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This blog post started out as a Reddit comment. It is turned into a blog post upon request so it can be cited properly. Unfortunately I don’t currently have the time or the energy to write a proper blog post, so this is mostly the text of my comment plus some additional context. Apologies for the raw form of all this.

See also my 2021 video presentation on The History of the Neurodiversity Concept. (link added 30th June 2023)

Update (14th July 2023): New evidence. See A correction on the origin of the term ‘neurodiversity’

Was neurodiversity really Judy Singer’s original idea?
A little history lesson

29th June 2023


For the last decade or so, Judy Singer has been widely considered to be the godmother of the neurodiversity movement for having introduced the idea of neurodiversity to academia. But recently she vented some extremely anti-transgender ideas and terms, and criticised the current neurodiversity movement, calling it “cultish” and accusing it of excluding “profoundly” autistic people.

My response

Time for a little history lesson, folks. I was there when the neurodiversity ideas took shape in the 1990s. Follow the links below for complete information.

Contrary to what Judy Singer claims these days, the ideas behind the neurodiversity movement were never hers. They were the autistic community’s. She was a member of my group in the 1990s. The ideas developed there, from our emotional labour which was in turn based on ground work laid by Autism Network International, Jim Sinclair in particular. It is at ANI that the neurodiversity movement truly began, in 1992.

And it’s worth noting Sinclair is an intersex person who uses xe/xem/xyr pronouns (yes, back in the 1990s); non-standard gender identities have always been accepted in and part of this movement.

In 1998, Singer slapped that catchy “neurodiversity” word on our ideas, basing her thesis on our discussions, our explorations, our process of self-discovery. Now she claims it was all her original idea.

Singer introduced those ideas into the academic world, which was a good thing that she deserved credit for. Even then, though, she was largely framing neurodiversity as being for “high functioning” people, though our communities (ANI and mine, the two that existed then) always included “low functioning” autistics. Yet, back in those days, she seemed largely reasonable and on our side.

That changed pretty soon afterwards. In the 2000s, she ran a project/community called ASpar, for children raised by autistic parents. In the beginning ( link) it wasn’t so ableist, but it became worse and worse. In the form that is now still available, it contains a lot of stories (undoubtedly true) from people raised by abusers, and that is passed off as the reality of “what it’s like to be raised by Autistic parents”. So, though the stories may be true, their selection and bias demonises all autistic parents as horrible unfeeling monsters. As a cherry on that very sour cake, the site’s Controversy page is dedicated to humiliating an autistic person who wrote in to object. Note that Singer was not identifying as autistic then.

Then she seemed to disappear for a long time.

Then, in 2015, Steve Silberman published his book, Neurotribes, which put neurodiversity in the public spotlight. And Singer came back into the public eye, claiming to have invented it all, and (of course) re-identifying herself as autistic. She is very happy to claim credit and receive accolades for it all – for the autistic community’s work which she is passing off as hers.

And now, Singer has basically self-destructed on Twitter by coming out as a total flaming TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist – basically, anti-transgender bigot). So, the extreme alt right has now been showering her with love, and I think we can expect worse from her in future.

So, here we are. A large swathe of the neurodiversity movement has been uncritically putting Singer on a pedestal for years, without bothering to research any of these things, and is now finding out who she is. This movement really needs to learn to be more in touch with its own history.


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