Neurodiversity: more than just autism!
Today is Autistic Pride day celebrating the neurodiversity found among people. Neurodiversity , as a movement , has been traditionally associated with the autism community, but it is important to realize that when one speaks of neurodiversity one is also referring to other ‘differences’ in brain structure and organization like that seen in ADHD, dyslexia etc.
This emphasis on other differences than autism and continuum from neurotypicals in a neurodiversity spectrum is aptly highlighted by a timely book: Neurodiversity by Thomas Armstrong. The subtitle of the book reads ‘discovering the extraordinary gifts of autism, ADHD, dyslexia and other brain differences’ and Dr. Armstrong extends the neurodiversirty argument from traditionally seen ‘differences/diseases’ like Autism or ADHD or intellectual disabilities to the not-so-traditionally differences/diseases like Mood disorders, anxiety disorders and Schizophrenia.
The argument is that all these ‘differences’ are not to be conceptualized in a disease model where there are differences of kind, but in a differences and diversity model where things are in a continuum from normality to deviation and differences are of a degree rather than a kind. Also the emphasis is on the strengths and unique abilities of the people having different brains and not juts being focused or defining these conditions by what doesn’t work or is broken. thus Autism is not juts lack of sociability but must be conceptualized as a strength enabling interest and focus on objects vis-a-vis people.
In a way Neurodiversity is positive psychology on steroids. While positive psychology normally focuses on strengths of healthy or high functioning people, neurodiversity takes this one step forward and focuses on strengths of people traditionally classified as diseased in the disease model. By reconceptualizing this neurodiversity in terms of differences and variations that have evolved to make us better respond to changing environmental conditions puts a new spin to the differences debate and makes us appreciate and see these neurodiverse people in a new, non-stigmatized light.
Key to appreciating the neurodivesrity arguments spread throughout the book in the form of separate chapters for each of the seven differences that Armstrong focuses on (autism, adhd, dyslexia, intellectual disabilities, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia) is the view of the brain and the view of how neurodiverse individuals should be conceptualized and fit in with the society- be it by adapting to the society or doing niche construction. These principles, (eight of them) are elaborated and introduced in the first chapter and are thankfully available online in an abridged format. I would heavily recommend that interested people go read it.
I have just read the first few chapters relating to autism, ADHD and dyslexia till now, and they are written beautifully and capture the latest research while focusing on the positives and on niche construction. I am still to read the chapters on mood disorders and schizophrenia for example, and believe taht is they are as persuasive we are on the verge of e anew paradigm shift in ‘abnormal’ psychology as when one takes anxiety, mood and thinking disorders in its ambit, not much is left of traditional disease-based abnormal psychology. Im looking forward to reading the rest of the chapters and will post a follow up blog soon.
Meanwhile I whole heartedly recommend this book to the people who themselves or their near and dear ones are placed on the neurodiversiry spectrum be it as part of autistic pride movement or some other community. Going by the total incidence and prevalence of mental ill health in general , that means , this book is heavily recommended for everyone:-)
Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book.
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