have insurmountable difficulties around functional literacy.

Further information: neurodiversity

To find out more about the concept of neurodiversity, further information is available in the Professional Development section of the Toolbox.