Neuro diversity, like every other kind of diversity, is hard to stomach. Any one who is different has been othered, and the other is an alien. We deal with them differently, we deny them safe spaces and we exclude them from the wonders of our worlds, however small. The neurodiverse, in addition to their travails, have this to suffer making their tough experiences even tougher.
Any one who is different is not easy to understand, their responses and behaviours are not predictable as ‘our’ own and therefore it is not easy to trust them. This lack of trust, either in them, or in our ability to work with it leads to exclusion from so many spaces, be it schools or offices and more.
Distrust of the other has become an acceptable basic human trait. Each othering draws another line between humans. Thus, we have nations, racism, apartheid, phobias and so many other terrible things that ultimately hurt us. Everyone must be taken at face value, and face value alone. Anyone who does not look like us or behave like us is the other, anyone who looks and talks like us can be adopted. If they adapt, naturalise, they can come in, till then they remain outsiders, deprived of our shared goodies.
This of course only at the surface level. Neurodiverse people are Trojan horses. They look safe, like one can take them in, but look beyond and the similarity, the familiarity, indeed the feeling of safety disappears. Two things happen. One, the wall of distrust rises rapidly. All diverse people can almost hear the doors slamming in their faces, leaving them out of schools, clubs and even welfare schemes. Neurodiverse people even more so, even if the doors slam silently. The distrust, though, is something to wonder at, for it may be so that it is the establishment that does not know how to handle diversity. It is only now that acceptance and inclusion has begun.
It is the second effect that is tougher to tackle and that is a sense of injury, of betrayal. Neuromodal people, often called normal, see a person who likes them and assumes that they would be just like themselves and their echo chamber friends. But neurodiverse people are not ‘normal’ and cannot be so, however much you tell them to ‘be normal’. (What does that even mean really, in a world where each of us is so different from each other anyway. Witness the one true love fairytales and mythology, all based on the assumption that each human is different. One marries the one, not the norm! But I digress.) Neurodiverse people are just further along the spectrum, with a wider range.
Each human is unique, neurodiverse people demonstrate it better – they have their own ways of receiving stimuli, their own triggers and motivations, their own processing pathways and possibly unconventional responses. Their emotional energy operates differently, and they often do not seem to care about things that are so important to success, and seem to care too much about things that are trivial to many. They understand the world in their own way, and the ‘normal’ understanding of the world is irrelevant to many of them – in this they demonstrate their diversity, their distance from the centre.
The neuromodal hold the centre, and so, call themselves the norm, going so far as to define normal by their majoritarian grouping. They are shocked by the diversity, bewildered, confused, and feel cheated at some level. Sometimes it is as if the neurodiverse are getting away with what they never could indulge in, at other times it just does not make sense to them. (This applies both ways, the neurodiverse do not wholly understand the neuromodals either. But then, can the neuromodal folk ever claim to understand themselves, their friends or even their spouses. It’s all a mess of ‘you don’t understand me’ turtles all the way down. Just a matter of how much. But again, I digress). This mixture of confusion, shock and more is toxic and at the very least it produces intolerance of the neurodiverse.
This is a difficult situation. The neuromodal see their way as the only natural way. The next logical step for them is to seek conformity with the natural norm. The neurodiverse are out of sync, they are unwell, according to the modal norm. There is a mindshift they suffer, the normals say, and we must help them become one of us. It is like asking a lizard to become a snake, just because both of them are reptiles.
We do not wholly understand neurodiversity yet. Much work has progressed in the past decade and doubtless we will keep learning exponentially now that we have acknowledged the wide range of questions to research – and the core of the issue which is the neuromodal expectation of conformity. As we give up this need to conform as the only formula for the way we be, questions form and evolve, as do we, humans.
Many hypotheses exist. One of them being that neurodiversity is merely evolution in action. It seems logical, for we do not know what lies ahead and multiple types of response kits will certainly come in useful. Darwinian survivalism says that the most fit – fit in response to conditions will survive. That may not be the neuromodal majority. Our future, or our key to survival in the future may well lie with the neurodiverse.
And yet, we continue to behave as if the neuro-diverse among us (even as we acknowledge that to be human is to be diverse anyway) must conform to the modal, normal way of being. All medication seeks to bring their responses and reactions to within acceptable limits. Therapy is about building bridges between conformist norms and outliers. Behavioural therapy asks them cognitively fashion responses that mimic the neuro-modal.
This is essential to protect them, to help them navigate the the big, wide normal world. We say, we do it for their own good. In a way, like we asked left handed people to write with their right hands for centuries, to hold and work with a pair of scissors meant for a right handed person and more. Even today, we ask them to manage in a world that is dominated by objects made for the right handed. A harmless bit of diversity, you may say, but a complete reorientation, a flip for the left handed.
Dominance determines the norm. And I begin to winder whether we are really helping the neuro-diverse folk, or are we merely training them to operate in a neuro-modal world in a way that does not inconvenience us. Are we only seeking to control behaviours into ranges that work for us, and not trigger our toxic responses? If so, it is clearly not good enough.
When I see all of the work expected of the neurodiverse and all the costs of therapy and adjustment are borne by them, I begun to be less than convinced that we are on the right path to working this out.
(This note is a work in progress. There will be many edits based on feedback received. This is not my domain, and yet, there has been long experience and observation in this area, that I hope stands for some learning. I hope to make this into a series, so do send me a message if you think something should be added or corrected.)