eli5 What’s Neurodivergent Mean and Why is the Word Everywhere All of a Sudden?


Everyone and their Mom is neurodivergent now it seems.

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It’s a euphemism for people with either mental disorders or people who have behavioral issues that might be attributable to mental differences. The term is coined and popularized mostly as a way to reframe these conditions in a more inclusive and positive way. It’s like how instead of saying “cripples” we say people with “disabilities” – this simultaneously humanizes the subject and hints at empathy for the subject.

As with anything, overuse or abuse of a term can happen, especially on the internet. Sometimes it is indeed used to apply a positive spin on something that may actually be a choice rather than a property of one’s biology. Sometimes it is also used to lend credence to something that’s likely just a made up condition or something society would otherwise view disfavorably if not under this aegis.

In particular, it seems to refer to people “on the autism spectrum”, with conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome.

Neurodivergent just means that someone’s brain develops and behaves differently than the average brain in some way. Sometimes that can be in large ways that express as a major disability, like people with Down syndrome. Sometimes it can be in more subtle ways that affect certain parts of a person’s life – such as dyslexia. And sometimes it can be anywhere on a wide spectrum, such as with autism spectrum, Tourette’s, ADHD, etc.

Neurodivergent is a term that’s gained popularity relatively recently, to reinforce the fact that these variances in the ways that our brains work are normal, that we all fall within some range on a spectrum of bran function, and that we should be aware and accepting of these many disorders, conditions, and differences between us.

That being said, the main reason we’re seeing the word everywhere is because it encompasses a wide number of groups that were previously separated – whereas one person may have said “Oh, I have Aspergers (which is no longer a diagnosis itself),” or “I have ADHD,” or any number, now many of these people may just use the word “neurodivergent” to identify, so that, as an umbrella term, it can easily become more common than any of the more specific terms.

Of course, as with any term that comes to raise awareness, there is concern that it’s overused. There’s a worry within the neurodivergent community that the popularity of ND social media stars, for example, who are sharing their story and raising awareness, may be leading to a wave of “copycats” seeking attention, or young people applying the term to themselves in order to “stand out,” without necessarily understanding what that term means to the wider community. How much or how little this is happening isn’t well-studied, but it may also be contributing to the prevalence of the term. There is some worry within the community that the label is seen as “trendy,” by some people, which may help to raise awareness and understanding to some degree, but may also be harmful to the communities involved.


It’s not a medical term but Neurotypical is a person with an average brain, and a Neurodivergent is a person who brain is in some way not average. It would include things like autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, but also things like outside the norm memory, IQ, emotional intligence, etc (Both good and bad).


I would have said it’s value neutral, but apparently some peoples version of masking is to replace the slurs they are thinking with “Neurodivergent”, so your mileage may vary depending on who you are talking to.