Everyone has a unique way of processing information and interpreting the world. Sociologist Judy Singer1 coined the term “neurodiversity” in the 1990s to describe and celebrate the unique ways our brains function and to challenge explaining specific differences as “disorders.”
The term “neurodivergent” is used to describe individuals who fall on the autism spectrum or have brains that process information differently from the typical population. Neurodivergent individuals may also experience learning disabilities, attention deficit and anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or Tourette’s syndrome. The key idea is to view these diagnoses as different ways of being rather than conditions needing a cure.
Understanding the intersectionality of neurodivergence and the Black experience is crucial in recognizing the often ignored challenges faced by Black neurodivergent individuals. Dr. Nora Ekeanya2, a distinguished Black author and psychiatrist, highlights these disparities. She explains that research indicates most people of color, especially Black Americans, are frequently underdiagnosed and misdiagnosed with mental illnesses.
When Black individuals advocate for their mental well-being, their concerns are disregarded as defiance or anger. Ekeanya further reveals Black people’s difficulties in obtaining an accurate autism diagnosis. Black mothers, in particular, “express the challenges of receiving a proper diagnosis for their Black sons, who are often misdiagnosed with oppositional defiance or a personality disorder.” Identifying their position on the spectrum requires highly trained professionals who will understand the diverse cultural influences that shape diagnostic perspectives.
Ekeanya emphasizes the need to address systemic biases and enhance cultural competence within the field by highlighting white supremacy’s impact on mental health clinicians’ training.
To create an inclusive environment that embraces cognitive differences, we must acknowledge and address the challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals, as expressed by Ekeanya. She is optimistic that education and empowerment will improve self-advocacy and understanding.
Ekeanya states, “The pandemic has sparked a desire for self-discovery and understanding. I hope a more educated and empowered population can advocate for themselves and effectively communicate their needs.” She refers to the increasing trend of individuals turning to online platforms like GPT-4, WebMD, and even TikTok to research their symptoms and connect with others who share similar experiences.
Ekeanya says empowering people to explore and understand their experiences encourages vital mental health conversations. By doing so, we can work towards a more inclusive society that values and supports neurodiversity within the Black community and broader contexts.
Neurodiversity is a gift. Neurodivergent individuals have unique talents and perspectives that can enrich our world. They provide creative solutions to complex problems and are able to see and interpret the world in ways that most people can’t. We must foster a society that celebrates Black neurodiversity and provides opportunities for neurodivergent individuals to thrive, feel included, and not feel as though they need to mask who they truly are.
Embracing neurodiversity within the Black community and beyond requires a collective effort to challenge societal norms, dismantle systemic biases, and promote inclusivity. By recognizing and celebrating the unique ways our brains function, we can shift the narrative from viewing neurodivergence as a disorder to understanding it as a diverse and valuable aspect of the human experience.
Through education, empowerment, and amplifying diverse voices, we can create a society that values and supports neurodivergent individuals, providing them with the resources, understanding, and acceptance they deserve. Let us strive for a future where everyone, regardless of their cognitive differences, can thrive, contribute, and be celebrated for their unique perspectives and abilities.