We are all #Neurodiverse, so it’s time to unite, not fight.
Having successfully navigated another April, I feel the time is right to address an issue that’s been irksome to me for longer than I care to remember: Twitter can be an angry place, especially if you are autistic. This is a shame because, for many people of all neuro-types, it represents an opportunity to connect with others and share their ideas (not to mention vent their frustrations) in a way which doesn’t alienate their sensory differences and/or exacerbate their social anxiety. In my reality, however, it’s a place where discussions become arguments too quickly; ceaseless proselytization and projecting one’s voice over others seem to be the motives of many, and I, for one, would sooner disengage rather than participate for the most part. However, as an autistic advocate (and a hypocritical human being) I would also like to have my say!
One of the most hotly debated topics amongst the Autism community – i.e. #ActuallyAutistic people (diagnosed and self-identifying), parents, carers, friends, and professionals (in all forms) – is the concept of #Neurodiversity, so I’m going to attempt to state what it is, who it applies to (the clue’s in the title), and what might be achieved if we embrace it. Please feel free to comment if you disagree (agreement is also welcome!) but I humbly ask you to be respectful. Before I continue, I’d like to say that I felt inspired to write this because of Judy Singer, who recently clarified her position on the concept she created in her book, “NeuroDiversity: the birth of an Idea”, which is well worth a read if you haven’t done so already:
What is #Neurodiversity?
In recognition that all human beings are different in their neurology, and hence their behaviours will also be diverse, the concept of Neurodiversity was coined by Judy Singer in the mid-to-late 1990’s on Martijn Dekker’s InLv. Consequently, everyone is neurodiverse, because every brain is different. Since then, it has evolved to mean many things to different people. The phrase “different, not less”, is often used to signify that autistic people have skills to offer society, and that their different outlook, in this context, is a positive. Temple Grandin even went so far as to publish a book of success stories with that title.
In contrast, many autistic people feel that life is tough, the lack of services provided makes it more so, and yes, they would take a cure if it was on offer to them. Consequently, they don’t want anything to do with the Neurodiversity model.
When preparing to write this post, I asked Twitter whether they believed #ActuallyAutistic people understood the concept as outlined by Judy Singer:
Whether they understood my question, or not, the lack of replies suggests to me that perhaps the autism community at large isn’t as familiar with the original idea as they would like to think. In a recent blog post, Singer herself has moved to draft a new Neurodiversity paradigm. So, according to her blog:
Diversity is a property of populations within habitats and cannot be applied to individuals. You cannot talk about a diverse animal, but you can talk about a habitat that is a home to diverse species
Biodiversity is a property of life on our planet
Neurodiversity is the subset of biodiversity which properly encompasses all beings with a nervous system, but in current usage refers only to humans.
From my reading of her work, Singer seems to believe that the “treasure that is medical science” must be incorporated with the sociological view so that neurological minorities, including autistic people, have more of a say in how they are defined.
To whom does it apply?
What might be achieved if we embrace the Neurodiversity Paradigm?
Since this new paradigm is still a work in progress, one cannot be certain. However, I hope that, once it is fully formed, it might be embraced by everyone so that the autism community will be less inclined to engage in the sort of arguments which prevail at this point. I think there can be latitude given to those who seek a cure whilst pointing out that others, like myself, would simply like to live in a society where they can contribute without the need to mask their differences. I feel that time spent arguing about who is “right” or “wrong” could be better spent campaigning for reasonable adjustments which would make our lives easier, and I know that if we were to put aside our ontological differences then this end would be easier to accomplish.