We often believe there are certainties grounded in common sense just before we are made to feel remarkably impassioned by the lack of this truth. Neurodiversity is a biological concept so new and so controversial, the word barely exists in a modern dictionary. Put simply, it suggests that the contrasts found in neurodivergent brains, such as those that display indicators of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), developmental speech disorders, Dyslexia or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), are natural genetic variations in the human genome to be appreciated and therefore, not a disorder at all.
Instead, the concept of neurodiversity creates a shared space within neurological intellect that validates and embraces cognitive differences. It promotes alternative possibilities of definition by suggesting that some situations in biology may benefit from a mind with non-traditional wires. In my opinion, this topic has complex cultural implications worth exploring.
Among these is the suggestion that these differences can be painfully problematic in preventing social integration and therefore, we are obligated to intervene on the development of others. So then we must ask ourselves, to what extent is this type of imposition ethical?
As someone who used to practice Applied Behavioral Analysis as a registered Behavioral Therapist, I can recall moments of true internal conflict when it came to my core belief system, and the therapy I was implementing for my patients who would certainly fall into the neurodivergent category. How do you balance the promotion of healthy social or communicative function in the presence of clear disability, with the entitlement of each individual to advocate for their own needs? Is intervention warranted when self-harm or aggression is present? Are these maladaptive behaviors indicative of the internal processes behavioral science intentionally ignores due to the inability to concretely know or measure psychological events? For me, this philosophy clearly created more questions than answers despite intermittent moments of relief or success.
Alternately, detractors of neurodiversity are concerned that this term takes away from the increasingly apparent impairment associated with those of a low-functioning diagnosis. Likewise, they claim data does not support the neurodiverse of history. For example, are the occurrences of neurodivergent labels indeed increasing or is medical detection improving? Therein lies the problem of attempting to apply a fixed concept to a spectrum of variables.
A final concern includes the romanticizing of otherwise devastating illnesses that are responsible for vastly reducing one’s quality of life, as well as that of their caretakers. In his blog, “How “Neurodiversity” is Hurting Our Kids”, J. B. Handley observes these words from an individual with Autism Spectrum Disorder,
“The autistic community finds the whole idea of a cure abhorrent. There have always been neurodivergent people. They are not sick or wrong. They are disabled by the neurotypical world that thinks there is only ‘their’ normal, not by their different neurology. Please listen to the autistics who have the right to speak for themselves. Not those who want to eliminate neurodivergence. There is no epidemic. Just better diagnosis and recognition. In past generations we did not know what we were seeing or have the labels. It still existed.”
Handley goes on to dispute this claim and highlight the co-morbid physical afflictions associated with neurodivergent populations. However, this does not negate the value of sharing the voice of an individual capable to describing this phenomena directly from the source.
Rather than claim a side of this debate, I have no problem admitting to my readers that I simply do not know because I have not invested enough time in the research. That said, I don’t know that any of us can truly say we have. I attempt, instead, to be a non-bias conversation starter.
Discuss: What do you think of the concept of neurodiversity? Is it a concept or a biological fact? Does it add to the forward momentum of our species by way of resilience or adaptation, or detract from the validity of our disabled population? Can both be true simultaneously?
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For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!
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