NEURODIVERSITY

Neurodiversity is the concept of embracing the differences in the way each of our brains are wired. John Elder Robison, author of Look Me In The Eye: My Life With Asperger’s, wrote an article for Psychology Today. which really described it best, “neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome.”

Through the neurodiversity lens, ADHD, among other neurobiological conditions, does not become something that needs a cure. These individuals are not seen as broken or in need of fixing. Indeed, this idea is becoming increasingly supported by science where ADHD is considered only as some deviation from the standard in the range of cognitive differences.

 

That’s what I’d like to address right now, our standard of cognitive thinking. I think Jonathan Mooney; author of Learning Outside the Lines, and public speaker, best detailed this in his presentation, The Gift: LD/ADHD Reframed. How we have come to value education, especially reading and spelling, has only come about since the Industrial Revolution. Before that, farming was considered a far more accurate measurement of how smart and successful one was. And before that, back in the times of Greek philosophers, heck, even in biblical times, a talented orator was far more valued than a writer. In other words, these measures of success and value are self-imposed by cultural norms, not objective truths.

 

How smart are you?”

becomes

“How are you smart?”

 

Neurodiversity identifies different types of intelligence: artistic, teaching, mathematical, interpersonal, and kinesthetic, among many, many others. This concept is so freeing because it embraces everybody without prejudice. Now, everyone has value, not just the spelling-whiz-kid, and possibilities for contribution and purpose become infinite! As John Elder Robison put it, “Asserting that I am different – not defective – is a much healthier position to take. Realizing the idea is supported by science is even better.”

 

So, the whole conversation changes. Neurodiversity does not suggest that culturally inappropriate behaviors be accepted, but that the treatment of individuals with cognitive differences should include help and accommodations. Even these will be unique to individuals; there is no cookie-cutter solution for any issue. This is, in part, why I became an ADHD coach. Coaching addresses each individual uniquely so that they may figure out for themselves what solutions will work for them.

 

Solution: Embrace the concept of neurodiversity. Find out all you can on the subject, it’s made me a convert.

 

There are so many people out in the world doing great work in the areas of neuroscience, cognitive behavioral therapy, cultural awareness, education, disability policy, special education (SEPTA), other health clinicians, and community support; there are too many areas to mention in this space.

 

Suggestion: Go online and search these and other categories for information, just try and stick to reputable organizations, like TED, and individuals, like John Robison and Jonathan Mooney. Ask your doctor, counselor, or others with cognitive differences what they know about neurodiversity and keep that conversation alive using what you learn with your friends and family. Remember, it takes a village.

 

 

photo credit:  Issue 17. (2011, September 28). Retrieved April 15, 2014, from http://www.bluesci.org/?page_id=4703

5 thoughts on “NEURODIVERSITY

  1. Hi Jennie,
    in my experience the neurodiversity perspective is an important one. My own experience is of having my ADHD recognised at age 46, despite being a family physician.
    My observations are that yes, I do think differently to most. I have different aptitudes and gifts to those of the neurotypical population- and I am very happy to have those gifts.
    However we have to balance appreciation of those gifts with appreciation of the real impairments that ADHD involves. There are also real problems that are effectively “broken parts”. Basic ADHD behaviours such as emotional impulsivity, tactless but funny comments, irritability, inability to stick to the speed limit, inability to sit down and do one’s tax return or to pay bills on time are real impairments and will result in unavoidable negative consequences if not corrected.
    I can speak from experience here- ADHD individuals are often disorganised, oversensitive and prone to angry outbursts. There is no accommodation possible that will prevent one’s spouse from finding the marriage intolerable and leaving it.
    These parts of ADHD are not normal variants of human behaviour- and a badly affected ADHD individual would not be able to survive and support himself without external assistance, and cannot reach the level of independence necessary to lead a satisfying, autonomous adult life. That is probably why so many badly affected adult ADHD males end up either homeless taking advantage of the supported accomodation available in our prison system.

    One of the biggest reservations I have about the whole disability and accommodations model is that it assumes that these impairments are fixed and we are stuck with them. This is simply not true- if we are fortunate to access good care most of the major elements of the disorder can be settled to the point of no longer being impairing. (as an example, despite being extremely restless and distractable most of my life, I can now sit still and meditate so well that I actually teach meditation).

    When considering neurodiversity we need to
    1)avoid understating the impairments associated with the condition
    2) Understand that accommodations for many of those impairments involve unreasonable demands upon the people expected to make those accommodations
    3) Be aware that any accommodations offered should ideally be offered with a view to providing a safe base that will allow an individual to become more functional. (IE One patient I am seeing now is simply too impaired to be employable- and we have developed an action plan to provide income support for a couple of years to give him time to rehabilitate).
    4) Be aware that all individuals are neurodiverse. The real issue here is that there are very few environmentally different workplace niches available in our corporatised world, and most of these niches are really quite toxic to the physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of most employees- ADHD or not.

    1. I appreciate your sharing your viewpoint, Dr. Kinsella. It is essential in having several, I think, in order to really flesh out the topic. To your point, real problems can result from severe ADHD symptoms. I think most people are unaware of the degrees of severity and variability involved in ADHD. It often seems assumed that all things about ADHD are equal when, in fact, they are not. For example, a child may be noticeably hyperactive yet have no real discernible problems with emotional regulation. After many years, this same person may have the hyperactivity manifest as mental restlessness more than physical and mistakenly people think they outgrew it. Severely affected in one area does not mean that the person over time or in a different context will not present differently. I digress, back to the four points you listed. Yes, I agree there can be extreme impairment. I am not one to fling around the word “gift” so easily. I know most things have two sides and depend on context. I found your statement, “There is no accommodation possible that will prevent one’s spouse from finding the marriage intolerable and leaving it” ironic. In my family, it was my dad with ADHD that was the spouse to leave the marriage. I guess my real desire, and why I wrote this, is for people to realize there is another way to look at cognitive differences so we may lose the stigma one day. ADHD is just such a misunderstood condition. I do know, however, there are corporate successes with ADHD, two of my clients are prime examples. But I also agree with you that too many environments within the corporatized world are not well-suited for anyone. If you have ADHD this could be because you engage mainly when your interest is stimulated or your curiosity is peaked versus because the boss said it was important to do exactly this in exactly that way. But I don’t have ADHD and am thrilled to have moved out of the corporate world, myself! Thank you for participating and furthering the discussion.
      ~ Jennie

    2. I am sick and tired of this line of reasoning. You doctors screwed up and don’t want to admit it.

      I had been taught that I had needed to “function” in society from the day I was born. For me this meant sit down, shut up, and get in line.

      I never wanted to change. The world wanted to change me. I just wanted to be accepted. Replace ADHD with homosexual and you will see how bigoted you are being toward yourself!

      “How dare those homosexuals try to have society accommodate them by trying to let them get married”

      This is what you sound like. To all my ADHD friends out there. Stop trying to “fit in” instead let your light shine. Be brave and screw everyone who wants to change you.

      I feel you have internalized your oppression. Living in a world that doesn’t accept you will beat you down. But demand it! Fight for it! Fitting in is giving up.

      Stand out.

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