Neurotypicality is a grounding narrative of exclusion. The neurotypical is the category to which our education systems aspire. It is the category to which our ideas of the nuclear family aspire. And, it is the category on which the concept of the citizen (and by extension participation in the nation-state and the wider global economy) is based.
In the context of education, which is the one I am most knowledgeable about, the mechanisms for upholding the neurotypical standard are everywhere in force. Every classroom that penalizes students for distributed modes of attention organizes learning according to a neurotypical norm. Every classroom that sees the moving body as the distracted body is organized according to a neurotypical norm. Every classroom that teaches predominantly for one mode of perception is organizing its learning according to a norm. Every classroom that knows in advance what knowledge looks and sounds like is working to a norm.
Intelligence, understood as the performance of a certain kind of knowledge acquisition and presentation, is built on the scaffold of neurotypicality as the unspoken norm. To speak of the normative tendencies of education is not new. My concern is with what remains largely unspoken in that conversation. Having “special needs” classrooms upholds neurotypicality, for instance, as the dominant model of existence. Drugging our children because of their attention deficit is upholding a neurotypical norm. Sending our black and indigenous children to juvenile detention centers in disproportionate numbers is upholding a neurotypical norm which takes, as neurotypicality always does, whiteness as the standard.
The set of social, political, cultural, and personal rules favors a particular way of thinking, feeling, behaving, and communicating as superior to others: the neurotypical form.
Our parents are ashamed of our differences, and we notice it. They continually repress us when out of instinct we obey our neurology. They deny us reasonable adjustments because according to their own neurology, our differences are meaningless and no one has explained to them that it is a right.
The vast majority of medical interventions around autism are not accepting of autism as one of the many biological possibilities of human diversity. Without evidence, they pathologize our differences, dehumanizing us.
The authorities force us to submit to systems that do not take into account our differences, making access to our human rights difficult.
The neuronorm forces us to camouflage ourselves when it is possible (at a very high cost in health and dignity) and when it is not possible we are denied the presumption of competence and the most basic rights are taken away from us: dignity, freedom, education and even the right to live.
We are the rare ones, the strangers, those who do not share the codes that unite society. We are the epitome of what it means to be “the other,” our way of being considered “not valid.”
NEURONORM: The Neuronorm is the set of social, political, cultural and personal norms that privilege a particular way of thinking, feeling, behaving, and communicating as superior to others.
The Neurodiversity Movement arose from the resistance of neurominority activists to their exclusion from employment, health, and education etc.
But if the movement is fully understood and used properly, it will find itself humanizing the working conditions of all humans, and providing an adequate standard of living for all, not just those with inherited wealth, paid employment, or entrepreneurial abilities.
Whether your goal is competitive advantage or human service, you should be able to meet your goals better under a Neurodiversity at Work banner, as opposed to an Autism at Work one. In both cases the supports needed are similar, but the neurodivergent population is substantially larger than the “only autistic” population so your chances of success are magnified.
While labels like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, or PDD-NOS may be useful for therapists and childhood educators, the community-sourced alternative “neurodivergent” is probably better suited for colleges and workplaces. In those spaces, medical labels carry stigma that leads to conscious and unconscious marginalization. Expectations are always lower for people with disability diagnoses.
Neurodiversity is a new concept but the underlying reality has been part of human society forever. In the modern era work and school programs designed for the average person have excluded those whose cognitive styles fall outside that narrow midrange. Despite that, workplaces – including colleges – already contain plenty of neurodiversity so a primary program goal should be the better support of those people. Neurodiversity at School and at Work is not just about bringing new people into the fold.
The newest Neurodiversity initiatives recognize this fact.
By embracing the neurodiversity model instead of autism, employers can move toward a more inclusive welcoming environment.
I agree. At my company, we’re framing in terms of neurodiversity at work.
“The right to learn differently should be a universal human right that’s not mediated by a diagnosis.”
For “all means all” to be meaningful for neurodivergent and disabled students, we must commit to this.
a more reasonable approach is simply to expand the spectrum of normal while building a supportive environment tempered with patience.
This open access textbook on autistic community and the neurodiversity movement—edited by an autistic neurodiversity researcher—is a free download.
Parents and educators, check it out.
The distributed model can be a boon to folks who have difficulty working in an office, but ultimately it’s up to the people who create and design work environments — distributed or co-located — to recognize that there isn’t a normal employee or a normal mode of work. There are no abnormal employees with abnormal needs. Companies should reject this false dichotomy and acknowledge that every employee is different, and that some might also experience several forms of difference and marginalization at once. Everyone, however, is likely to be happier and more productive when they have choices, agency, and a way to express their individual needs.
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?
For me, the key significance of the “Autistic Spectrum” lies in its call for and anticipation of a politics of Neurological Diversity, or “Neurodiversity”. The “Neurologically Different” represent a new addition to the familiar political categories of class / gender / race and will augment the insights of the social model of disability.