What is Neurodiversity?

A poster series created in conversation with Reality Ministries in Durham, NC.

By Edna Zhang

Click here to access the audio version!

When I met Allison Waters, her enthusiasm about activism struck me. She is the clinical director of Reality Ministries, an organization that bonds adults with and without developmental disabilities. A talk with her refreshed my understanding of neurodiversity:

Image description: The photograph is a yellow board with photos of Reality Ministries’ social gathering events. Decorations are “Reality” in glowing rainbow color on the top left corner, colorful strung flags on the top right corner, celebration balloons on the side, and hands forming a heart shape at the lower left corner. The words are “MUTUALITY (next line) Not sympathy (next line) Everyone contributes something, such as “an infectious smile,” “serving coffee,” or “playing music.”


Mutuality, not sympathy

A long training process is not provided for the neurodiverse participants but for the volunteers, who should know that they are not there to help but to share life as equals. Everyone in this world contributes something precious, such as “an infectious smile,” “serving coffee,” or “playing music.” Therefore, people with neurological disabilities should also be recognized as real full humans for their existence and for their contribution. Some may point out their differences in neurological configuration, but please be minded that every human brain works in a unique way. There is not a single way that’s the best way, or THE standard way.

Image description: The photograph is the worship group sitting in a circle practicing singing together with a choir leader standing inside the circle. Decorations are “thats my BEST FRIEND” in the top right corner, “FAV PEOPLE” in the lower right corner, six small icons representing people in the lower left corner, and some shredded colorful paper in the air. The words are “BELONGING (next line) Be themselves (next line) Society should offer a space just for making friends and resist the impulse of giving goals.”


Belonging, be themselves

Our society likes to quantify improvement. Job trainings and behavioral managements are designed to fit the traditional mode of success. Medical institutions set goals for alleviation of symptoms to treat disorders. Aside from their good intention, there seems to lack a place just to make friends and for people to be themselves, be liked, and build a loving community.


Image Description: The photograph is an art room with a big closet and three easels leaning on top of a wooden cabinet for storing tools. Decorations are colorful heart-shaped leaves and a mini bulb light string on the upper left, some flowers at the lower left, a potted aloe above the closet, and some icons of fruits on the closet. The words are “LIFE-SHARING (next line) Celebrate passion (next line) Let’s enjoy cookouts, Karaoke, beach nights, walks together!”


Life-sharing, celebrate passion

Life’s beauty lies in joyful experiences with each other, which started from going for a walk together, to Karaoke, to working on their own farm and harvesting food, to hosting a talent show for 3,000 audience, and more.

Image Description: The photograph is a collage of a reading room with lamplight and a chatting room with a long sofa. Decorations are “BETTER TOGETHER” on the upper right, a colorful globe with “the future is inclusive” around it on the lower right, and three cartoon characters waving flags together at the lower left. The words are “SUPPORT (next line) Joint effort (next line) A network is made up of donors, doctors, government, church, and volunteers.”


Support, joint effort

It depends upon a network of supporters for a community service organization to thrive: Committed donors sustain regular operation. Local doctors offer hands in times of emergency. Church provides grants for worshipping activity. Private caregivers supplement supervision and personal assistance in bathroom. Partnership with Special Olympics and connection with volunteers spread the influence. Not one link can be missed. All of them are crucial for its running.

Image Description: The photograph is a brightly-lit cafe. Decorations are a blue heart and a pink heart stacked together with words “LOVE yourself” at the top center, a bird nest on the eaves, a smiling sun at the window, a bundle of flowers on the sofa at the lower right, a red bow on the wall, and two cats cuddling together, two rabbits facing each other in the room. The words are “HUMANITY (next line) Finite creatures (next line) We can reform thinking to accept our vulnerabilities and reject an ableist perspective.”


Humanity, finite creatures

We are all human, and we all have limitations. Rejecting the ableist paradigm not only allows the neurodivergent to be appreciated but also the neurotypical to accept their imperfections.