What is Neurodiversity?
I went and read this lovely post written by Neurodivergent Rebel: What is Neurodiversity? Does it Exclude People with Severe Disabilities?. It got me thinking about the topic. I wrote a long response to this and now I think that a post is in order.
Let’s start with me directing you to read this post by Nick Walker: Neurodiversity Some Basic Terms and Definitions. He offers an excellent explanation of the terminology that makes this (and other) discussions easier. I personally will be using the terminology in the manner outlined in his post. So, if you are confused by how I am using the language, read his post for clarity.
Nick Walker also has a great post that discusses the ideas that area associated with the term “neurodiversity”: Throw Away the Masters Tools: Liberating Ourselves From the Pathology Paradigm. I will be referring to this post a great deal within my following discussion. So, my post will probably make more sense if you read his post first.
While I was over at Neurodivergent Rebel’s blog, I made the following comment on the afore mentioned post.
I personally dislike the neurodivergent term. I have worked with a lot of people as a RN for 20 years now and I have honestly never met anyone who is “neurotypical.” What I don’t like about the term is that it reinforces that idea that we are something apart from other people when we are not. How much someone is effected by the disorder largely determines how much help they need in life, but this is no different then someone with back problems or those who have had a stroke. I rather like focusing my energy on meeting people where they are. Everyone is different so we are all divergent. As far as the cure conversation goes, I think it is amazingly complex. Does my ADHD and OCD need to be cured? Would I want one if it was available to me? I don’t know. I’m not sure that question is any more clear for those more effected. I have worked with plenty of people who have treatment options but choose to stay as they are, untreated. But I will say, that I have sought treatment for myself because my functional level was so low and if asked then about a cure, I would have taken it without hesitation. So, like anything in health care, I think that we need to make options available and then let people choose for themselves. But I think that the core solution to most of this is simple tolerance. Humans tend to be resistant to things that are different then they are. We are rather egocentric like that. It isn’t because we hate each other, we just have a difficult time getting outside our own box. Humans are funny creatures…
It is difficult to express your view point on an issue while making a comment on someone’s post. Seriously, this was a pretty long comment as is. But the comment is a bit misleading and is using the terms in a different way then presented by Nick Walker. Since I really like the clarity that his post offers, I will be changing my language in this post to match what he has presented. I think that will make my ideas more clear and my explanation more functional.
First, let me clarify that I have worked in healthcare for 20 years, 13 of them as an RN. Before that I was a RA, CNA and EMT. This point probably doesn’t matter in context of this post, but it bugs me that I wrote it funny in the comment. Which means I have to fix here. Because my brain says so.
So, here goes!
I want to talk about what I agree with and what I don’t. I pretty much agree with the neurodiversity paradigm. I agree that the science has demonstrated that everyone’s brain is different which means that neurodiversity is a reality. There just doesn’t seem to be much to debate there. Everything about individuals is unique. In that manner, we all are divergent everything. I have a bit of an issue with the idea of “normal.” When we use the word normal in the world of health care, we are really saying is “the statistical average.” This doesn’t mean that being outside that average equates with bad. When something is outside the average (normal) but healthy we refer to this as “benign” or a statistically an outlier. Meaning it doesn’t hurt anything. Nick said “The social dynamics that manifest in regard to neurodiversity are similar to the social dynamics that manifest in regard to other forms of human diversity.” Which I also agree with. We have a difficult time understanding things that are different then ourselves. We, as humans, are inherently egocentric. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have compassion or the capacity to understand others. It just means that we have a difficult time perceiving the world the way that other people do.
When I see the terms “neurodivergent” and “neurotypical” I get a bit of brisling fur (yes, pigs have fur). These words reinforce the idea that we are some how different then other people because we have a mental illness. We’re not. We’re different, just like everyone else. Because all of us are divergent, it is impossible for someone to be neurotypical. How do you even define neurotypical? What does that look like? I haven’t met that person. I let you know if I do, but I find it unlikely that I ever will.
There are a lot of things that I disagree with in the way that people are pushing with the neurodivergent movement. But there are also things that I like. Starting with the things that I like. I love that people are out there encouraging each other to embrace and love themselves as they are. That’s wonderful. I love that people are trying to ensure that all people are being treated with respect and dignity. I love that people are trying to break down the stigma that comes with mental illness. I love that people are trying to ensure that everyone is getting the things that they need and are treated equally.
Now, the things that I disagree with. First, I believe that there is such a thing as a pathological brain. Not all differences are good differences. Some differences hurt people. Does anyone want to try to convince me that the mind of a serial killer is not pathological and that it isn’t something that we should work towards changing? How about those who are homicidal or suicidal? That is pathology. It fundamentally goes against life. I personally feel that any state of mind that would drive a person to extinguish life is pathological. Life is sacred and should never be snuffed out.
Lets consider the less clear cut pathology. There are people who are plagued by their own minds. I have met people that have hallucinations and delusions that cause them constant fear. They live in a world that they believe is trying to destroy them. I will argue that this is pathological. I saw a person who was literally peeling back their skin, down to the muscle because they believed that there was a “darkness” in their bones. That is pathological. It is also neurodivergent. But I cannot stand next to these people and tell them that they need to embrace themselves as they are. I will not tell them that they do not need treatment. I believe that this is pathology and that we need to offer them treatment that will allow them to know peace.
“The Neurodiversity Movement is a social justice movement that seeks civil rights, equality, respect, and full societal inclusion for the neurodivergent.” I agree that civil rights, equality and respect should be afforded to all people. But I also agree that there are times that civil rights need to be restricted and that full societal inclusion should not always be allowed. Consider again that serial killer. Sorry, but their civil rights need to be restricted and they should not be given societal inclusion. They need to be locked up and given treatment in a manner that prevents them from causing harm. There are times that involuntary treatment is appropriate. I agree with that. When someone is trying to hurt other people, whose rights do we consider first? Do we allow them full societal inclusion and disregard the right for safety to all those around them? Sometimes giving rights to one person means taking it from someone else.
Something that we look at in the mental health field is functionality. This is another hot spot for the neurodivergent movement. There are those in this movement that would argue that the word functionally really means “functioning like the neurotypicals.” That’s not what functional means. Being functional means that you can meet your every day needs. Can you feed yourself? Can you wash yourself? Can you go about your day in a manner that allows you to meet your biological needs? If I was talking about those who’ve had a stroke, no one would bat an eye if I said that I was evaluating their functionality. There is no difference. It is my job to help people reach a point that they can be functional in this manner. It doesn’t matter if they are struggling because of a stroke or because of depression. They are struggling. That’s the part that matters.
The pathology paradigm has it’s place in this conversation. But we also need to embrace the fact that each of us are different. If we are functional and not hurting other people, then we’re ok. My brain works in a strange way. I have a war of rodents going on in my head, but I can meet my needs. I can get through the day. That’s the part that matters. I’m not plagued by the strange things that go on in my head. That’s the part that matters. Embrace your differences because there is nothing fundamentally wrong with being different. But there is something wrong with hurting other people or hurting yourself or being plagued by your own mind or not being able to meet your own needs. These are the things that are problems, not being different. Trying to include all the divergent brains into a single category of “ok” just doesn’t work. Life and the universe is more complex than that.
What’s the solution? Compassion. Helping each other reach our maximum potential and accepting that no one else is just like us. And accepting that as alright. We need to treat all people as people. None of us are better then anyone else. Even those that have a pathological mind are deserving of respect and compassion. None of us have any more value then anyone else. If we can remember that, we could do so much better in this world. Living with loving kindness. That’s the solution.
And rant complete.