What is Neurodiversity?
The short explanation: neurodiversity is the idea that we are all different in terms of brain wiring. Variations can and do occur, and should be regarded as differences instead of “disorders” to be cured.
Now for the longer explanation.
A good percentage of people are what one would call “normal” or “neurotypical”. Deviations from that norm can occur in many different forms, including ADD/ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, other autism spectrum disorders. Some may consider other kinds of conditions, such as bipolar disorder and dyslexia, to be manifestations of such deviations as well (this blog will primarily deal with neurodiversity and Asperger Syndome). What neurodiversity means is that atypical differences in brain wiring and neurological states that affect processing information, perceiving, communicating, and cognition should be embraced and accepted. And what this boils down to is that we who are affected by these conditions may not believe that they are “things” to be “fixed”. Rather, we may just frame them as differences.
Opinions on Neurodiversity
There are many sides of the neurodiversity argument. Organizations such as Autism Speaks are typically “pro-cure” — they have historically framed autism spectrum disorders as tragic events and seek ways to prevent and cure them. Some individuals and organizations argue quite the opposite, that there is no “cure” for these conditions; framing them as differences they instead seek tolerance, understanding, and resources to enable those on the spectrum to live happy and fulfilling lives. Some go as far as to distance themselves from the “disabled” term and a few even suggest that those on the spectrum are superior to normal people, or “neurotypicals”.
What Do You Believe?
I am a supporter of the neurodiversity concept. I don’t think that Asperger’s is something to be fixed. Research has suggested that autism spectrum disorders are a result of atypical brain development; the frontal cortex may be overdeveloped and overwired, while the limbic system (which handles emotion) is underdeveloped. This is a rather simplistic explanation, but it does suggest that attempting to “cure” an individual is problematic at best since this would require messing with the brain, a rather delicate and important structure in the human body. Rather, I feel that the focus should be on providing individuals with spectrum disorders with the tools and resources they need, as well as education and working towards greater tolerance of individual differences.
Additionally, many of us on the spectrum have been able to use some aspects of ourselves — persistence, an incredible ability to focus, an interest in objects rather than people, a unique style of thinking, and our narrow interests — to help make the world a better place; this includes individuals such as Nikola Tesla, who contributed to the birth of electricity; Dr. Temple Grandin, who has contributed greatly to the promotion of humane livestock handling in the United States; inventor and scientist George Washington Carver, who found many uses for alternate crops (namely the peanut, the sweet potato, and the soybean) for Southern farmers working with soil depleted from multiple plantings of cotton. The arts are also full of individuals who may have been on the spectrum: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll); Paul Robeson; Syd Barrett (songwriter and singer for Pink Floyd); Hans Christian Anderson; and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
I am certainly not denying that some aspects of our conditions may present challenges. There is the sensory dysfunction, which can limit our ability to tolerate certain environments. There is also the social dysfunction, which can cause us to have difficulty with and even be frightened of social situations. All of these can result in some real difficulties, and perhaps lead to frustration and isolation. HOWEVER, this does not have to happen, and we also have positive gifts along with the difficulties. For example, as a poet I tend to be highly visual in my work, because I am primarily a visual thinker. I have the ability to translate the images in my mind into words, which become the imagery that my poems are made out. I also tend to be an analytical sort, which aids me in my writing as well as the execution of some tasks.
Neurodiversity and WWA
As I’ve mentioned above, I believe heavily in the neurodiversity concept. I would not deny a cure to those who would want it for themselves, but I also believe in the right of those who would not want one to refuse it; thus, I believe in individual choice. I believe that we should not look at ourselves as individuals on the spectrum as freaks, defects, or weirdos — instead, it would be better to accept ourselves as we are, both in strengths and limitations.
I’ll borrow an analogy from the X-Men comic series: I would say I am closer to Dr. Xavier’s line of thinking than Magneto’s in regards to folks on the spectrum in that I don’t hate or look down on neurotypicals, but I feel that we as people on the spectrum do need support, resources, and greater tolerance and understanding. Thus, my views will certainly color the outlook and tone of posts on this blog, and I will be writing primarily from a stance of neurodiversity. In the end, I sincerely hope that WWA can be a vehicle to help promote greater awareness, understanding, and tolerance.