2

Forever Child (Neoteny and Neurodiversity) Part 2

Last time, I discussed neoteny and its relation to neurodiversity. Included there are the characteristics of physical neoteny and psychological neoteny, how neoteny evolved, where neoteny is most evident, and its similarities to neurodiversity.

“But a lot of neurotypical people have neotenic characteristics. Why relate it to neurodiversity?”

Yes, some neurotypical people have childlike characteristics, whether it be in interests or physical aspects or acting like a dependent child with no sense of responsibility or even physical neoteny by having a baby face. But neurodivergent (ND) people are seemed to have more childlike traits than most people psychological, mentally, and neurologically. I didn’t say neoteny is similar with neurodiversity. They just have some commonalities, which are harmless and creative in a sense but can be destructible depending on the situation.  I cited ADHD as an example where it retained its childlike characteristics of curiosity, playfulness, wonder, creativity, flexibility, inventiveness, and humor.[1] Childlike traits in autism spectrum include childlike naivety and inquisitiveness.[2] The childlike traits may be good in religion (humility and innocence), but not necessarily good in education, employment, and social arena, courtesy of modern living and neurotypicals (NTs).

Are neurotypicals to blame?

It’s not that NTs are the fault why neurodivergent (I’ll abbreviate this as ND for short. This is not official but just for the sake of convenience…) people suffer discrimination. (Fellow NTs do also experience that). The problem here is that people with ND brains are not fit in the 21st century type of 9-to-5 employment (the multitask, highly verbal, multiple intelligence, highly social sort of work). It’s as if NDs are useless, slow, and immature in this complicated and fast-paced world. (Even NTs do find it hard to live today, but not as severe as ND).

Image courtesy of dreamstime.com. Multitasking takes a very good neurotypical brain skill in order to get through this. Neurodivergent brains can do this, but with results not pleasing to neurotypical bosses.

What are the problems associated with “neotenic” traits of neurodivergent people?

In our modern way of life, ND brains are too “immature” and “childlike” that are considered “not good” or “ill-fitted” to the “one-size-fits-all” criteria for NT people to cope well at school, work, and social arenas. Too bad. Because of this norm, NDs are labeled and are isolated and prejudiced as if they are the problem but actually are not.

Problems faced by ND children when mingled with NTs:

Lucky are the ND children who are diagnosed and identified right away. Special education programs are offered to help ND children cope with learning styles (and also managing behavior). For the undiagnosed ND kid, trouble usually follows. His childlike (or “age-inappropriate”) quirk may appear as rude behavior to classmates and teachers and may be subject to reprimand by teachers, suspension or expulsion by the school admin, or bullying by peers without truly understanding why the “childish” ND kid acted that way and how it affected his school environment. This scenario may be too much; let’s say his wandering mind can cause rejection by peers that could cause mood disorders and ill-coping mechanisms (sorting to displacement or acting out, denial, suppression, etc.) just because the ND kid is different and childlike in behavior.

But even ND children are managed in SpEd schools, when they mix with NT children, situations are still similar.

Image courtesy of Pennsylvania State University College of Health and Human Development. Bullying is often worse in neurodiverse students especially with his untypical development of communication, social, and grooming skills.

Problems faced by ND adoloescents when mingled with NTs:

AS NDs enter junior and senior high school, things become more complicated. Autonomy, peer pressure, conformity to pop culture, fashion trends, and sexual experimentation pop up so do add up to the challenges the neotenic ND has to face. The common denominator of having learning disabilities, ADHD, and autism spectrum is social isolation in childhood, where they already missed the “hidden” social rituals, and when they become adolescents, their time bomb explodes and suffering has become a commonplace. Being childlike here at this stage of life is a big no-no; otherwise, you’re out. An outcast. This results in either withdrawal of the ND adolescent to depression and social isolation or rebellion to parents in order to fit in the neurotypical world like forcing to fake oneself (shapeshifting) just to be accepted by peers.

Another problem in ND adolescence is their naivety. NDs almost always have black and white, linear thinking that either follow authorities’ preaching religiously or rebel with peers squarely with no gray area in between. Their literal thinking then become subject to bullying, sexual abuse, and sometimes teenage pregnancies and parenthood.

Not good. Low self-esteem, suicidal tendencies (or actual suicide), mood and eating disorders, teen pregnancies, educational underachievement, or criminal tendencies to cope with feelings of inadequacy or to act “mature.”

This is even when NDs in SpEd mingle with NTs.

Bad.

Problems of adult NDs when mingled with NTs:

ND adults face a Herculean problem in college and further in employment. They are no longer part of the state or private run special education (though some colleges offer these but not post education). This becomes more complicated if the ND is not diagnosed. Wrong career/vocation choices could lead to further educational underachievent like dropping out or repeatedly getting different college courses. This also poses a problem in employment because the “childlike” traits of impulsivity and/or literal thinking is a major cause of low productivity output, which of course, is not good for the employers, causing them to reject ND adults. (I repeatedly experienced these prejudices resulting in my constant termination from all but one of my jobs.)

Social environments are way harsher than in the younger years. Especially in office settings, where all sorts of “invisible” social cues are present combined with multitask employment, poof, the adult ND’s neotenic traits absolutely suck in this type of environment. Plus, adult NDs (especially those with autism spectrum) are “not that attractive” (nice guy/girl loser sort and juvenile looks, though not all possess that) when it comes to dating and relationships.

Image courtesy of memegen.co. I do not mean by this. Though a lot of people in neurodiversity tend to become “nice” in order to have win elusive approval from peers and superiors…

Niceness (read: socially naive, innocent, literal, childlike thinking) and honesty (bluntness) are not attractive to the neurotypical lover nor diligent to the neurotypical employer. Especially in the fast-paced world where neoteny is not the ideal.

Unfortunately, what modern society lacks is the creative, analytical, novel approach of the neotenic neurodivergent mind, which is very much needed in employment and relationships.

In an article by The Guardian, the UK National Autistic Society (NAS) launched a campaign called “Undiscovered Workforce”[3] where it aims on autistic adults to increase employment opportunities.[3]

Below is an excerpt:

According to Jane Asher, who is president of NAS, autistic people often make better employees than those known in the word of autism as “neuro-typicals” – ie, the rest of us. She explains: “People with autism tend to be very reliable and punctual. They like routine, and most won’t mind doing repetitive tasks. Many are very good with maps and figures. They are usually scrupulously honest – they just don’t have the guile to be anything else, and they can’t lie.[3]

“There is a huge lack of imagination on the part of employers who are missing out massively by ignoring this untapped pool of labour.”[3]

Proponents like Asher say it’s not about pushing the charity card – or even corporate social responsibility – but about a real benefit to employers of taking on loyal, talented people with unique skills. They also say that what is good for those with autism, can be good for us all; for example, the need for employers of autistic people with autism to brush up on communication skills, which can be beneficial to everyone.[3]

“People with autism tend to be very reliable and punctual. They like routine, and most won’t mind doing repetitive tasks. Many are very good with maps and figures. They are usually scrupulously honest – they just don’t have the guile to be anything else, and they can’t lie…”

Being totally honest and not able to lie is a neotenic trait. Isn’t that great? Unfortunately, bluntness is bad for businesses, as this drives clients away.

So neotenic childlike traits are really bad at all?

Image courtesy of imgarcade.com. No, not this image. But seriously, are nice guys similar to neurodiverse people?

No. Wrong image. But I sometimes think that nice guys are way similar to neurodivergent people in discrimination and isolation.

So neoteny is bad and so as the neurodivergent too? The world doesn’t need them; they suck, right?

Wrong.

As stated, neoteny is theorized as an evolution process. This means the prolongation of a brain’s development may have given us extra invaluable time with which to pick up knowledge and skills.[4] You may notice that children are naturally curious, “can’t be tamed” (not the Miley Cyrus song, eh), creative, detailed, playful, and “out-of-the-box” imaginative traits as well, are the very characteristics of the keen learner, usually the child.

The ability of the brain to learn is apparently greatest before full maturity sets in, “and since neoteny means an extended childhood, you have this greater chance for the brain to develop,” says molecular phylogeneticist Morris Goodman of Wayne State University, who did not participate in this study. In other words, human evolution might have been advanced by the possibilities brimming in youth.[5]

Now, as the child enters puberty, his brain becomes dramatically reorganised and our grey matter actually starts to shrink, as unused connections between neurons are trimmed in a bid for efficiency.[4] This means the neotenic traits of learning are being trimmed also but skills and knowledge have already been honed. There is an advantage here. An adolescent’s skills can now become his career choice in adulthood. That’s good. Because it will be easy for a neurotypical person to pick any career he wants, mingle with people, and build his sense of identity. But there is also a disadvantage: the sense of childhood is lost, so does it contribute to less curiosity, which may lead to inflexibility of the mind to adapt to changes or conceive novel ideas as innovative solution, which could lessen his inclination to learn new things.

On the other hand, the neotenous neurodivergent’s seemingly more advantageous brain is actually a deficiency in 20th and 21st century societies. The very traits that made humans the most evolved species on earth were made into medical disabilities and became subjects to prejudice and abuse.

Why are neotenic neurodivergent people prejudiced?

As the world become more fast-paced with one-size-fits-all education and employment system, the neurodiverse traits now don’t fit in this particular type of system, even in the romance arena (where the traditional courtship rituals is replaced by the vague hanging-out-hooking-up culture).

Examples:

In the classroom setting, more hours are now spent on thousands of written rote exams and whole day sitting in the classroom that makes the ADHD child completely bored. There the symptom inattentiveness comes in, teacher refers child to counselor, then to child psychiatrist, and medication to control his brain. Therapies can be done, too. Although special education is there, labeling the child as problematic is common that this can make the child think “he’s useless” because he can’t be just like everyone else, concentrate and follow his teacher. Period.

Not good.

At work: most offices would like to hire an employee with the following characteristics: team player, good communication skills (read: social politics), presentable, quick to learn. Hmmm…there’s really nothing wrong with that, but the problem is some companies just hire employees without psychological testing. There, for example, an Asperger (higher autism spectrum) adult was hired. But he was not properly oriented about the job specifics (and office politics) that could be a disaster for him. Why? The invisible social rules there as well as his atypical way of stress relief (twirling hair, quiet time) makes him vulnerable to exploitation, suspension, or even termination because he just can’t follow his boss’s whims or he can’t read (especially when the latter’s not aware with ASD in adults). Now the blame is put on the Asperger adult and not on the company itself.

Unfair.

Okay, maybe neurodiverse people can’t be fit into certain education or employment. But the following cause of discriminating NDs totally sucks.

Pop culture.

Image courtesy of glamour.com. This is pop culture. No childlike neotenic element here. Just “mature”, sexualized superstars. Not good for the neurodivergent, eh?

Okay. How pop culture contributes to prejudice of neurodivergent people?

Pop culture dictates everything. From what clothes you should wear, what makeup should you use, how to get a guy/girl quickly, to becoming “in” just to fit in the world. Of course NTs would be pressured to fit in, but it would be easier for them to adapt than from NDs. Thanks to pop culture, NDs are pushed aside and being laughed at. For example, watching chick flicks in the tween years is common. Now a tween girl dislikes that sort of thing and would prefer watching cartoons and anime over flicks (prolonged childhood, common in ADHD and dyspraxia, but not all). All of the other girls mock at this girl and calling her “immature” just because of the interest. The same goes with fashion. A teenage girl preferring to wear cute dresses and pigtails is being laughed at by her more provocative peers wearing skimpy clothes and heavy makeup. Very bad. That’s bullying.

This is how neotenic NDs are prejudiced. The modern world seems to forget the big contributions some neurodiverse people have made to advance civilization. Hint: Some names you associate with the Enlightenment have suspected ADHD (Da Vinci), autism spectrum (Newton), Tourette syndrome (Mozart), and other neurodiverse conditions. Their atypical minds actually made profound contributions in human revolution that made us what we are today. That’s what were before. But now, since instant gratification is the norm and not the actual process of learning is preferred, what we totally lack is the childlike inquisitiveness that made human evolution possible. If we insist on the one-size-fits-all thing, disaster follows as people will be just the same herd without achieving a milestone that our ancestors did for a hundred millennia.

What the neurodivergent need is acceptance and support that they are born that way. Therapy to know neurotypical world and not forcing them to be a neurotypical is a must in order for them to live a happy, satisfying life, just like everybody else, just like little children with no sense of shame and self-doubt.

Image courtesy of renewingtherenaissance.com. Right, neurodivergent disability has its strengths also. Focus on that and they’ll be able to find their niche.

Acceptance is the key. Not all people are born to mature in the standard of the neurotypical. Some do stay as children in brains (not childish brats but a curious child eager to learn) in order to seek new innovations for the world has to offer and for human evolution to continue. We are constantly evolving in this web of live in order to survive. And to survive, we must learn to adapt and learn like the children do.

Image courtesy of Lifehack Quotes. Yeah, Mr. Huxley’s right. A childlike man never stops learning.

DIsclamer: No racism involved in the following paragraph.

P.S. Do you know that human neoteny is correlated to intelligence? Eh? Notice that the most neotenous peoples on earth, Northeast Asians (Japanese, Chinese, Koreans) are the most intelligent? (See my previous article on Forever Child here for more details) Neoteny in appearance is also related to psychological neoteny, which is why NE Asians are babyface and childlike in behavior and interests. And mind me, just an opinion, they are more creative than the rest of us in a fun, endearing, cute way. In the future they might beat the West when it comes to economy and technology as well as popular culture. Who knows?

Just a comparison with the neurodivergent.

Next time you see a childlike neurodivergent, don’t assume he’s immature. Yes, he can be, but remember that he might be more intelligent than you. ^_^

Reference:

  1. Armstrong, Thomas (2013). Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Brain Differences. Da Capo Press. ISBN: 978-0-3782-1354-5.
  2. http://www.intechopen.com/books/recent-advances-in-autism-spectrum-disorders-volume-i/critical-evaluation-of-the-concept-of-autistic-creativity
  3. http://www.theguardian.com/money/2012/apr/06/autistic-workers-employers-ignorance
  4. http://scienceblogs.com/notrocketscience/2009/03/24/genetic-neoteny-how-delayed-genes-separate-human-brains-fr/
  5. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/being-more-infantile/

Suggested reading:

http://www.shiftjournal.com/2012/01/23/tolkien-the-introvert/

J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels about the Middle Earth figuratively compares the highly imaginative non-human creatures (hobbits, elves) as the traditional human as well as the neurodiverse to the orcs as a post World War II man where his sense of learning has disappeared and has become sort of “selfie” junkie wanting nothing but self promotion and no learning.

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13

Forever Child (Neoteny and Neurodiversity)

DISCLAIMER: No racism involved.

(C) Nintendo.

Aren’t they cute??? ^_^ Yay, my fave characters, Pokemon. So cute…

Anyway, I’m sure everyone’s dazzled by cute characters, right? From animals to children, they seem adorable. But what if those childlike characteristics, i.e. young-looking, cute, naive, playful, curious, and honest, retain into adulthood?

Courtesy of Pinterest. Gyaru fashion.

I do not mean by this. The Gyaru (ギャル) or gal type of Japanese fashion.

Except if you are from Northeast Asia, the rest of the world seems to be repulsive to retention of childlike features and characteristics in adulthood. Being childlike could mean ridicule, laughing stock, or being last to finish at romance and work. Promise, I did experience that. I am described as a very childlike person with baby face, cute perky voice, and also have a childlike personality (playful, curious, blunt, and loves cartoons and anime more than chick flicks) that I usually end up being laughed at by my peers and also constantly layed off by employers.  But do you know that all humans have a characteristic called neoteny?

What is Neoteny?

Neoteny (also called juvenilization or paedomorphism/paedomorphosis) is the retention by adults of traits previously seen only in the young.[1] Ultimately this process results in the retention, in the adults of a species, of juvenile physical characteristics well into maturity and pedogenesis (paedogenesis), the reproduction in a neotenized state.[1][2] Here, a specie’s physical characteristics as a larva retain into adulthood. This means in humans, you still look like 12 even when you’re already 30.

That’s not all. Humans (homo sapiens) are the neotenized apes. How? Let’s take a look at this picture:

Image courtesy of aryanism.net. Left: a juvenile ape. Right: an adult ape.

Modern humans retain the youthful characteristics of a juvenile ape.

What are the characteristics of neoteny in humans?

The following are the neotenic features in humans[1]:

Various sources identify the following:

  • Head
    • globular skull[3]
    • thinness of skull bones[4]
    • reduction of brow ridge[5]
    • large brain[5]
    • flattened face[5]
    • broadened face[4]
    • hairless face[6]
    • hair on (top of) the head[3]
    • larger eyes[7]
    • ear shape[3]
    • small nose[6]
    • small teeth[5]
    • small maxilla (upper jaw) and mandible (lower jaw)[5]
  • Glabrousness (hairless body)[5]
  • Genitals
    • absence of baculum (penis bone)[3]
    • presence of hymen[3]
    • forward-facing vagina[3]
  • Limbs/Posture
    • limbs proportionately short compared to torso length[4]
    • longer leg than arm length[8]
    • structure of the foot[3]
    • upright stance[9][10]

Image courtesy of aspergerhuman.wordpress,com. You can compare the face of a modern human against the hominids. You can see that the modern human is somehow more “babyface” than the rest.

That’s the comparison of the homo sapiens against other hominids (prehistoric man). You can see that the modern human retained the juvenile feature of a prehistoric man.

Nevermind with these folks. To better illustrate neotenous features in humans, let’s use Betty Boop:

(C) King Feature Syndicates. Betty Boop has some neotenous features like large head, large eyes, small nose, and shorter body.

Not that in physical aspects that humans retained their juvenile ape features, but also in neurological/psychological/mental aspects too.

Also called “psychological neoteny,” this retention of human brain in childhood seems to be an upward trend as society progresses. According to Bruce Charlton, a doctor and psychology professor at Newcastle University in Britain, what looks like immaturity — or in Charlton’s kinder terms, the “retention of youthful attitudes and behaviors into later adulthood” — is actually a valuable developmental characteristic, which he calls psychological neoteny.[11]

How is psychological neoteny described?

Here’s an explanation from Charlton in New York Times regarding psychological neoteny:

In a recent issue of Medical Hypotheses, a journal he edits, Charlton argues that unlike previous, more settled societies that could afford to honor a narrow and well-defined worldview (that is, a “mature” one), modern life is tumultuous and ever-changing. Accordingly, it rewards those who retain a certain plasticity of mind and personality. “In a psychological sense, some contemporary individuals never actually become adults,” he writes.

Charlton’s argument is still just a hypothesis, but it makes intuitive sense. For one thing, he notes, education in the modern era — which now routinely extends into an individual’s 20s — rewards a mental openness that could once be safely discarded in the midteens. As he explained in a recent e-mail message, a “likely cause” of the widespread delay in the onset of maturity today was “more prolonged higher education for ever more people, leading to an increase in the ‘unfinished’ personalities that are adaptive to learning.”[11]

“In a psychological sense, some contemporary individuals never actually become adults,”

Charlton further added:

Furthermore, he argues, social roles have become less fixed in modern society. We are expected to adapt to change throughout our lives, both in our personal relationships and in our careers, and immaturity, as Charlton added, is “especially helpful in making the best out of enforced job changes, the need for geographic mobility and the requirement to make new social networks.” In fact, he speculates, the ability to retain youthful qualities, now often seen as folly, may someday be recognized as a prized trait.[11]

“…the ability to retain youthful qualities, now often seen as folly, may someday be recognized as a prized trait.”

I agree with him though. The childlike trait of playfulness also has a connection in learning new things even as an adult, thus being more flexible and adaptable.

Another application of psychological neoteny is found in the Japanese kawaii (かわいい) culture where anything cute, sweet, and babylike is preferred over the mature things. Kawaii can go from fashion, construction objects, to makeup and even transport and people’s behavior.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia. An example in construction work: a temporary guard rail in Narita, Chiba. Aren’t their fences cute?

Here’s another example:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia. Pokemon-themed bullet train.

Okay, remember the gyaru girls in the previous picture above? In kawaii culture, women even up to 30s prefer the adorable, cute look over the mature, sexy look.

To see the difference, let’s compare Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Lady Gaga:

(C) Warner Music Japan. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

(C) Interscope Records. Lady Gaga.

They’re both very loud in fashion, but Kyary’s kawaii fashion sharply contrasts with Gaga’s sexier burlesque-like, psychedelic fashion.

That’s even if Japanese women wear bikinis, you can see their difference from the Western beauty concept.

(C) You Be Cool, King! AKB48.

(C) A&M/Interscope. Pussycat Dolls.

Now you can see the difference? If you want to compare their makeup, that’s another story…lol

Before you give your racist comments, let me inject the reason for the psychological neoteny in Japanese pop culture.

Soichi Masubuchi (増淵宗一 Masubuchi Sōichi), in his work Kawaii Syndrome, claims “cute” and “neat” have taken precedence over the former Japanese aesthetics of “beautiful” and “refined”.[12] As a cultural phenomenon, cuteness is increasingly accepted in Japan as a part of Japanese culture and national identity. Tomoyuki Sugiyama (杉山奉文 Sugiyama Tomoyuki), author of Cool Japan, believes that “cuteness” is rooted in Japan’s harmony-loving culture, and Nobuyoshi Kurita (栗田経惟 Kurita Nobuyoshi), a sociology professor at Musashi University in Tokyo, has stated that “cute” is a “magic term” that encompasses everything that is acceptable and desirable in Japan.[13]

I think it has something to do with the Japanese concept of harmony, a trait found in most East Asian people (East Asian collectivism vs Western individualism vs circum-Mediterranean collectivism, which is social superiority). You may also notice that Northeast Asian people (Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Mongols) are the most neotenic (babyface) race in the world. (Disclaimer: no racism here) This is due to the EDAR gene (ectodysplasin A receptor gene) responsible for increased scalp hair thickness, shovel-shaped incisors, an increase in the number of eccrine sweat glands, and smaller breasts.[14] This traits can make a human look younger than her actual age. I do not know but maybe EDAR is also responsible for flatter faces, shorter stature (though Koreans are tall Asians and there are really tall Asians), smaller hips, and lower testosterone levels, which also explains why East Asians look younger than Caucasians or Africans.

Another reason is this: Japanese history and religion. I think Shintoism (Japanese native religion) and Buddhism combined preaches peace and harmony (Christianity does that too, but unfortunately with some battle conquest with good vs evil and also sex-related prohibitions) where everybody must cooperate despite differences (that’s a neotenic trait). What accelerated Japanese’ love for anything cute is their turn into infantilism after they were defeated and sanctioned in World War II and also were largely influenced by Disney characters and Betty Boop. It seems that they found solace in anything endearing against their helplessness during that time and it served as a therapy before they bounce back to their economic security.

Is Neoteny connected to Neurodiversity?

Yes. Psychological neoteny is apparent also in neurodiversity.

How can that be?

Hallmark traits in most neurodiverse conditions (impulsivity in ADHD and hyperfocus in ADHD and autism spectrum, etc.) are very childlike in nature. In ADHD, the blurting out of same thoughts over and over again may seem very annoying to most neurotypical people, but this is very crucial as this facilitates more learning experience thanks to their constant inquisitiveness. People with dyslexia can’t understand written language; they compensate it with verbal abilities, that’s why it’s quite common for actors or actresses to have dyslexia. As for people on the autism spectrum, their great attention for detail (toddlers also do that sometimes, i.e. observing closely how butterflies fly…) is a neotenic trait as well.

In fact, a number of neurodiversity advocates and evolutionary advocates count neurodiversity and neoteny as crucial in human evolution. Here are some:

Andrew Lehman wrote a book, Evolution, Autism & Social Change, which contains theories about autism causes, which includes neoteny as a way of evolution. Mr. Lehman constructs elaborate arguments about the origins of autism that have to do with intrauterine exposure to hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen.[15] These hormones control a fetus’s maturational rate, which causes ASD symptoms. This is where males with ASD look younger than their actual ages whereas females may look older than they are. But he focuses on the males, who have more neotenic features than neurotypical males. Here, the cause and/or effect of ASD is the rise of agricultural, matrifocal (mother-centered) culture where females mate with the “dad-type” (hint: nice guy) of males (less masculine, neotenized, cooperative) who can take care of them and their family. This means the macho, promiscuous (bad boy) male is a turn-off for them, hereby a cause for evolution of ASD. This is unlike today that dads can still be chosen, but cads are more preferred…

Image courtesy of University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Nice guys (dads) may seem not so good, but prehistoric women in the agricultural revolution chose them as mates, resulting in evolution of ASD.

Thomas Armstrong wrote The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain where he advocated that neotenic/neurodivergent traits are actually a blessing and not a burden, as most people will say. Here’s an excerpt from his book:

It could be that children labeled ADHD, with their lag in brain development, may be the leading edge in evolution, demonstrating childlike patterns of behavior, including playfulness, spontaneity, and humor, that need to be retained in adulthood if we’re going to survive and thrive as a specie. If we lose the ability to be flexible as we grow into adulthood, for example, we’d have a civilization of inflexible people, which could be disastrous in the event of a global shutdown that threatened us with nuclear war. Thus, flexibility, carefully nurtured into adulthood, provides a kind of protective influence for international stability. Many of these so-called immature qualities that shine so brightly in kids labeled ADHD have similar effects on culture. As Ashley Montagu writes, “From their ‘mature adult’ height adults only to frequently look down patronizingly upon the ‘childish’ qualities of the child, without any understanding of their real meaning. Such adults fail to understand that those ‘childish’ qualities constitute the most valuable possessions of our species, to be cherished, nurtured, and cultivated.[16]

It could be that children labeled ADHD, with their lag in brain development, may be the leading edge in evolution, demonstrating childlike patterns of behavior, including playfulness, spontaneity, and humor, that need to be retained in adulthood if we’re going to survive and thrive as a specie.

Mr. Armstrong’s right. Sadly, our contemporary culture (Western) looks down upon people with neotenic traits especially people in neurodiversity. Thanks also to multitask economy where everybody should be jack-of-all-trades employee, the neurodivergent community suffers from prejudice, unemployment, and underachievement. That will be a burden in any country’s economy. This can hamper a country’s development because talents are not utilized well. Plus, wasted gifts of neurodivergent people turn into mental disorders that can cost a living. Intellectual life will be hampered too as there are fewer people who think out of the box for innovation. Also, our rejection of anything neotenous is a high risk for a lot of world maladies: wars, political upheaval, genocide, sexual crimes like rape and incest, misogyny (hatred of women), homophobia (fear of homosexuals), and lots of eruptive misunderstandings that can result in human extinction or civilizational downfall if not curbed (this is not exaggeration, this is realistic as evidenced by terrorist attacks, city bombings, religious persecution, and the like). And this very much evident in most parts of the world.

I observe that less neotenized societies are rather more war freak and more neotenized societies are more peaceful. Do you think (No racist comment here. Just my opinion.)

Northeast Asia has the most neotenized societies in the world. They have very high standard of living, relatively peaceful, and also high in human rights index as well as education, sciences, and mathematics. This has something to do with neoteny, though I’m not really sure. That’s why they lead the world in technology (Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Hyundai, etc.) and IQ tests (average Japanese IQ is 105, Hong Kong Chinese IQ is 107, the highest in the world, South Korean IQ is 106, Taiwan 104, Singapore 103, China 100[17]). Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, with two cities, Tokyo and Osaka, placed 1st and 3rd in Business Insider’s top 20 safest cities in the world.[18] Also included safest cities/states are Singapore (2nd), Hong Kong (11th), and Taipei (13th)[18], all found in the same region, except Singapore, which is in Southeast Asia, but with large Chinese ethnicity. (NE Asia has high human development index with the exception of China PR and North Korea)

Outside Northeast Asia, the most neotenized people are of Northern European (Nordic, Celtic, Germanic) origin. Though they are not as neotenous as East Asians, Nordics do have neotenous features like blond hair and blue eyes (also red hair and green, hazel, and gray eyes), which is absent in the rest of the world population. And comparing them along with redheads and brunette Northern Europeans, they look more baby face than Mediterraneans (Southern European), who look a lot more mature. (Among Caucasoids, their infants are lighter than the adults, Northern Europeans retained their youthful features in adulthood)

Image courtesy of h2o.wikia.com. Chord Overstreet is an achetype of a Nordic male.

Image courtesy of IMDB. Maxi Iglesias is a classic Mediterranean man.

Comparison of Northern and Southern European men. Both handsome, eh, but the Nordic’s light skin, hair, and eyes make him look younger than the Mediterranean.

(C) JYP Entertainment. Nickkhun of 2 PM. Definitely, Asian men are the hottest. ^_^

But you can notice that Asians really are more neotenized than Europeans. Anyway…

Northern Europeans have also psychological neoteny. This is apparent by their individualistic notion of self (I am independent of my own thinking), which is absent in other races even Asians, having very high affective empathy[19], which is a very neotenic trait, and delayed marriage (prolonged childhood) and childbearing pattern. These traits are very helpful in establishing human rights and dignity of labor, principles found only in NW Europe. Maybe these factors made Northern Europe the most prosperous region in the world (renaissance, reformation, enlightenment, industrial revolution, etc. these novel ideas are products of extreme creativity that defies societal norms commonly found in people with ADHD and autism spectrum).

(C) Penguin Publishing Group.

In my own opinion, neoteny isn’t something to be ashamed of especially with neurodiversity, but rather this is something to be proud of, as this actually is the by-product or vehicle of evolution. Neoteny and neurodiversity are a tandem in preserving human specie as a whole. Neotenous traits help propel human evolution further and bringing the best in us. I wish more neurotypical people will better understand and accept neurodivergent people with neotenic traits.

 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

– Matthew 18:4, NIV

The Christian Bible even recommends the childlike character of neoteny.

Why we keep on forcing the neurodivergent in keeping up with neurotypicals is absurd. Maybe I’ll write the second part of this article…

Reference:

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoteny
  2. Schell, S. C. Handbook of Trematodes of North America North of Mexico, 1985, pg. 22
  3. Bednarik, R. G. (2011). “The Human Condition”. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-9353-3. ISBN 978-1-4419-9352-6. (page 134), cited by: Achrati, Ahmed (November 2014). “Neoteny, female hominin and cognitive evolution”. Rock Art Research 31 (1): 232–238.
  4. Gould, S.J. (1977) Ontogeny and Phylogeny, Cambridge: Belknap Press
  5. Montagu, A. (1989). Growing Young. Bergin & Garvey: CT.
  6. Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu, P. (2007). Evolution. Seven Stories Press, USA.
  7. “Why Do Men Find Women With Larger Eyes Attractive?”. Zidbits – Learn something new everyday!
  8. Smith, J.M. (1958). The theory of evolution. Cambridge University Press.
  9. Henke, W. (2007). Handbook of paleoanthropology, Volume 1. Springer Books, NY.
  10. Hetherington, R. (2010). The Climate Connection: Climate Change and Modern Human Evolution. Cambridge University Press.
  11. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/10/magazine/10section3a.t-3.html?_r=0
  12. Shiokawa. “Cute But Deadly: Women and Violence in Japanese Comics”. Themes and Issues in Asian Cartooning: Cute, Cheap, Mad and Sexy. Ed. John A. Lent. Bowling Green, Kentucky: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999. 93–125. ISBN 0-87972-779-9
  13. Quotes and paraphrases from: Yuri Kageyama (June 14, 2006). “Cuteness a hot-selling commodity in Japan”. Associated Press.
  14. https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/understanding-edar/
  15. http://starlarvae.blogspot.com/2009/10/autism-aspergers-neurodiversity.html
  16. Armstrong, Thomas (2010). The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain. Da Capo Press. Ebook ISBN: 978-0-3782-1553-2.
  17. http://www.statisticbrain.com/countries-with-the-highest-lowest-average-iq/
  18. http://www.businessinsider.com/the-20-safest-cities-in-the-world-2015-1
  19. http://evoandproud.blogspot.com/2014/06/how-universal-is-empathy.html

Further reading:

  1. http://seminalthought.blogspot.com/2013/06/most-neotenous-in-world-japan.html
  2. https://viakorea.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/the-baby-race-neoteny-in-northeast-asians/
  3. http://starlarvae.blogspot.com/2009/10/autism-aspergers-neurodiversity.html
  4. http://www.shiftjournal.com/
  5. http://www.neoteny.org/
  6. Lehman, Andrew (2010). Evolution, Autism & Social Change. neoteny.org. ISBN: 978-0-615-36133-8.
  7. Armstrong, Thomas (2010). The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain. Da Capo Press. Ebook ISBN: 978-0-3782-1553-2.
  8. http://evoandproud.blogspot.com/2012/05/survival-of-cutest.html
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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.
image

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

image

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.

Neoteny?

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.

Sources:
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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