This afternoon, a reader asked me about how I use the term
neurodiversity. So I noticed that I hadn't made an epic post about what neurodiversity means to me.
I guess it's time to do that!
What neurodiversity is
As a concept, neurodiversity is the notion that different people's brains work differently.
As a movement or ideology, neurodiversity is the notion that brain differences are a natural part of how humanity works, and that our society ought to act in a way that works well for everyone, not just people who happen to have
normal-enough brains.1 It's about finding healthy ways to handle the problems that sometimes come from brain differences, while making good use of the advantages that come from having a neurodiverse population.
What neurodiversity implies
Neurodiversity means asking your friends how they feel, rather than assuming that you can always tell from their facial expressions or body language. It means trusting a person's account of zir own experiences, rather than assuming ze is dishonest or deluded when ze says something that seems unnatural to you.2
Neurodiversity means arranging events that appeal to introverts as well as extroverts. It means recognizing that huge, noisy gatherings appeal to some people, and small, quiet ones appeal to others. It means not rating
happiness by measuring extroverted behaviors. It means not assigning prescriptive standards of what people are
supposed to want.
Neurodiversity means not expecting everyone to be able to participate in every activity. It means that when you're teaching a class, or running a conference, it's okay to propose a
fun activity or an
icebreaker game, but if someone says ze doesn't want to play, you must immediately accept that and not push zem into playing, even if you think zir objection is silly. It means being ready to compromise and seek alternate solutions when dividing tasks among people, because some things that are easy for you can be hard for others. It means not saying that a person is lazy if ze is too depressed to work, or that a person is selfish if ze needs others to cover for zem because a certain task has traumatic associations for zem. It means accepting all of those things regardless of whether you know the specific conditions affecting zem, because ze is not obligated to give you an extensive rationale for refusing any task – especially since, in some cases, ze may not be able to explain it in a way you would understand.
Neurodiversity means understanding that some things that are entirely harmless to you can interfere with other people's ability to function. It means accepting that flickering lights, or background noise, or lack of background noise, or smells you might think are nice, or the presence of non-human animals, can all be too overwhelming for some people. It means being willing to find spaces that accomodate other people's needs, even if you can't see those needs.
Neurodiversity means giving trigger warnings before discussing traumatic subjects, so that people struggling with PTSD or self-harm or suicidal thoughts can avoid such material when they need to. It also means having enough respect for survivors to allow them to choose when to engage, rather than avoiding difficult subjects entirely.
Neurodiversity means not making too many assumptions based on how people are on the outside. It means not assuming a person is stupid because ze has language difficulties, or that ze is
immature because ze gets upset easily when someone interferes with zir routine. It also means not assuming that a person doesn't have a mental disability just because you don't notice anything unusual about zem.
Neurodiversity means recognizing that brain differences are often good. It means not calling a person's difference a
disability unless ze identifies it as a disability zemself. It means not trying to
cure someone if they don't ask for it. It means valuing the perspectives of autistic people and non-autistic people, extroverts and introverts, trans people and cis people, people with strong empathy and people with no empathy, sexuals and asexuals, multiples and singlets, people with spiritual instincts and those without.
Neurodiversity means not judging people for their feelings, even if those feelings are distasteful to you. It means not saying
pedophile when you mean
child molester, because people don't choose who they're attracted to.3 It means not stigmatizing people just for having no sense of empathy, because people don't choose whether they feel empathy. It means not writing people off as
attention-seeking, because when a person is looking for attention, there's usually a good reason for it.4
Neurodiversity means understanding that some people may enjoy things that you find disgusting, and some people may be disgusted by things you enjoy; it means that both of those are okay as long as you don't try to push your opinions onto each other. It means not trying to insist that some consensual sexual behaviors are
normal and others are
perverted. It means not ridiculing people from different cultural backgrounds, even if they observe traditions that seem weird to you.
Neurodiversity means not thinking that a story can have a
universal message, because there is no universal human experience. A love story will not include your reader if ze is aromantic. A story about the folly of arrogance will not include your reader if ze habitually underrates zir own abilities. A story about a person who doesn't always see eye-to-eye with zir parents, but eventually comes to accept them, will not include your reader if ze has had to completely cut ties with zir own abusive parents. A story about a person who fights back against abusers will not include your reader if ze is a strong empath who can't hurt another human. Neurodiversity means believing that all those readers exist, and that they all matter. If you're a writer, it means finding ways to write about the experiences of people who are often ignored in mainstream literature.
And most of all, neurodiversity means talking about how we perceive the world. I was once having a conversation about neurodiversity on another website, and it turned out that some of the people in the conversation had visual snow and others didn't. And the people who had it hadn't known that most people didn't have it, because people usually don't talk about even basic things like how stuff looks when you look at it. Or when they do, they get into ridiculous arguments about how things
really look, instead of honestly comparing their perceptions. And when I read things like this article about people with brain damage that eventually made them commit violent crimes, I can't help but think that if we lived in a culture where people would talk about what they feel, and where there would be support systems for people who need psychological help, then a lot of horrors could be avoided. Talking about things is the only way we can even begin to solve the problems they cause; most of the problems in the world are caused, directly or indirectly, by human brains, so we should definitely be talking about what those brains are doing.
Does that sound like a good idea to you? Because it definitely sounds like a good idea to me.
Some more resources about specific issues(This is basically a list of some of my favorite resources that I know about; it's by no means authoritative.)
- Multiplicity: Healthy Multiplicity; the Zyfron system's educational (and super cute) webcomic
- Trans* stuff: Questioning Transphobia – an activist blog, with links to lots of other trans* resources
- Autism: The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network
- Asexuality: The Asexual Visibility and Education Network - a website with a lot of information/resources (though I don't recommend the forum; I was a member once, but I left because a lot of the members are bad at every social issue except sexuality differences)
- Empathy: Sadly, I don't know of any non-empath self-advocacy sites that are healthy enough for me to be willing to publicly recommend them. For that matter, I'm the only person I know of who describes zemself as a
non-empath. Empathy differences are probably the least-explored issue out of any of these, and a lot of people are still happy to say that
not having emotional empathyis the same as
being completely evil, which is kinda... not true, and also a pretty horrible thing to say.
- Introversion: I don't know of any good introvert self-advocacy sites, but I bet they exist. Do you know of any? I'll try to find one I like and edit it into this post.
- PTSD from child sexual abuse: May We Dance Upon Their Graves – a personal blog
- A historical note: The term
neurodiversityoriginates from the autistic self-advocacy movement, and is still sometimes used to refer only (or mostly) to autism.
Neurodiversityis obviously the right term for the more-broadly-focused principle that I'm describing in this post, so if you don't think it means that already, I hereby steal it. back
- Especially because people who lie about themselves usually figure out how to tell lies that sound natural to most people. back
- Also, as far as I've heard, most child molesters aren't pedophiles; they target children because children are easy targets, not because they have any particular attraction to them. And children are easy targets because the rest of society has already done most of the work of shaming them into not talking about how they were attacked, and making sure other adults won't believe them if they do talk about it. back
- People say this line a lot whenever a female teenager makes an ineffective suicide attempt. Usually, a person doesn't do that when ze doesn't have major problems in zir life, and if you ignore zem or ridicule zem because ze's
just looking for attention, then you're probably contributing to the problems that ze was trying to handle in the first place. back