Wednesday 4 March 2020

Neurodiversity 2.0: Judy Singer setting the record straight

I know I've kinda let this blog slip a little in recent months but work is work and blogging is blogging. Anyhow, I'm back with a short post to bring to your attention a rather important 'revision' presented by Judy Singer on her blog titled: NeuroDiversity 2.0 (see here).
I'm not going to rehash everything that Judy talks about in her post because it's all done exceptionally well in her blogpost. Neurodiversity is the term that has kinda turned into a movement (even a political movement) which has found something of a voice particularly on social media. As a critical voice to neurodiversity (see here) I would say that the concept of neurodiversity has been pushed way beyond it's original meaning and intention and well outside the scientific remit of the description (no, no-one is 'neurotypical' or NT). In her blogpost, Judy aims to clarify some important points about her description of neurodiversity and, as with all good ideas, adapts and modifies them as knowledge has increased. 

Some important things are mentioned by Judy which are worthy of note:

  • "Neurodiversity is NOT a Psycho-Medical diagnosis for individuals." She goes on to say that "if Worker A has identified themselves with a specific syndrome, e.g. Autism, in which case call them "autistic". But they are no more neurodiverse than anyone else on the planet." In other words, neurodiverse or neurodivergent are not replacements for autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and they don't magically bestow some differing neurological feature(s) or advantage(s). And just before you ask, "undiagnosed neurodiversity issues" (see here) is basically psychobabble BS and a good example of how neurodiversity has gone well beyond it's remit.
  • "Neurodiversity is a term that refers to an obvious and indisputable feature of Earth's biosphere." Basically, everyone is neurodiverse. With all the millions of differing biological processes that everyone encounters and undergoes, every second of every day, neurodiversity is the property of populations not individuals.
  • "It is not a synonym for "Neurological Disorder"." I might be repeating myself here but whether diagnosed or 'self-diagnosed' (another inherently problematic issue) with anything remotely related to behaviour and/or the brain, identifying as 'neurodiverse' says nothing about a person and their presentation. 
  • "Neurodiversity is a positive principle, but it is NOT a moral principle." As the property of a population, neurodiversity says just that: everyone is different, and we should be proud of our individual differences. I know sometimes people don't like to be seen as different (group membership is a powerful thing), but everyone has strengths and everyone has weaknesses at an individual level. Yes, there are things that society can do to ensure that more strengths are seen as strengths, but that's a different topic altogether.

I'm not expecting Judy's revisions to be immediately and universally accepted by everyone. There are some really ingrained views and opinions about neurodiversity out there, and to some degree, people have already adapted the term to fit their experience and/or agenda. I am hopeful however that we can move on from identity politics (of which neurodiversity has certainly been a focal point) and start to move forward on this. Moving forward means reclaiming labels like autism and ADHD and various other labels that have often got missed from the whole neurodiversity thing (e.g. schizophrenia and psychosis) and moving away from the idea that there is something universally and inherently 'different' about the minds of those with such labels. Science has yet to pinpoint anything that universally distinguishes those diagnosed with autism from those not diagnosed with autism outside of the diagnostic features (similar to every other diagnostic label with a behavioural element to it). If and when it does, then we can start talking about possible neurodivergence, but until then it's all hot air and bluster. 

Bravo Judy for the revision and clarification.