Wired Differently

I’m back. Last time, I introduced you what will I blog in this page. Now, I will define my topic. We sometimes encounter people who are weird in some ways and think and behave in a manner which deviates from normal. We usually refer to them as ‘wired differently’ or simply abnormal or ‘special.’ In the medical community, they are diagnosed with ‘learning disabilities.’ But not all of them agree with this concept. Instead, they advocate neurodiversity.

What? What’s that word again?

Neurodiversity. According to the definition in Wikipedia, neurodiversity is an approach to learning and disability that suggests that diverse neurological conditions appear as a result of normal variations in the human genome.[1] This term was coined in the late 1990s as a challenge to prevailing views of neurological diversity as inherently pathological, and it asserts that neurological differences should be recognized and respected as a social category on a par with gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability status.[2] To make this definition a little less complicated, let’s just compare this to biodiversity. Like in ecosystems where there are diverse species of life forms from plants to animals, the same goes for humans who have brains wired differntly resulting in multiple intelligences and differing in the way of thinking.

But how is that? Of course people think differently. Each person is unique.

Err, what shall I say? Yes, each individual thinks differently, but what I mean is the way the brain develops from childhood to adulthood. Let me explain further.

Neurodiversity encompasses all people whose brains develop differently from the normal people. The development can be either delayed or advanced or deficient. People under neurodiversity are called neurodovergent. Neurodiversity include dyslexia (difficulty in reading letters), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (short attention span, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness), autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (hyperfocus to detail, deficient in social skills), Tourette syndrome (involuntary body movement), developmental coordination disorder (DCD) or dyspraxia (difficulty in planning and coordinating movement), and dyscalculia (difficulty in reading numbers, or ‘dyslexia of numbers.’) These conditions are also collectively known as learning disabilities. On the other hand, people whose brains develop without these conditions stated above are called neurotypical.[3]

This concept has attracted controversy because it attacks the traditional notion that ADHD, ASD, and the like are disabilities that are needed to be fixed or cured, but rather, respect the differences in thinking as part of the normal human genome variation, just like the variations in human sexual orientation or variations in human physical appearances.

Neurodiversity is a concept akin to biodiversity or cultural diversity that recognizes neurological disorders as a natural human variation. Rather than looking for cures, neurodiversity advocates work to promote social support systems and spotlight the value of neurological differences, in the same vein as variations in learning styles or social tendencies like introversion and extroversion.[4]

In short, people under neurodiversity are just normal variations of the human specie, not an abnormality of some sort.

To illustrate this, the diagram of neurodiversity[7] by the late Mary Colley, author of Living With Dypraxia, is shown below:

That’s the presentation with the difficulties associated with those conditions. The following diagram[8] below shows the strength with each condition:

They’re really overlapping. Okay, I think you are somewhat getting the point, but who started and how did neurodiversity begin?

An autism advocate and an autist herself, Judy Singer, coined the term in 1990s as part of the autism advocacy campaign.[2] Another autism advocate, Jim Sinclair, wrote in his 1993 article “Don’t Mourn For Us” told parents that the autism itself cannot be separated from the person who is born with it, but rather part of the person itself.[5] The term neurodiversity appeared on Harvey Blume’s 1998 The Atlantic article where he said, “Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment? Cybernetics and computer culture, for example, may favor a somewhat autistic cast of mind.”[6]

Since then, hundreds of people with otherwise neurotypical development have advocated neurodiversity as the way of being the way sub-Saharan Africans in the United States and LGBT communities have advocated their rights before. A lot of neurodiverse people have contributed to society whether be in art, science, politics, and so forth. However, people with neurodiverse conditions are still continued to be bullied, ridiculed, and abused in all walks of life from infancy to old age. That’s why they are prone to suffer from anxiety and depression. Nevertheless, neurodiversity campaign remains strong, and more neurotypical people are beginning to accept neurodiverse people as who they are, particularly in the Western World.

It’s a long way to go. They’re really wired differently, but the same members of the modern human specie Homo sapiens like us.

Next time, I will post about the different conditions under neurodiversity one by one, their presentation, diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, advocacy, and some samples of people who have these conditions.


[1] Jaarsma P, Welin S (February 2011). “Autism as a Natural Human Variation: Reflections on the Claims of the Neurodiversity Movement” (PDF). Health Care Anal 20 (1): 20–30.
[2] http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurodiversity.
[3] Sinclair, Jim (1998). “A note about language and abbreviations”. Archived from the original on 2008-06-06.
[4] http://www.pbs.org/pov/neurotypical.
[5] Autism Network International newsletter, Our Voice, Volume 1, Number 3, 1993.
[6] Blume, Harvey (September 30, 1998). “Neurodiversity”. The Atlantic. Retrieved November 7, 2007.
[7] http://joelgethinlewis.com/2013/05/23/self-storm-troopers-strongbox-neurodiversity-and-snowfall/
[8] http://www.geniuswithin.co.uk/infographics/neuro-diversity-venn-diagram/


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