Coming to Terms with Neurodiversity
Until a month ago, I had never heard of the term Neurodiversity or of the Neurodiversity Paradigm. Until a month ago, I had no idea that I would one day identify as Neurodivergent.
Now, I’m intrigued and eager to learn more about it. My creative and enlightened daughter, Jade, who studies professionally about diversity in all cultural forms (race, gender, sexual orientation, psychology, and neurology) educated me about this progressive concept and reformist movement. She inspired me so much, and I’m thrilled to mention that we’re currently collaborating on a children’s book project with the theme of Neurodiversity. Because we believe it’s important to be authentic in our representation in the book, we are both Neurodivergents.
In case you haven’t been following along with me on my blog,
The Neurodiversity Paradigm is the perspective that everyone has different neurocognitive functioning. There is no “normal” way to think, process, feel, behave, or communicate because everyone’s brain is different and each person uses their brain in different ways to do these things.
Don’t you find that there are systems and expectations set up in our culture that restricts and places a stigma on people who have mental health conditions and neurological differences? Anyone on the autism spectrum, who has depression, and/or anxiety, and other conditions that affect the brain are viewed in mainstream culture as “abnormal” or diseased.
The Neurodiversity Paradigm is an outlook on human neurology that understands neurological conditions as differences rather than disorders.
What exactly is Neurodiversity?
Now, when I first heard about this, I was perplexed. I wondered why had it taken so long for this new way of looking at neurological differences to emerge in our culture? Why had I (who has been diagnosed with Depression, Anxiety, and ADHD) not taken this outlook towards myself until recently?
I’m feeling motivated to want to find out as much scientific research on Neurodiversity as I can. Based on that research and what I already know about it, I want to hopefully spread some awareness. First, we need to go back to when it all began…
History of the Neurodiversity Movement
One of the first activists to use the term Neurodiversity was an Australian activist named Judy Singer. Judy is on the autism spectrum herself and her mother and daughter have Asperger’s. Singer says of her motivations to start and be part of the movement, “I was interested in the liberatory, activist aspects of it—to do for neurologically different people what feminism and gay rights had done for their constituencies.”
American writer Harvey Blume states in a 1998 issue of The Atlantic, “Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment? Cybernetics and computer culture, for example, may favor a somewhat autistic cast of mind.”
In this same article, he mentions Judy Singer’s quote that she made from her book in a chapter titled: “Why Can’t You Be Normal For Once in Your Life?” “For me, the key significance of the ‘Autistic Spectrum’ lies in its call for and anticipation of a politics of Neurological Diversity, or what I want to call ‘Neurodiversity.’ The ‘Neurologically Different’ represent a new addition to the familiar political categories of class/gender/race and will augment the insights of the social model of disability.”
On December 1, 2007, in response to a series of offensive advertisements from the NYU Child Study Center, Ari Ne’eman co-founded The Autistic Self Advocacy Network and began a massive protest in support of the rights of autistic people. With the help of medical advocates, major American disability groups, and autistic people themselves, the campaign soon grew.
Former scientific and disease (deficit) model theories about autism were being challenged and attitudes in our culture started to change about autism and autistic people as documented in Wired Magazine and the New York Times.
“A deficit model has largely dominated most professional and academic discourse on autism over the last century. This deficit model presents autistic people as individuals severely limited by a disordered neurology that causes major impairments in their cognition and ability to interact with the surrounding social and physical world. Under the deficit model, autistic people are portrayed as broken humans who are ill and require fixing to enable them to function normally in society. In contrast, non-autistic people are viewed as neurologically healthy and psychologically well.”
Controversy with Immunizations
It should be cited here that a decade before the movement was just starting to emerge, a clinical research paper about autism and vaccines was published in a respected British medical journal called The Lancet.
The paper stated that the so-called MMR vaccine (a combined vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella) also caused autism in young children.
The paper was later retracted and new scientific evidence proved the paper to be wrong.
“A team of researchers from Columbia University, Massachusetts General Hospital and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had tried and failed to replicate the earlier findings. The new study adds weight to a growing body of epidemiological studies and reviews that have debunked the notion that childhood vaccines cause autism. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the C.D.C. and the World Health Organization have found no evidence of a causal link between vaccines and autism.”
Unfortunately, the new research wasn’t highly publicized enough, and parents across the world did not vaccinate their children out of fear of the risk of autism, thereby exposing their children to the risks of disease and the well-documented complications related thereto. Measles outbreaks in the UK in 2008 and 2009 as well as pockets of measles in the USA and Canada were attributed to the nonvaccination of children. Some parents to this day still worry about vaccinating their children.
Despite these obstacles, the Neurodiversity movement was becoming more widespread and new terminology in the mental health and social communities were evolving.
The definition and perspectives of autism were changing.
Over most of the 20th century, autism was considered by most of our society as a flaw in the gene pool and in some cases, autistic children were labeled as having many different human diseases and ailments such as— “schizoid personality disorder,” “childhood schizophrenia,” “children with circumscribed interests,” “minimal brain damage,” and “multiplex personality disorder,”.
These have since been outdated, but there are still some people; recognized medical professionals, government agencies, mental health organizations, and some parents of autistic children, that consider autism and many autism spectrum conditions as errs in the human genome that needs to be “cured.” In Neurodiversity, this is called the Pathology Paradigm.
The Pathology Paradigm is the assumption that there is one “right” style of human neurocognitive functioning. Variations in neurocognitive functioning that diverge substantially from socially constructed standards of “normal” – including the variations that constitute autism – are framed within this paradigm as medical pathologies, as deficits, damage, or “disorders.”
Neurodiversity terminology seeks to define former stigmatizing labels that misrepresent and limit people, and instead uses terms that empower them and respectfully and correctly identify who they are. Please visit neurocosmopolitanism.com for a full glossary of terms.
Currently, for many Neurodivergents and Neurotypical Allies, The Neurodiversity Paradigm is not only a concept and movement, but a biological fact.
Personally, I feel proud and honored to be part of this.
As for society, we need to learn, respect, accept, and talk about one another’s mental health. We need to get rid of misrepresenting language and cultural systems that demean people and don’t even work for some of us.
Finally, we need to embrace the uniqueness of each of our own neurological differences and come to terms with neurodiversity.
Tracy Bryan writes whimsical books for kids ages 4-12. She likes to tackle important and diverse topics that affect kids and their families.
Stay tuned for Tracy and Jade Bryan's new picture book called Spectrum
(All sales and proceeds from Spectrum will be used for the creation and publishing of the book and the remainder will be donated to a creative organization that advocates Neurodiversity, Neurodivergent Artists and Creatives and that offers support and impacts the lives of fellow Neurodivergents!)
Essential & Interesting Neurodiversity References