Today, Friday, May 17th, is the last day of Neurodiversity Celebration Week. This was an initiative created by award-winning autism advocate and online friend of mine Siena Castellon of Quantum Leap Mentoring. It is an initiative to hopefully get people to celebrate neurodiversity – the idea that variations in how people’s brains are wired, like autism, ADHD, OCD, etc. are natural parts of human diversity and not something to be feared, demonized, or eradicated. Siena has gotten hundreds of schools from across the UK, USA, and even as far as Qatar to recognize and celebrate Neurodiversity Week in order to support their neurodiverse students.
In honor of this week, I’d like to write a short statement about what neurodiversity means to me. The tagline for Neurodiversity Celebration Week is “It Takes All Kinds of Different Minds” and I think this does an alright job at giving a broad context of what neurodiversity is all about. Neurodiversity is the philosophy of recognizing that differences in the ways that people’s brains work are a natural part of human variation. It means accepting people whose brains work differently than most other people’s as valuable members of society. Accepting us as fully human with the same rights as everyone else. It means being inclusive of all people, and not inclusive in the sense of “we’ll include them after they can do XYZ,” but fully inclusive regardless of their abilities or disabilities. It means recognizing that neurodiverse people have contributed and will continue to contribute valuable things to this world. It means recognizing that we are different, but not less. It means not pushing for “cures” that seek to eradicate us or “therapies” that only aim to make us “look normal.”
For some reason, a common misconception I see all the time is that neurodiversity means “doing nothing,” or that embracing neurodiveristy means being “anti-treatment” or “anti-therapy.” Or that neurodiversity means not recognizing the very real challenges that neurodiverse people face. This is completely wrong. The neurodiversity paradigm would reject “therapies” that seek only to make someone appear “more normal” rather than teach the person any actually useful functional skills, however there is nothing wrong with learning valuable and necessary life skills. Further, I will be the first to say that I strongly dislike it when people make autism out to be some sort of super-human gift, or claim it’s the “next step” in human evolution or what have you. Frankly, framing autism solely in this light is actually quite offensive to me because it trivializes the battles that I fight every day. However, I will also emphatically proclaim that autism is not an inherently bad condition. It is definitely challenging, but it is not a negative characteristic, and is definitely not worse than diseases like cancer or AIDS, unlike what Autism $peaks might tell you.
I don’t consider autism to be either inherently or good or inherently bad. Yes, it’s a disability, and yes, it’s challenging. But it also comes with some pretty cool gifts, such as the ability to see things around me in a new and exciting way. I wouldn’t change it for a second. So, for Neurodiversity Celebration Week, I ask that whether you’re dealing with autism or any other neurodivergence, that you focus on positivity. Too often people only want to talk about or deficits and our costs, not our abilities and our contributions. I want this paradigm of only looking at autism in a negative light to change so badly, and it will start with each individual person. So this week, and really anytime you can, celebrate neurodiversity. Know that the world is a better place with us in it, and know that it takes all kinds of different minds.