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Specialisterne Foundation

Specialisterne Foundation is a not-for-profit foundation with the goal to generate meaningful employment for one million autistic/neurodivergent persons through social entrepreneurship, corporate sector engagement and a global change in mindset.




Jan 12, 2023

It’s been a while since a new word has appeared into the world of Diversity & Inclusion: neuroinclusion. But, what does it mean?


It is a neologism, and like many words of recent creation it does not have a single definition, nor was there an extended and consistent use of this term so as to suggest a clear interpretation. For the moment, the word neuroinclusion is being used in two different ways and the differences, although they may look barely significant at first glance, can profoundly modify its meaning.

We can describe neuroinclusion as the inclusion of individuals who present neurocognitive differences compared to the average population, in other words, neuroatypical or neurodivergent people. Or we can think of neuroinclusion in relation with the concept of neurodiversity, which means, imagining neuroinclusion as the equal cohabitation of all neurotypes, both typical and divergent. According to this interpretation, it wouldn’t be the inclusion of those who are viewed as different from the average, the classical paternalist inclusion, even if it comes from good intentions.

Neurodiversity, that is to say, the variations in human neural development, allows us to describe neurological diversity from a different point of view, from an angle that focuses on the idea of differences, not deficits, whether real or pretended. That doesn’t mean there will be no difficulties, that any autistic, dyslexic, dyspraxic person won’t come across a series of obstacles or need support. Focusing on the idea of diversity interpreted as the variability of characteristics, in other words, discussing neurodiversity, means making everyone understand that people cannot be defined only by their deficiencies and/or deficits,because that would be in all cases an unreliable approach to reality.

Hence, there is the tendency to speak more about the inclusion of neurodivergencies (and not about neurodiversity, which is a mistake) or actually about neuroinclusion.

The problem is that most of the time these suppositions are wrong because neurotypical models are imposed upon neurodivergent individuals. What happens then is that there is an attempt to push different people to use adaptation strategies in order to compensate for what are still being perceived as deficits, because of their comparisons with a neurotypical model, the “usual” one. […]

This is the classical model of inclusion, a process imposed from above that repeats itself in the same way, like a clone, even when we talk about neuroinclusion: I, the “normal” citizen, am allowing you to join our group but you, neurodivergent, autistic, tourettic, or ADHD, need to learn how to do things my way. As a result, the difficulties of the interaction between these two social groups, neurotypical and neurodivergent, is almost never shared, but actually transferred to the underrepresented group.

In contrast, it would be useful if those who are committed to labour inclusion started from the idea of reciprocity we talked about in depth on many other occasions. It is not enough to educate the “different” so that they behave as “normal”. Why is the idea of reciprocity so fundamental? Because it does not take away the dignity of neurodivergent people, it does not impose on them the responsibility to change, from having to do things better and overcoming difficulties that go against their own nature. As an example, encouraging autistic people to resist sensory stimuli from whom their neurology is not made to resist, would be the same as encouraging someone in a wheelchair to walk. […]

And this is the point I wanted to emphasise, the real meaning of neuroinclusion which is not only the inclusion of neurodivergence because it would still be based on the classical, paternalist and dysfunctional model of inclusion imposed from above. The idea that one group of people is better than another, and that they can allow “inferior” beings to become a part of their world. In contrast, we think of neuroinclusion as the cohabitation of different neurotypes, neurodivergent and typical ones, the cohabitation of neurodiversity, in fact, the “neurocoexistence”.

[This is an extract from the book «Di pari passo, il lavoro oltre l’idea di inclusione», by Fabrizio Acanfora, ed Luiss University Press]

(Fabrizio Acanfora, autistic person, responsible of Communication and External Relations of Specialisterne Italia)


(Text translated by Gerard Glas from Specialisterne Spain)