What is Neurodiversity?

DiversityTreeThe suggestion that the human genome is a diverse and forever evolving is a concept embraced when discussing the term neurodiversity. Conditions like Autism and ADHD are viewed as naturally occurring changes within the human genome, and that they have been prevalent since the day dot.

The human species is a collection of diversity, and human brains are no different. We are all a culmination of genetics, up bringing, culture, education and circumstance.  We are an incredibly diverse species and all the aforementioned factors make an individual.

Although a hotbed of fiery debate within the autism community the foundations of neurodiversity is continually backed up by more research science, the recognition that autism, ADHD and other “pathologically diagnosed” conditions are a result of genetics, coding and environment as opposed to any damage caused by, for example, vaccination.

The term neurodiversity itself dates back to at least the late 1990’s but has come to the fore in more recent times, but there is a whole audience of people, neurotypical and autistic who have never heard the term before.

Neurodiversity is based on the premise that the world needs different kinds of minds.  A 2011 study by Dr. Lauren Mottron, Phd., from the University of Montreal’s Centre for Excellence in Pervasive Development Disorders, found that in certain niches, autism can be viewed as an advantage.  Dr. Mottron found that autistic brains rely less on verbal centers and demonstrate stimulation in regions that process both visual information and language.  This leads to advantages in spotting patterns in distracting environments, auditory tasks such as discriminating sound pitches, detecting visual structures, and mentally manipulating complex 3-dimensional shapes.  They are also able to simultaneously process large amounts of perceptual information as data sets, and often have instantaneous and correct recall.

Their lack of interest in social mores lead them to be unmoved by office politics or public acclaim.  In many circles, this can be viewed as a negative trait, but for areas where precision and technical expertise are required, social politics may be viewed as an unnecessary distraction.

Mottron says,

“Recent data and my own personal experience suggest it’s time to start thinking ofautism as an advantage in some spheres, not a cross to bear.”

While there are many who would agree with Dr. Mottron, others express concern over the difficulties faced by many who are on the autism spectrum.  Jonathon Tarbox, Phd, BCBA, director of research and development at the Center for Autism and Related disorders, says,

“I think it’s critically important to acknowledge the potential strengths associated with autism, but it’s equally important, if not more important, to reiterate the notion of the right to effective treatment.”

He goes on to say,

“If an individual with [autism] is having a difficult time in their life because they don’t know how to do something that they want to do, and there is a proven effective method to teach that skill, then we as fellow humans have a moral and ethical responsibility to provide the treatment that addresses it.”

Ari Ne’eman from ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network) says,

“Our website has comprehensive information on our prior advocacy work, including ample instances in which we have clearly presented our work as within the context of the disability rights movement and the scope of disability policy. While we do not view autism as a disease to be cured, we do view it as a disability and have always incorporated close collaboration with the broader disability community in our advocacy.”

Clearly, the debate over neurodiversity is complicated.  There are many talented individuals on the autism spectrum who have used their gifts to make the world a better place, but there are also those who struggle with everyday tasks, and who may have debilitating co-morbid conditions that need treatment.

There are parents who view autism as a thief in the night who stole their child, and there are others living with autism who only wish to be accepted for who they are.  There are no easy answers, but both sides have valid concerns.