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Can We Broaden the Neurodiversity Movement without Weakening It? Participatory Approaches as a Framework for Cross-disability Alliance Building

Disability Alliances and Allies

ISBN: 978-1-83909-322-7, eISBN: 978-1-83909-321-0

Publication date: 9 November 2020


Purpose: We critically examine the idea of neurodiversity, or the uniqueness of all brains, as the foundation for the neurodiversity movement, which began as an autism rights movement. We explore the neurodiversity movement's potential to support cross-disability alliances that can transform cultures.

Methods/Approach: A neurodiverse team reviewed literature about the history of the neurodiversity movement and associated participatory research methodologies and drew from our experiences guiding programs led, to varying degrees, by neurodivergent people. We highlight two programs for autistic university students, one started by and for autistics and one developed in collaboration with autistic and nonautistic students. These programs are contrasted with a national self-help group started by and for stutterers that is inclusive of “neurotypicals.”

Findings: Neurodiversity-aligned practices have emerged in diverse communities. Similar benefits and challenges of alliance building within versus across neurotypes were apparent in communities that had not been in close contact. Neurodiversity provides a framework that people with diverse conditions can use to identify and work together to challenge shared forms of oppression. However, people interpret the neurodiversity movement in diverse ways. By honing in on core aspects of the neurodiversity paradigm, we can foster alliances across diverse perspectives.

Implications/ Values: Becoming aware of power imbalances and working to rectify them is essential for building effective alliances across neurotypes. Sufficient space and time are needed to create healthy alliances. Participatory approaches, and approaches solely led by neurodivergent people, can begin to address concerns about power and representation within the neurodiversity movement while shifting public understanding.




We would like to thank all of the people who have contributed to each of the programs described in this report. We would like to thank Chris Frka for his help with qualitative coding of mentor/mentee feedback about Project REACH and for coleading the Project REACH group in the fall of 2019. We would also like to thank Ibrahim Khan for his insights about effective strategies to build political alliances (derived from his volunteer work for the Bernie Sanders campaign). We would also like to thank the reviewers of this manuscript and the editors, particularly Tara Fannon, for their exceptionally constructive feedback.


Gillespie-Lynch, K., Dwyer, P., Constantino, C., Kapp, S.K., Hotez, E., Riccio, A., DeNigris, D., Kofner, B. and Endlich, E. (2020), "Can We Broaden the Neurodiversity Movement without Weakening It? Participatory Approaches as a Framework for Cross-disability Alliance Building", Carey, A.C., Ostrove, J.M. and Fannon, T. (Ed.) Disability Alliances and Allies (Research in Social Science and Disability, Vol. 12), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 189-223.



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