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The Need for Clear Language Around Neurodiversity - with Judy Singer
Episode 448th April 2024 • Happy Space Podcast with Clare Kumar • Clare Kumar
00:00:00 00:54:51

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Judy Singer, sociologist and pioneer of the neurodiversity movement discusses the role of language around neurodiverse populations, her views on autism, whether HSP’s fit into the neurodivergent ecosystem, and her feelings about the use of the term “woman” when considering transgendered individuals.

Judy Singer, sociologist and pioneer of the neurodiversity movement, discusses her views on the complexities of language, identity, and the nuances of social change. Singer discusses her contributions to societal dialogue on neurodiversity and her ongoing efforts in academic and public spheres, amidst navigating online controversy. Singer shares her pioneering thoughts on neurodiversity, the critical role of language, and naming in transgender identities. She gives her opinion on autism, and whether HSPs can be considered neurodivergent. The discussion also goes into Judy’s experience living in Sydney, and her future plans aimed at fostering inclusivity.

Judy Singer is an Australian sociologist credited with coining the term “Neurodiversity” in 1997-8 while completing an Honours Thesis at the University of Technology, Sydney. Her thesis, subtitled “a personal exploration of a new social movement based on “neurological diversity”, was the first non- psychomedical academic work to map out what was proving to be the last great civil rights movement to emerge from the 20th century. The movement was based on the pioneering work of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Movement, which was being joined by other neurological minorities who clearly needed a catchy, authoritative banner term

The idea grew out of her lived experience in middle of 3 generations of women whom she then described as “somewhere on the autistic spectrum”.

Like many people “on the spectrum” and especially as a woman seeking work in the early 1970s, Judy experienced difficulty finding employment. Fortunately, like many autistics, she was able to find a career in the burgeoning new field of IT which opened up a new world of opportunities for women.

When Judy became a parent with a child who appeared to have a “mysterious” disability, her career responsibilities compelled her to give up her career. Instead she went back to University to pursue her true interests: anthropology and sociology.

Judy has a long career in community organizing: she was the founder, via the internet, of the world's first support group for people raised by autistic parents, became the secretary of Sydney’s largest support group for the parents of autistic children and a co-founder of Sydney’s only independent social club for teenagers on the spectrum. She was elected a director of Shelter NSW, Australia’s peak body for housing justice but since the rediscovery of her work in 2017, she has been fully occupied with advocacy within the Neurodiversity discourse.

Note: Edited on May 1, 2024 to remove challenging language about mental health.


5:53 Judy's thesis and academic background

10:22 The importance of naming

12:10 Neurological diversity to neurodiversity

16:33 I do claim crediting the buzzword neurodiversity

24:03 Neurodiversity is a property of a place, not a person

26:33. Nature is not benign

27:48 What about those who don't care about being so particular about language?

29:47 Where does the trait of high sensitivity fit in?

31:50 Why do we need all these labels? The welfare system and the medical model of disability

38:41 The expansion of autism

43:32 Labels can lead to solidarity

44:12 Faking depression to get help

53:33 The importance of naming yourself


Sage Journal: The neurodiversity concept was developed collectively: An overdue correction on the origins of neurodiversity theory

Neurodiversity - The Birth of an Idea - Judy Singer’s Sociology Thesis

Neurodiversity by Harvey Blume - Atlantic Article

Word Slut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language

Aspar - Support Group for People Raised by Autistic Parents

Divergent Mind by Jenara Nerenberg

Episode 16 - Still in Search of Excellence - with Tom Peters

Simon Baron Cohen Research

6 Cultures that Recognize More than Two Genders

Quote Source: First They Ignore You, Then They Laugh at You, Then They Attack You, Then You Win

Alexandra Samuels, Canadian journalist and author

Harvey Blume - Reflections on Neurodiversity


Simon Baron Cohen - Wikipedia

Harvey Blume - Reflections on Neurodiversity

Judy Singer headshot - Autism Awareness Australia

JK Rowling - Harry Popper Wiki

WordSlut - Goodreads

Autism - Sage Journal

The Birth of an Idea - Judy Singer

The Divergent Mind - Goodreads

Tom Peters Headshot - Tom Peters

Other images - Canva

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