Thursday, 22 October 2020
Tuesday, 8 September 2020
I am generally credited with being the originator of the term Neurodiversity while writing a sociology honours thesis,"Odd People In: a personal exploration of a new social movement based on neurological diversity" (UTS Sydney 1998).
I did not define the term, thinking its meaning self-evident. Since then there have been a proliferation of definitions, and as I expected, most people intuitively "get it". But inevitably, some definitions seem to me to miss the point, especially when they take neurodiversity to be a synonym for "neurological disability".
While I understand that language evolves and changes, I am determined to defend my intuitive understanding of the term vigourously, and have thus unpacked the complex meaning furled within it.
To read my definition, click on the "What is Neurodiversity" tab above, or here
- What Neurodiversity is
- What Neurodiversity is not
- What the Neurodiversity Movement is
- Fundamental Principles
- Neurodiversity and Conservation
- The Dark Side of Neurodiversity
- Neurodiversity and Eugenics
- Neurodiversity and "Difference vs Disability"
- The Future of Neurodiversity
I’ve had enough, I just can’t take it anymore,
I. AM. NOT. DOING. IT. ANY. MORE!
Life is too short!
One of my autistic traits is that I am ALWAYS sincere. (Well, almost always, unless I have been taught to fake it for the sake of self-preservation in a dog-eat-dog world business world, where duplicity is the norm, and actual sincerity is viewed with suspicion).
In this world, I understand the Regards Hierarchy thus:
- Kind regards
Opening gambit: we haven’t met yet, so let’s be civilized, and let me assure you that I don’t intend to rip you off, while keeping you at a polite distance
- Warm regards
The next round: We still haven't met, but let’s pretend we are practically bosom buddies
- Just plain unqualified Regards
- [Regards omitted]
We have engaged the services of a Debt Collection Agency
I CAN’T DO THIS! I do not know you! It is literally painful for me to protest emotions that I do not, cannot, have. All I want is a job/a gig/a refund/more time to pay! Why else would I be writing? I don’t know which adjective to use! This is taking me forever! Can we please just get on with it?
Although, I must admit, when someone sends me their “Highest Regards”, I’m like “Wow, reeeeeeeeeeaally? Well OK, if you insist!”.
To avoid drowning in this quagmire, I have composed the following sign off:
Disclaimer: the absence of “Regards” and other salutations and protestations of sincerity in this letter do not signal hostility or unfriendliness on my part.They are merely a recognition that this is a business transaction between people who do not know each other. Sincerity is assumed, unless the matter needs to be taken to the courts.
Related Issue: Kisses
How many x’es in a sign off between friends?
I usually sign letters to female friends as “Jxx”, which seems to me to be just right.
One “x“ would seem too perfunctory, too cold, almost a matter of form, while xxx seems unnecesarily effusive. After all, we should know each other well enough by now to know that of course we have a warm friendship, while not denying that nobody is perfect, and frankly, sometimes we do piss each other off.
This works for me, until someone ruins it and escalates with an extra “x”.
What to do? Should I respond in kind, or will this signal the beginning of an arms race of x’es?
And what if someone then trumps everything with a capital X????
And let’s not even talk about the delicate situation with male friends. So many worrying factors to consider. If I use an “x”, will they feel their manhood threatened? Will they worry that I consider them effeminate? What will their wives think? Will they think I’m offering them a sexual liason?
Best not to even go there.
Yes, folks, my mind really does work this way. I’m serious!
Wednesday, 12 August 2020
This is a typical definition of Neurodiversity found at random on the web. There are innumberable such, all referring to "normal" variations.
First, it's important to be wary of the "passive voice" which confers authority by fudging who is speaking. If there is an omitted "by" in the sentence , it's worth asking "by whom". So...
Regarded by whom? I submit: by an echo chamber of Wiki editors rephrasing earlier Wiki editors. In true viral mode, these definitions were then adopted by myriad respectable institutions and replicated ad infinitum.
Who can blame them? Nobody owns the term. I never defined it either, thinking its meaning self-evident. Nevertheless I will put my oar in based on the intuitive Aha! moment I had while writing the work that contained it.
And for goodness sake, do NOT go to Wikipedia for a definition of Neurodiversity. It seems to be changed almost daily by heaven knows who, and it is clear that most of these people don't "get it", they just mash up earlier misconceptions.
Neurodiversity is not a judgment. It has nothing to say about Normality or Morality.
Neurodiversity names a biological reality, the virtually infinite neuro-cognitive variability within Earth’s human population. It points to the fact that every human has a unique nervous system with a unique combination of abilities and needs. That is all.
Normality is a socially constructed term originating in the 19th century mostly for the use of the bogus science of Eugenics (see my thesis for more detail on the construction of normality).
I recognize that words evolve beyond their origins by way of a dialectical process. But for the record, I intended the word
- to function as an addition to the toolbox of intersectional analysis and
- to suggest a name for the emerging 1990s civil rights movement of NeuroMinorities
And it should never be used as a synonym for Neurological Disability, so that respect for Nature’s awe-inspiring variability and its challenge to our ethics and practices becomes the latest stigmatized term for “the Other”.
Tuesday, 30 June 2020
- I propose that the term "The Vulnerable" is a depoliticized euphemism for people who require social security support due to structural injustice as much as to inherent disability
- I further argue that applying the definite article "The" to minorities is a powerful method of othering them
- While some of us may be inherently vulnerable due to heredity, injury, or life stage, as soon as we require government supports and services, this linguistic sleight of hand subtly strips us of our strengths, our agency, our capacity for choice, and our status as citizens
- Thus reduced to the faceless"Other", we do indeed become vulnerable to stereotype, stigma, pity, and finally compassion fatigue
- And when compassion for minorities is exhausted, all of us become vulnerable to being divided and ruled by the worst of populist demagogues
"We" must do more to help "The Vulnerable".
"Hello", thought I, "I am, or have been, all of the above except homeless and indigenous. But I thought I was part of the concerned and enlightened 'We' attending this symposium, not one of 'Them'!
Suddenly I felt like my sense of competence and belonging was at risk of being ripped away, revealing the tragic mask of "The Vulnerable".
Can "we" avoid imagining ourselves in the Blue Mask
when we consign others to "The Vulnerable" bin?
Image by John Hain from Pixabay
We are all vulnerable to the actions of unregulated enterprises, landlords and employers; predatory pedagogues and priests; inadequate social security entitlements, the policies of neo-liberal ideologues, the incitements of tabloids, and more.
Some alternatives to "The Vulnerable"
- Social Security Recepients (including those who should be but have been denied)
- People made vulnerable by social inequities and exclusions
- Structurally Disempowered People
- Socio-Economic Minorities
- Be specific: unemployed people, sole parents, people shut out from labour markets by age or disability prejudice, people who cannot work and cannot survive on an inadequate pension.
Is "The" the most dangerous word in the English language?
I have heard it described as such. Don't ask me where, but it certainly
Obviously the definite article is hardly dangerous when referring to places and things: the garden or the desk in the study
But when it comes to humans and their collectives (by ethnicity, gender, class, ability etc) history has demonstrated that the danger is real.
Why? Because "the" presumes that the thing being defined is already known, that "we" share a common understanding of its referent, that the meaning attached to it is obvious, self-explanatory, and thus must be universally acknowledged by all sensible people. In short, indisputable common knowledge.
The question is, who defines what this "obvious" understanding is? Who "owns"the stereotype? Too often, the "obvious" is defined by the dominant culture and is used to stereotype and devalue minorities.
For a more indepth contemporary explanation, check out "Linguistics explains why Trump sounds racist when he talks about The African -Americans". (though I think the author is being a little too polite to Trump... )
Thought experiment 1Look at each item on this list. Shut your eyes. What is the first image, thought, or other sensation that rises in your mind? (Don't censor it. If something ugly comes up, don't feel guilty. Remember, you are just reproducing a socially implanted prejudice. It's not your individual fault. What matters is how you act on a prejudice once you recognize it for what it is)
- The Blacks
- The Feminists
- The Gays
- The Jews
- The Neurodiverse
- The Neurotypical
- The Vulnerable
- The Whites
I can’t be racist because I admire ... [... the Blacks for their athletic prowess, the Jews for their cleverness, The Neurodiverse for their uncomplaining productivity, the Autistics for their genius with IT, the Aborginals for their wonderfully primitive art...]
In short, a great formula for the exploitation of minorities, lest they try to compete with the dominant culture and excel in any field that has not been alloted them.An interesting note: we do not often hear “The Autistics”. Perhaps our culture is wising up somewhat. Certainly linguistic research suggests that this reductionist usage of the definite article is in decline.
Thought experiment 2
Even worse, look what happens when we make the group name singular, so that a whole minority becomes telescoped into one single inndividual.
Without censoring yourself, what image was planted in your mind by racist cartoons depicting "The Aboriginal" “The Jew”, “The Negro”, "The Blonde". Were they old or young, male or female, dangerously clever or stupidly suited only to menial work, ugly or beautiful?
When referring to human collectives:
- simply leave out “the”
- turn the word into an adjective: the Gay Movement,
- qualify it: a few/some/many/most disability activists
Tuesday, 24 March 2020
- Remember that the other person is not a mind reader – if you aren’t sure what the other means, ask politely. If there is a misunderstanding, don’t apportion blame, just work it out between yourselves.
- If the other person appears irritable, take a moment to recognise that it may not be about you.
- Take a moment before responding – this is IMPORTANT!
- Remember, we are not multi-taskers!!! One instruction at a time, otherwise it is confusing and stressful.
- If someone is engaged in a task, realise they may need time to finish that task before moving on to the next thing.
- Words/phrases to avoid: “Well – “(said defensively).
- THINK before acting
- No SUDDEN moves
- No snatching!!!
- Knock before entering a room
- Put aside whatever you’re doing in that moment and give your full attention to the other person if they want it.
- Modulate tone of voice and facial expressions when conscious of it, but DON’T suppress feelings. We know that VENTING is important, and we can work it out. After every storm, there is a rainbow.
- If grievances arise, take a breath and air it calmly. Do NOT bottle it up. If you hold it in, it will only EXPLODE later.
- Respect the other’s need for space. If they say they need some down time, then respect their wishes. They will find you again when they are ready.
- Remember to use the magic word when requesting that something be done.
Wednesday, 18 March 2020
Everybody knows that there are just
two kinds of people in the world:
Warpies and Wefties
Yes, it is one of those absurd, over-generalised binaries. But bear with me, because you will find that these are binary opposites that unite us rather than divide us. Thus I believe they are a great metaphor for building harmony between neurotribes whilst avoiding medicalised jargon.
I base my argument on the art of weaving as a social metaphor. "Warp" and "Weft" are of course names for the diametrically opposite threads which, when interwoven, create infinite varieties of fabrics
Weaving as Social Metaphor
Weaving is arguably humanity's oldest technology, one that combines Art and Usefulness. And one generally associated with the Female, which doubly appeals to me.
And thus Weaving seemed to be both an adaptable and enduring metaphor for harmonizing in these fractured time
But before I extend the metaphor to humans, and get into why the warp and weft metaphor has such exciting possibilities for uniting opposites by weaving them together constructively, a brief intro:
Weaving Basics for Novices
TAKE THE QUIZ
Are you a Warpie or a Weftie?
How to score:
- Rate each item 1 to 5 from "Not at all like me” to "Totally me"
- Subtract the Warpie total from the Weftie total
- Warpies will of course have a negative value but only for linguistic reasons - i.e. warp usually precedes weft in English usage. No negative aspersions intended. On the contrary, the point is to show we need each other
Provide the backbone of society: Create, maintain and perpetuate social structures
Provide adaptability for society: Weave through established social structures, experimenting, creating change
Pride themselves on being orderly, predictable, responsible, reliable, prudent
Pride themselves on being change agents, brainstormers, creatives, subverting ossified cultural mores
Vertical: prioritize staying in stable employment and rising through the ranks. Will build up an upwardly mobile CV as they progress
Horizontal: In traditional jobs, may move in and out of work, with a patchy CV: From billionaire innovators, to social security recipients
Security, stability, promotion. May be willing to sacrifice intellectual and moral freedom for career
Flexibility, autonomy. Unwilling to compromise intellectual and moral freedom for career
Accumulate money due to stable employment, prudence, build up retirement funds
Boom and bust, may end up millionaires or penniless at retirement, and even homeless:
Tend to stable upwardly mobile relationships and marriages
Relationships tend to be less stable, often de facto
OPINIONS OF EACH OTHER
Consider Wefties to be erratic, untidy, unpredictable, unreliable, self-indulgent, lazy
Consider Warpies to be authoritarian, controlling, boring, dictatorial
Dream of throwing it all away and becoming beach bums and artists. Rarely do it till retirement, when they splurge on travel
Dream of getting through just one structured day perfecty:rising early, getting chores done, having regular mealtimes, sleeping by midnight. Rarely achieve it
Not spending more time with family, being creative
Not building a career, not paying attention to accumulation
Weftie freedom and creativity
Warpie wealth and status
Cognitive profile fairly level across strengths and weaknesses
Cognitive profile "spiky" across strengths and weaknesses
Morning people: regular sleep patterns
Night owls:irregular sleep patterns, insomnia
Why is this a good metaphor for society?
Warp and Weft, separated, are weak and useless
Warp and Weft, intersecting, are strong, and have infinitely diverse potential
Their strength as a metaphor is that unlike the ND/NT divide, they do not oppose each other nor diverge in a different direction, perhaps never to meet again. They separate off, but only to meet again in a constructive fashion.
We need each other!
This is not intended to replace the Neurotypical/Neurodivergent binary which is a necessary advocacy tool. I intend it as an affectionate, plain English form of self-identification for the people it suits.
The description will obviously fit many who have been the object of prejudice in work and education. It is obviously not a "disability label" though there maybe obvious overlaps with neurodivergent conditions
Monday, 16 March 2020
With all our human ingenuity and creativity, we have accelerated to excess, as we in the advanced capitalist world have failed to exercise enough self-discipline and self-reflection, thinking there was always going to be more, more more.
We now have the time to reflect on how we came to be at this junction. Here we find ourselves, isolated cells sitting alone in a network of cables, seeing the world and our friends literally “through a glass, darkly”.
Perhaps this pause will cause us to think creatively about ways forward, although IMO we need less "creativity" and more "receptivity".
In my sociology days, as I became disillusioned by the simplistic binary division then in vogue, between the "social" and "medical" models, I came to envisage “Culture” as a rubber band attached to “Nature”.
With all our ingenuity, we can only pull away so far before the band snaps us back.
We now wait and see who will bend and who will be broken.
Crisis, opportunity. The world turns. I wish I could pray to a Parent Figure in the sky to fix it for us, myself, my near and dear, and my ever-widening circles, but its now time to wish everyone well, watch and wait, and hope we all weather this somehow and get some wisdom in the process
Friday, 6 March 2020
We humans are NOT Neurodiverse
The importance of language
It seems there are two kinds of people in this world
- Those who believe that language matters and it's important to get it right
- Those who believe "Never mind the language, let's just get on with the job"
How it ends lies with all of you.
My linguistic point
You cannot Say "Lee Bloggs is a person, while Kim Bloggs is a neurodiverse person" (note my careful use of ungendered names) any more that you would say "Skippy the Kangaroo is a marsupial, but Wally the Wombat is biodiverse"
So, maybe the concept is lost to all but linguistic nerds, but
Nevertheless, I register a protestNeurodiverse should not be a synonym for “neurologically disabled". We are all neurodiverse, because:
- It's linguistically illogical. We are ALL Neurodiverse inhabitants of the planet, because no two minds on this planet can ever be exactly alike.
- More importantly, if Neurodiverse becomes a synonym for Disabled instead of remaining a symbol for the incredible wonder of natural variation, it will rapidly acquire stigma, be devalued, and we would lose its power as a unifying symbol for all
Appendix: The sad case of the word "Deviant"
One of the fathers of sociology, Émile Durkheim viewed deviance as an inevitable part of how society functions. He argued that deviance is a basis for change and innovation!So now so many people think "deviant" means "sexually perverted" that the much better word Neurodeviant has to be avoided, and we must use "Neurodivergent"...
Deviant and Divergent definedDeviant actually means "a significant standard deviation from the average". That is what the new term "Spiky Neurological Profile" actually means. A "Neurotypical person" has very little standard deviation from the average on a range of cognitive abilities, while "a NeuroSpiky" person with AS ADHD the Dyses etc, has a range of deviations.
Imagine Kim and Lee walking down the “one true”, socially sanctioned normal conventional path, and Kim deviate from the norm and forges a new path.
Now imagine Kim and Lee walking together on a path, any path, when they come to a cross-roads, split and go their separate paths, perhaps never to meet again.
Is that what we want?
If the Gay movement could reclaim the word Queer as their badge of pride, why not NeuroDeviant?
What do you think?
Probably reclaiming "deviant" is a step too far, too late, I admit, but it's all part of my contribution to the Dialectic of Neurodiversity:
DisclaimerI don't say there's no such thing as "Disability". But you have to ask yourself what you mean by Disability before you criticise others. Their understanding may be quite different.
Do you mean the Welfare System's definition used to save money by dividing the "worthy poor" from the "unworthy poor"? The United Nations definition? Your personal experience of pride, or suffering, or discrimination? And more
Tuesday, 25 February 2020
It should be made illegal. After all, the law requires that even criminals caught in the act must be warned not to incriminate themselves.
Fortunately our intrepid employment agents have figured out the most effective retort... “ Just tell them you're a perfectionist”.
I figured that one out for myself decades ago, simply because I am a perfectionist... once I stop procrastinating...
And perfectionism happens to be one of my greatest weaknesses
Perfectionism, hyperfocus, contrarianism, my superpowers, my flaws, the makers of my power and misery at the same time.
Current case in point: Luckily no one remembers anything on social media for more than 3 days. So no one is hanging by the fingernails waiting for my promised new binary coinages to lighten up the neurotypical vs neurodivergent debate, which I announced with great fanfare about 4 months ago. Ditto my rewrite of my “What is Neurodiversity” tab on this blog, designed to sort out the confusions, misunderstandings, misappropriations and pollyannisation of the concept,
Both these pieces were written in a week, but then I got it into my head that no one reads these days, so we need colorful infographics in bright kindergarten colours, including a few intersecting circles, some umbrellas, a rainbow and no hints of jigsaws. How hard can that be?
Several months later, it's still... “I’ll just try one more tweak, and then I’ll be done”. Minutes have turned into hours, days, weeks, months... I have taught myself Photoshop, Powerpoint, Canva, and Pubisher in the process, yet each tweak just creates an opening wedge for more tweaks...
And now the price: I've injured my back with all that sitting like a frozen statue in front of the screen.
I have ignored my stated priority of trying to earn some income, am stony broke, and cant afford the operation, were it not for, thank Science and Socialism, Australia's Medicare System/
I am tormented by Guilt and Remorse
And I still cant get those two intersecting circles to bloody well defringe
Anyway, as we used to say in IT, those promised articles are 98% complete... Watch this space, but first, I'm just going to try one more thing with those damn circles...
Thursday, 10 October 2019
Neurodivergent 1 describes the significant percentage of humans who are increasingly recognized as differing cognitively from Neurotypicality.
The adjective neurotypical itself emerged from the Autistic Self-Advocacy movement of the late 20th century. Pioneers of the movement used it to bypass the increasingly problematic term "Normal", while essentially pointing to the concept behind it. It's worth pointing out that the word "neurotypical" should not be read as a diagnostic term, i.e. one that has a specific set of signs and symptoms. It is purely a term developed to provide a necessary polar opposite of "neurodivergent".
Neither should the recently coined words based on the concept of Neurodiversity be read as scientific terms. They are socially constructed terms intended for advocacy purposes. This should clear up criticisms that these words are "pseudoscientific". When I first used the word "Neurodiversity", I did not intend it to be a diagnostic term. I saw it as a banner for a "Neurodiversity Movement" - a civil rights movement for those of us who had been stigmatized for being "weird, odd, or unfathomable" outsiders. While the word is not scientific, it does trade on the authority of neuroscience and biological science - which stresses the importance of conserving biodiversity - to argue for a revaluing of formerly stigmatized neuroMinorities
From my thesis, a summary of ideas from
Lennard Davis, Enforcing Normalcy
The Ideal itself is undoubtedly based on evolutionary principles, but to some extent can be culturally defined; e.g some cultures value extroversion, others, introversion.
The boundaries of the normal range are fuzzy, and subject to contention. Small deviations from the normal range are often claimed as Identities. Large deviations are viewed as Disabilities. The boundary line between an identity and a disability is fuzzy, and will always be subject to disputation.
Why do we need NeuroDivergent? What's wrong with Neurodiverse?
So all humans are neurodiverse!
It's just that some of us have been excluded more than others for our divergence from the ideal.
Neurodiversity is a fact. The Neurodiversity Movement is however an identity politics vehicle for people who were discriminated against for differing from the culturally-defined normal range.
There are degrees of difference of course. Thus "neurodivergence" shades from difference to disability, with a grey area in between.
Our Western free-market liberal culture tends to favour extroversion, sociability, competitiveness, self-promotion, lots of noise and buzz. We also tend to worship youth and fear and shun old age.
The latter cultures are eye-contact avoidant in various circumstances, considering it variously disrespectful of status, invasive or manipulative. From the point of view of egalitarianism, this is a good thing.
But rather naively, Western culture demands eye-contact as a verification of sincerity, when in fact it can easily be used as a tool of emotional manipulation by psychopaths and con-artists!
Cultures change all the time of course. Not so long ago, absent-minded professors were honoured in our culture, though perhaps we laughed at their eccentricities behind their backs. Then along came Dr Lorna Wing and Uta Frith. Before long, we could easily find our professors' eccentricities dissected in the pages of the DSM IV Bible of Everything that could Possibly Be Wrong with the Human Mind.
We evolved as a dominant hierarchical species, and our responses are still primed for survival in the wild, with high general levels of physical fitness, problem-solving and sociability.
But do our advanced cultures still need the same "hard-wired" qualities for survival?
The Neurodiversity Movement challenges the notion that we must all be generalists to survive. Neurodivergent people are often specialists with spiky ability profiles. The biological reality is that as a species, our success has been based on the evolutionary imperative of role differentiation.
Now read on for my reductionist, totally un-academic, Armchair Evolutionary Pschologist's take on "The Normal"
Click below to see how it turned out