Friday, December 1, 2023

Neurodiversity

 According to Harvard Medical School:

The word neurodiversity refers to the diversity of all people, but it is often used in the context of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as other neurological or developmental conditions such as ADHD or learning disabilities. The neurodiversity movement emerged during the 1990s, aiming to increase acceptance and inclusion of all people while embracing neurological differences. Through online platforms, more and more autistic people were able to connect and form a self-advocacy movement. At the same time, Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist, coined the term neurodiversity to promote equality and inclusion of "neurological minorities." While it is primarily a social justice movement, neurodiversity research and education is increasingly important in how clinicians view and address certain disabilities and neurological conditions.

Although a politically-correct term such as this would not normally appeal to me, after watching this video of Temple Grandin, I decided that, since autism spectrum disorder, which I discussed earlier, consists of several unrelated differences in brain function, "neurodiversity" is not an entirely inappropriate term to describe the wide variety of symptoms that occur in ASD. I think that, eventually, there will be separate diagnoses for these symptoms, and that research will indicate different classifications for behaviors that are now lumped together only because there is insufficient data to separate them based on brain function. I had heard of Temple Grandin before, and in this video, which is now ten years old, I think she provides a better explanation of ASD than I've seen elsewhere.

I am very impressed with Temple Grandin, because she was severely dysfunctional as a child, yet, with the help of her mother, overcame her handicap, led a successful career, and now is one of the very few autistic people who is an active speaker on autism. Furthermore, she is quite scientific in her presentation, and I find her to be a highly effective speaker. She is refreshing, because she is well informed about her condition and discusses it articulately. Most of the autistic people I've known don't know how they are different from non-autistic people, are unable to discuss it, and, when they congregate with other high-functioning autistic people, may speak derisively about non-autistic people – with no social repercussions for themselves. Some of the autistic people I've known have behaved abusively and were never held to account. Far from being functionally incapacitated like Temple Grandin, high-functioning autistic people can behave imperiously and insult people with impunity, especially when their support group consists entirely of autistic people. In my experience, autistic people, if they have enough money, can be just as bigoted as anyone else.

There is nothing wrong with publicizing pertinent facts about autism. Temple Grandin goes to great lengths by showing how her brain scans are different from those of others. Much of her professional success stems from her ability to understand animals, and that is another characteristic missing in the autistic people I know. She is not like the coding savants more commonly associated with the tech industry: she thinks in pictures and has incredibly good skills in observation. This talent works well with scientific observation, which also comes naturally to her. On the other hand, she had to work very hard to overcome language and math handicaps. I admire her plainspokenness and common sense, which I have never seen elsewhere on the spectrum. She even recognized that she was not cut out for romantic relationships and never pursued one. I have a soft spot in my heart for Temple Grandin, because she also speaks for me as a non-autistic, visual and scientific person.

The variations in human brain function discussed by Temple Grandin, I might add, fit very well within the Darwinian model that I've often discussed on this blog. The reason why sexual reproduction works is that it introduces variation into gene pools, so that at any given time the human genome as a whole is capable of adapting to new conditions in the environment. This usually means that, if new adverse conditions arise, some of the population may be able to adapt. It is known that when populations such as the Neanderthals inbreed, they can go extinct. That may be caused either by the expression of recessive genes or by genetic obsolescence. The taboo against incest actually has a biological basis. In this context, the concept of neurodiversity makes a lot of sense.

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