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Psychological Problems in Neurodiversity

Any person who has atypical neurological development will likely have atypical psychological development as well. This means when everybody else (the neurotypicals) have the same development (psychosocial, emotional, and cognitive), the neurodiverse definitely has a different developmental pattern.

Now, before explaining psychological problems in neurodiversity, let me share what is the normal (or neurotypical) psychological development (that is, a person without learning disabilities, developmental disorders, and emotional disorders).

Image courtesy of natural-passages.com. Psychosocial development by Erik Erikson.

Image courtesy of Muskingum University. Jean Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Stages.

Okay. I’ll end the list here. The first table regards to the psychosocial development in humans developed by Erik Erikson. At each stage of human development, there is a specific crisis each must face. For example, the infant’s trust vs mistrust crisis. Here, the infant must learn to trust her surroundings, her parents (particularly mother), caregivers, and environment. If these needs are not met, the infant will fail to learn trust and instead will learn mistrust and will be afraid of everything around her. If crises are managed well, the psychosocial development of a person will flow chronologically. However, any negative response to a crisis will suspend a person’s psychosocial development and that is detrimental to the person’s being.

Now, move to the second table. It is Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. This theory is about the nature and development of human intelligence.[1] According to Piaget (who is a gifted person in psychology, see my article on giftedness), cognitive development was a progressive reorganization of mental processes resulting from biological maturation and environmental experience. He believed that children construct an understanding of the world around them, experience discrepancies between what they already know and what they discover in their environment, then adjust their ideas accordingly.[1][2] He regarded the child as a philosopher who perceives the world only as he has experienced it. Therefore, most of Piaget’s inspiration in cognitive and intellectual development came from observations of children.[3] The theory of cognitive development focuses on mental processes such as perceiving, remembering, believing, and reasoning. Reasoning is the essence of intelligence, and reasoning is what Piaget studied in order to discover “how we come to know.”[4]  Piaget believed that cognitive development is cumulative; that is, understanding a new experience grows out of a previous learning experience.[3]  Accordingly, there are four stages of cognitive development[3]:

Here, these four stages have different modes of learning. At the beginning of life, a baby uses her reflexes to navigate the world (sensorimotor). Then, from toddler to preschool years, she uses only her point of view (egocentrism) to navigate the world (preoperational). Her language matures, but their thinking is based on intuition and still not completely logical. They cannot yet grasp more complex concepts such as cause and effect, time, and comparison.[5] Following the elementary years, the child now demonstrate logical, concrete reasoning (concrete operational). Children’s thinking becomes less egocentric and they are increasingly aware of external events. They begin to realize that one’s own thoughts and feelings are unique and may not be shared by others or may not even be part of reality. During this stage, however, most children still can’t think abstractly or hypothetically.[5] As they move into adolescence, are able to logically use symbols related to abstract concepts, such as algebra and science. They can think about multiple variables in systematic ways, formulate hypotheses, and consider possibilities. They also can ponder abstract relationships and concepts such as justice.[5] Take note that Piaget acknowledged that some children may pass through the stages at different ages than the averages noted above and that some children may show characteristics of more than one stage at a given time. But he insisted that cognitive development always follows this sequence, that stages cannot be skipped, and that each stage is marked by new intellectual abilities and a more complex understanding of the world.[5]

The summary of  both Piaget’s sensorimotor development and Erikson’s early psychosocial developments are found here at this picture:

Image courtesy of buzzle.com. An illustrated normal development from infancy to toddlerhood. Piaget’s sensorimotor cognitive development and Erikson’s trust vs mistrust, autonomy vs shame, and initiative vs guilt, all summed up here.

There are more theories regarding psychological development in humans like Freud’s psychosexual development and Sullivan’s interpersonal development, Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, and so forth. These theories explain the normal development of the human mind, personality, and the whole personhood itself. Any delay or obstruction can cause significant halt in the person’s total development and may lead to various psychological and mental and even personality problems that may cause distress to the person.

But what about psychological development for people in neurodiversity?

Image courtesy of Middlebury College.

For neurodiverse people, psychological and cognitive development may be different from the rest of us neurotypicals. This has something to do with atypical brain development (as in the case of autism) or atypical learning styles (in case of learning disabilities) or cognitive abilities (giftedness, intellectual disability). This difference in psychological development causes various psychological problems for people in neurodiversity ranging from depression to anxiety to substance abuse and suicide.

Let’s cite autism as an example of neurodiversity with different psychological development (excerpt from Psychology Today):

Children with autism do not follow the typical patterns of child development. In some, signs of future problems may be apparent from birth. Other children develop typically at first, but between the ages of 18 and 36 months, their development stagnates. Parents may notice that they begin to reject social contact, act strangely, and even lose language and social skills that they have already acquired. In other cases, there is a plateau or leveling of progress, and the difference between the child with autism and other children the same age becomes more noticeable.[6]

Here, the autistic child clearly develops differently and more delayed than the neurotypical children. The autistic child may not reach a particular milestone (let’s say she cannot move from preoperational to concrete operational cognitive development) because of her different mental and psychological development.

Another example of neurodiversity with different psychological development is ADHD. Because ADHD is characterized by short attention span, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, many kids with ADHD tend to suffer from school difficulties and social rejection. Here, I can say that the ADHD child may have halt in Erikson’s industry vs inferiority where he, because of his ADHD, may perceive himself as inferior to his peers in relation to task mastery (studying). The same goes with other learning disabilities where people having it have a sense of inadequacy.

The more difficulty neurodiverse people develop is in the social domain. Because they are different from most humans, they tend to be socially isolated (usually failing Erikson’s intimacy vs isolation where they become isolated) and can either become depressed or harbor anger to other people, become needy, and may become suicidal.

People in neurodiversity experience lots of psychological struggles more than neurotypical individuals thus experience more psychological illnesses and disorders. Why? Because their atypical neurological development also means atypical psychological development.

Image courtesy of Huffington Post. People in neurodiversity do experience psychological problems more than neurotypicals.

What are some of the common psychiatric disorders experienced by people in neurodiversity?

Anxiety – people in neurodiversity are more anxious than neurotypicals because neurodivergents have different ways of dealing with the world, which can be weird or unacceptable to the majority (neurotypicals). Because of this, neurodivergents experience anxiety.

Depression – when a neurodivergent experiences more and more failures and social isolation, that’s a perfect recipe for depression. This is true especially when a neurodivergent gives up trying new things (learned helplessness) and begins to be aggressive turned inside (depression); hence, depression develops.

Phobia – a phobia is excessive and irrational fear of a real or perceived object or occurrence. Neurodivergent people, because of traumas they experience in life, may develop phobias of specific objects (i.e., sports equipment for a person with dyspraxia) or social events (in case of autism and language disorders). They develop phobias in order to protect themselves from further humiliation, which I’ll bring another psychological problem in neurodiversity.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – having a neurodiverse condition can also have repeated failures in motor skills (dyspraxia) or failures in understanding mathematical concepts (dyscalculia), which may cause obsessions in failures, which could turn into compulsions of excessive perfectionism (obsessive-compulsive disorder) in order to compensate the disabilities in neurodiversity. Not a good compensation, as OCD is one extreme form of anxiety. If disabilities are not properly addressed, the end result will be more anxiety, depression, and procrastination (not really doing anything to solve a problem, just obsessing with how a particular problem is solved without action), which could also lead to underachievement in life areas.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) –  when repeated failures and rejections are experienced by the neurodivergent (i.e., bullying, always failing at school, social rejection), he or she may develop post-traumatic stress disorder, is an anxiety disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to one or more traumatic events[7] such as bullying. Symptoms include disturbing recurring flashbacks, avoidance or numbing of memories of the event, and hyperarousal, which does continue for more than a month after the occurrence of a traumatic event.[7][8] A neurodivergent can experience PTSD after years of rejection and failures.

Eating disorders – neurodivergents who are always rejected by peers would become obsessed with their looks (weight included), which can lead them to have various eating disorders (very abnormal eating habits) like anorexia nervosa (eating little to nothing to decrease weight even if already underweight), bulimia (binge eating followed by induced vomiting/excretion), binge-eating disorders (eating excessively even if it causes a person to be obese), and so forth. This is common for people with autism spectrum disorders (click this link for more details) because of their obsession with details and are longing to be part of a group, hence forcing their bodies to become “perfect” just to be accepted by a group.

Suicide/suicidal tendencies – because the neurodivergent feels she’s different and it seems that no one could understand her (these occur in undiagnosed neurodivergents), she will resort to self-harm or self-destruction, which is ultimately a tragedy for any neurodivergent.

It’s very disheartening for neurodivergent people to experience these psychological problems. What to do to avoid these problems in neurodiversity?

Proper assessment of the neurodiverse condition is a must in order to truly identify the key problems of a neurodivergent person. By properly identifying either a learning disability, developmental disorder, or emotional/behavior disorder, the neurodivergent person will finally identify who he really is, will have an introspection of himself (though it will take months to years before acceptance just like what I did), then he will develop healthy coping strategies (i.e., individualized education plan, shift to a job that truly suits his strength, social skills training, etc.) in order to reach his full potential.

Image courtesy of lifehacker.com. Self-awareness of the neurodiverse condition is a key to alleviating psychological problems in neurodiversity.

Self-awareness and self-acceptance of the neurodiverse condition is also a must for the neurodivergent in order to alleviate his psychological problems. Yes, someone can be aware of his condition, but if he cannot accept it as part of his personhood, then nothing happens. There is no introspection. Without it, the neurodivergent still encounter problems because of his failure to accept himself as who he is. This is hard at first, because being different from majority (neurotypicals) would mean struggle in self-acceptance, lest acceptance by the group. But when a neurodivergent finally becomes aware of his condition and accepts it, then change will occur because he can learn to navigate the world with his “real” self without compensating to psychological problems.

Love and support from family and friends is also a must. And it’s not conditional. Families and friends of neurodivergent people should be educated and/or be aware of the neurodivergent’s condition and unconditional love and support is ever needed in order for the neurodivergent to feel accepted and loved. Neurodivergents usually have a hard tie when it comes to acceptance because of his hard-wired difference. Nevertheless, when he is valued and accepted, he will have the courage to go on in this world and he will feel that he “belongs” alongside all people, whether be neurodivergent or neurotypical.

Final words: Being a person in neurodiversity whether having learning disabilities or developmental disorders doesn’t exempt him or her from having various psychological problems whether brought by neurodiversity or other life trials. This means a neurodivergent is similar to the neurotypical; in short, he is human too but with different brain makeup.

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piaget%27s_theory_of_cognitive_development
  2. McLeod, S. A. “Piaget | Cognitive Theory”. Simply Psychology. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  3. http://www.icels-educators-for-learning.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=46&Itemid=61
  4. Singer, D.G. & Revenson, T.A. (1997). A Piaget Primer: How a Child Thinks (Revised Edition). Madison, Connecticut: International Universities Press Inc.
  5. http://www.webmd.com/children/piaget-stages-of-development
  6. https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/autism
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posttraumatic_stress_disorder
  8. American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. pp. 271–280.ISBN 978-0-89042-555-8.
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The Neurotypical

You heard it. The term neurotypical. This is familiar among neurodiverse people (especially with autistics). But what exactly is the word neurotypical and what does this term imply to neurodiversity?

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Neurotypical or NT, abbreviation for neurologically typical is is a neologism originating in the autistic community as a label for people who are not on the autism spectrum.[1][2] The term eventually became used for anyone who does not have atypical neurology. In other words, this refers to anyone who does not have conditions such as autism, dyslexia, developmental coordination disorder, or ADD/ADHD.
This term is also used by the scientific community.[1]

In short, neurotypical means the ‘usual’ human being with typical neurodevelopment. They are also called normal.

How do you know if someone (or you yourself) is neurotypical?

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First of all, NTs comprise 99% of the world’s population. It means they’re everywhere. While neurodiverse people are only 1% of the population. Chances are, there is an NT in your family.[3]

You can tell if someone (or you yourself) is an NT by having (some or) all of these traits[3]:

First, an NT loves to have small talk or chit-chat. It means light talk or simple conversation that includes trivial topics like the weather, showbiz, gossip, etc. This ability is crucial to have rapport or to build ‘bonding’ with another person. For the neurodiverse, small talk is boring and considered nonsense.

Second, NTs love to ‘avoid honesty’.[4] This is how it works: when someone asks them about her appearance, the NT says she’s fine even if in fact she’s ugly. In fact, they love flattery even if it is really a lie. When feeling bad, they will tell you they’re okay when actually it’s not. For the neurodiverse, this is just confusing as you tell a thing when in fact you’re thinking of its opposite. In short, NTs love sarcasm.

Third, NTs are obsessed with social status. Typically, NTs want to beat their fellowmen when it comes to trends, may it be fashion, travel, luxuries, or sexual conquests, they want to be the ‘winner’. For the fellow NTs, these trends are like contests. Whenever they have more facebook fans or wear the latest fashion, they love to brag about it in public. However, if they see another NT who’s more ‘in’ than them, they will envy them.

Fourth, NTs are approval seekers. Though it seems like it’s insecurity in a sense, they love to have validation from others to keep them going. It’s not that all NTs are insecure, but most of them do want approval from peers.

Fifth, NTs have herd mentality. Wherever one NT is, the others follow. Let’s give an example: ‘trending activities’ on social media. From making duck faces to ice bucket challenge and even sexting, NTs just follow these trends even if some of these trends may seem stupid to the neurodiverse. Also, when one NT has a new app or gadget, every other NT follows her. And they too have to be similar to their fellow NTs in their behavior. For example, when it comes to peer pressure, NT teens usually have to conform just to be socially acceptable to the herd, not matter what the outcome is, whether they become sober, or they accidentally become pregnant or have an STD. But when they see a neurodiverse or fellow NT doing things that deviates from the ‘normal’ herd, they usually bully, make fun, or mock the neurodiverse. As for the NT, they have to follow the herd; otherwise, they will be left alone.

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Join us and be cool! Leave us and you suck!

Sixth, NTs are solitude intolerant. How is that? While most neurodiverse people enjoy solo time to think or rest, most NTs get bored or become depressed when alone. They cannot live by just themselves only. They seek companionship wherever they go. That is why it’s common for them to find another date right away following a breakup from a relationship, though they haven’t really moved on from their exes. You can spot an NT from a neurodiverse by their history of past relstionships. An NT usually has 4 relationships and up plus a number of flings, fucking buddies, and other casual partners whereas a neurodivers has 2 or less relationships and a few to no flings or casual sex partners or may be a virgin. It’s not that all NTs are promiscuous, but most of them do.

And lastly, NTs are silence intolerant. They cannot stand to be silent for a long time; they need energy from people. NTs do want to spend most of their time with peers and be noisy whereas ASD folks enjoy being quiet and alone doing stuff.

Actually, there is a full ‘description’ of neurotypical syndrome, a parody made by the autistic comunity. You can follow this link here.

Disclaimer: This is only an opinion and these NT traits do not apply to all people. Some neurodiverse people like those with AD/HD do have these traits also. This article is for comparison of people with typical development against people with autism spectrum disorders.

Reference:
1. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurotypical
2. Sinclair, Jim (1998). “A note about language and abbreviations”. Archived from the original on 2008-06-06. Retrieved January 31, 2015.
3. http://musingsofanaspie.com/2013/01/10/what-is-neurotypical/
4. http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Neurotypical_syndrome

Further reading:
1. http://isnt.autistics.org/
2. http://www.theneurotypical.com/
3. http://actingnt.blogspot.com/2014/08/neurotypical-syndrome-played-straight.html
4. https://www.reclaiming.com/content/node/221

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

References:

[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/