Neurodiversity and Autism

After going through what I can only describe as a “dark night of the soul” over the last two months, I have emerged happily…way behind schedule on a lot of things, but happy to be back on my grind.

One of the books I started diving into was NeuroTribes, by Steve Silberman. It is a huge book, over 500 pages, but it reads like a novel. This was my first introduction into the term (and movement) known as neurodiversity. It is a new concept, the idea that many neurological “hiccups” are more a natural variation of the human condition than a disorder. Right away, you can probably see why this idea would ruffle some well-established feathers.

Any of us who received degrees in the medical and health fields were more than likely taught the traditional “medical model;” anything not meeting the definition of normal (that could be an entire blog by itself) was considered pathological and must be treated. Recently, the medical field has tried to lean more towards preventative health to avoid problems later on down the road, but few have ventured far from the traditional viewpoint of identifying a problem and throwing everything we’ve got at the problem to stop it.

This brings me to autism. The traditional medical model holds to its same prinicple: throw everything we’ve got at it to make it go away. We have therapy/healing approaches that stretch across the board, from discreet trials to Reiki. Millions of dollars are being put into research to uncover autism’s cause and, in turn, its cure. Parents, desperate for answers, are falling prey to snake oil merchants and charlatans who come with both herbs and stethoscopes. Autism has become a business.

What if the answer is as simple as this: Let’s focus on what they can do, instead of what they can’t.

I’m going to answer that for you. It’s not that simple, obviously. How I wish it was. But, it is a decent starting point. That is what I love about this neurodiversity movement. Because in all honesty, how good is our “normal” really going, at least in the US? We are stressed out, unhealthy, clinically depressed, and on every legal and illegal drug known to man. In one interview that I believe appeared in The New York Times awhile ago, a 19 year old who had been “cured” of his autism was asked if he missed anything about it. He answered that he missed “the joy.” That made my heart ache.

If NeuroTribes is showing me anything, it is that autism has potentially given us just as many answers as it has questions. Known scientists in history displayed many of the traits associated with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) long before we knew what it was. I myself have met many kids and teenagers on the spectrum who have amazing knowledge of different areas of math and science, but feel limited by their current schooling.

I could go on and on about this subject, but I’m saving that for my thesis and, eventually, my book. I will say that I greatly appreciate what the neurodiversity movement is trying to do and make aware. I hope to join them in helping those with ASD identify their often overlooked or under-appreciated gifts, and change the world as so many did before them.

PS- I will be attending Pantheacon this weekend in San Jose, and one of the workshops I’m attending is about creating materials so that autistic kids can participate in spiritual rituals with the family. Love it.

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