In case you haven’t guessed I’m pretty passionate about my work with kids who have autism. This means that I occasionally get pulled into some of the Autism wars. I firmly believe that there are very few black and white situations in life, and even fewer in the world of autism. There’s a saying that if you’ve met one person with autism, then you’ve met one person with autism. Which is all well and good except it really doesn’t only apply to people with autism. Every person is different, and one-size-fits-all thinking should really be called one-size-really-fits-none.
Recently one of the kids I work with was told that he needs to stop calling himself “autistic” and use person first language, saying, “I am a person who has autism”. I understand why person-first language is great and why it should be the default when dealing with people you haven’t met. However, when someone who HAS autism, declares a preference for the term “autistic”, who are we to judge? This is a conscious decision made by the person most affected by the language and I, for one, will support his choice as well as his right to change his mind if he wishes to in the future.
The one thing I am very ardent about is the fact that I don’t see autism as a disease that needs to be cured. In fact, I don’t see it as a disease at all. I am a strong believer in the neurodiversity paradigm and the belief that autism is part of the natural neurological variance found in humans. The neurodiversity paradigm, has 3 main tenets: 1) that neurodiversity is a natural and valuable form of human diversity; 2) that the idea that there is one “correct” form of neurocognative functioning is an artificial construct and is no more helpful to society than the idea that there is one “correct” form of gender or ethnicity; and 3) that the social dynamics relating to neurodiversity are no different than the social dynamics of other forms of human diversity (ethnicity, culture, gender), including and especially that this diversity, if embraced, can be a source of creative potential. [Source: Neurocosmopolitanism]
I believe that people with autism should be welcomed into society and that we shouldn’t be trying to change them to become more like neurologically “typical” people. That isn’t to say that I believe we should abandon all programming and services for people with autism, because I believe that as they are neurological outliers on the bell curve, the world isn’t geared towards them and so there are some skills that need to be learned in order to have life be less frustrating for them and for those who care about them. In honour of this belief, today’s Word Wednesday word is neurodiversity.
The neurodiversity movement is relatively young, about 20 or so years old. The term was coined by an Australian social scientist who was on the autism spectrum, and has become more and more widespread as time goes on. The movement encompasses more than just the autism community now – other neurological differences such as learning disabilities (LD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and bipolarity are part of the neurodiversity movement. I think part of the reason I like the neurodiversity movement so much is because I’ve always considered myself neurologically diverse – I have a learning disability, ADHD, and was identified as gifted in school – the triple threat of neurological differences. So I’m clearly in the neurodivergent camp.
The word is a compound word – comprised of the prefix neuro – which is from the Greek word neuron – which means nerve and is used in medicine to refer to things relating to the brain. The word diversity comes from the Latin word diversus – meaning separate, opposite, or different.
Neurodiversity (neur-o-di-ver-si-ty) noun
The infinite variation in neurocognative functioning in the human species.