Neurodiversity? Disability or Variety?

I was (and even now) wondering why someone with neurodiverse conditions (ADHD, dyslexia…) are considered disabled? Except of course for those with classic autism or with severe Tourette’s, the rest who are more able to function independently (high-functioning autism, dyspraxia…) are unfortunately labeled as ‘disabled’ or ‘abnormal.’ Medically speaking, neurodiversity is called neurodevelopmental disorders or even developmental delays. For example, someone with dyspraxia cannot learn to crawl at a certain age (I think it’s between 9 and 12 months), but what they don’t notice is that there are cases where dyspraxic toddlers may not crawl at all but they learn to walk ahead. Unfortunately, the medical community seems not noticing these.

I may think of a hypothesis where neurodiversity evolved to be ‘specialists in thinking’ so that humans may grow and progress. That’s because some of the most clever people in history have neurodiverse conditions.

Huh? But how is that? Neurodiverse children spend time on SPED schools, and adults are usually unemployed or underemployed. What does this mean?

What I mean is that the higher-functioning neurodiverse people are able to think ‘outside the box’ or  unusual from the neurotypical (normal, mainstream brain development of most people). I’ll give you an example: a neurotypical child in a science classroom may think of the process of photosythesis (how plants make food using the sunlight), whereas an ADHD child may stare out of the window and think what may happen in photosynthesis if the weather is cloudy and should think of a way for the plants to make food even if it’s cloudy.

Sounds great, right? ADHD kids usually think of some ways to solve various problems. Unfortunately, teachers usually see that as a distraction from the discussion. (Inattention symptoms of ADHD).

Here’s another example: an autistic teenage boy will spend time on computer mastering computer programming and may even create new computer programs. Isn’t it very innovative? And productive? Whereas, your normal teenage boy will only spend hours on the computer watching porn.

Oh boy! This lad has more productiveness and will be a big help to you more than this ‘normal’ guy below.


Oh yeah…

But here’s the problem.

Thanks to medicine, we have sought help for the developmentally delayed through therapies. However, thanks also to medicine (and popular culture too) that they have made the neurodiverse disabled by not adhering to ‘normal’ development (aka ‘cool’).

Medicine? Well yes. Remember there is a medical model of disability for neurodiversity where the deficits of neurodiverse conditions are given more attention rather than the strengths (i.e. ADHD’s hyperactivity vs hyperfocus), which makes them more disabled and nonfunctional and also makes them immature. (What?)

On the side of pop culture, well, this is very obvious like making the autistic nerd and the clumsy dyspraxic laughable. At a glance, this is funny, but in reality, it’s bullying.

Sadly, the modern world seem to discriminate neurodiverse people quickly and do not appreciate their strengths and their contribution to humanity.

Here’s the thing. Autistic minds are linear and can systematize facts for analysis of problems. ADHD brains are impulsive to be ready for flight or fight for survival. Dyscalculics have strong intuition. These brains helped propelled human civilizaition and evolution.

Instead of pathologizing neurodiverse conditions, these should be part of the human ecosystem. Remember the environmental ecosystem with different living things? The same goes with human brains. There should be variety in the food chain. Otherwise, if only same species remain, the ecosystem will be imbalanced and has the high risk of destruction and even extinction. If we homo sapiens continue to endorse neurodiversity as adisability, then, chances are, we might face extinction as well.

Immaturity? Why won’t we call that neoteny instead? According to scientists Gould and Montagu[1], neoteny is a positive trait towards evolution because the longer the childhood, the longer for brain development and the higher chances of thinking innovation.


According to educator Armstrong[2], neoteny means “holding youth” and refers to people who act younger than their age. That doesn’t necessarily mean selfish and self-centeredness. This means curiosity, playfulness, curiosity, humor, creativity, sensitivity, and wonder[3], that are essential in the ever-changing world. All these traits should be valued for us to move forward.

Well, anyway, I think aside from awareness and management, neurodiversity needs acceptance as well as difference, not disability.

1. http://heartsatplay.com/neurodiversity-play-and-the-so-called-adhd-child-2/
2. http://institute4learning.com/blog/2013/08/30/neurodiversity-play-and-the-so-called-adhd-child/
3. http://institute4learning.com/blog/2012/08/20/neoteny-the-lost-fountain-of-youth-rediscovered/

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