Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., who wrote the wonderful The Myth of the A.D.D. Child, just wrote a piece on neurodiversity and how we pathologize brain differences. If a psychologist were a rose, Armstrong writes, and a calalily came into his office, surely he would diagnose “petal deficit disorder” and write a prescription for a medication that would compensate for this “deficiency”! What if we are meant to have neurodiversity in the human population just as nature has biodiversity? What if there is a rich gift in each type of brain?
I also love how he talks about how different skills are valued in different cultures, and how our culture can cause us to see certain temperaments and types of behavior as “a problem” or “a disorder” instead of seeing them in a positive way. There was actually a 19th century doctor who proposed that we recognize a “runaway” disorder in slaves, as if escaping to freedom were a pathology.
Maybe we should stop trying so hard to make everyone conform to some narrow ideal of how we are supposed to think, perceive, and behave and open our minds to the beauty inherent in every “flower,” every type of mind.
While nobody wants to downplay the challenges of people with very strong neurological differences, I have to agree with Armstrong that we need to rethink our limited ideas about what is “normal,” and what a classroom should look like. I also agree that so many traits are along a spectrum. If we think about anxiety, for instance, everyone has some anxiety. It’s only when there’s an extreme where it’s truly difficult to function in society. There isn’t some clear black borderline where the folks on one side are “normal” and the folks on the other side have “anxiety disorder.” We just know that if it’s really difficult to function, to socialize and learn, the person deserves to have some help–that means help in being able to conform AND help in terms of everyone else adjusting the external environment to some degree, and adjusting their expectations, to make that individual better able to be a part of the group. That is the compassionate response to differences. Do we really need everyone to fit into a narrow definition of normal for us all to get along and appreciate each other? I think that as a culture we could do much better at embracing neurodiversity and learning differences!