Monday, August 8, 2011

A Thought Experiment on Neurodiversity

The term "neurodiversity" came up in the documentary Loving Lampposts that I just watched. It made me start thinking about how society categorizes people with disorders, in particular mental and emotional disorders.

The film focuses in on Autism and how Autistic people are misunderstood as disabled, when the reality is that they perceive life and react to experiences differently than most people. This is implying that within the category of "most people", everyone perceives life and reacts to experiences the same, or similarly enough to stay within an acceptable spectrum. Assuming that everyone has a soul, which for this purpose I am defining as unique energy that manifests differently in every human being, then no one has the exact same perception or reaction to any experience. The majority learns how to perceive and react in ways that are congruent with social norms. Perhaps autistic, or otherwise mentally disabled, people simply behave more congruent with what their actual experience is.

I'm naturally prone to depression. I tend to gravitate toward being in a state of sadness. I am capable of getting into intensely emotional experiences that are very difficult for me to get myself out of. At times it affects my ability to maintain a functional life, but overall I have adapted to get along just fine with it. There have been many, many times when I have had to act to disguise myself as normal so that people wouldn't worry about me or think I have a problem. Times when all I've wanted to be is vacant and withdrawn but smile and talk anyway, even though my internal experience is still vacant and withdrawn. I've always gotten decent grades, had good friends, and been involved in a lot of activities and organizations ranging from sports to music.

This was all until March of 2009 when I started taking medication for my depression. Since taking the medication the depressive behavior has virtually stopped. I very rarely get as sad as I used to, and it is never as intense as it used to be. I'm still "me", just more able to fit within the realm of "normal" emotional experiences. I still get decent grades, enjoy sports and music, and have good friends- would say that all the outward signs of "success" are pretty much the same as before I began medication. However, I would argue that my internal experience is much better all-around now than before when I was not on medicine. Does that make it right for me to be taking medication? I don't know. Maybe I am deviating from my natural self.

My point is that I think we are all mentally and emotionally disabled. So if we all are, than no one is, right? I have the sense that this concept could be the next sort of civil rights battle...just as skin color and sexual preference have been, and continue to be, battles in society. Im not sure that civil rights is quite the correct wording here, but the idea is similar; something that was once categorized as a "disorder" can begin to be accepted as order. I don't want to make the mistake of grouping all mental or emotional disorders together, but for the purpose of this thought-experiment Im going to come awfully close to doing so.

I think the idea of tolerance of neurodiversity will become more prevalent in the next decade. My forecast is that people, as I have tonight, will begin to think of autism, depression, bipolar, anxiety, and schizophrenic disorders simply as different ways people perceive and react to stimuli. Different ways of being. I think neurodiversity could really become an acessible concept that will cycle through society in a similar way that racist and homophobic sentiments have and are still cycling through society- that is, racism and homophobia in the US were originally fully accepted until they began being questioned, and eventually totally rebuked.

There are stages of civil progress that any category of marginalized people go through. First they are categorized as "not right" or "not normal" by the majority. They are different from mainstream society so they are feared. Gradually pockets of people who actually know the marginalized minority begin to stand up against the marginalization and demand a second examination of the "fact" that these marginalized people aren't normal. Gradually more and more mainstream folk realize that their previous conceptions about the minority are false. Progress occurs. What were once black and white outlines of normal and not normal are now appropriately blurred to accommodate the reality that is humanity.

Its nighty-night time. Peace.

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I'm currently a student at the University of Puget Sound and will be going into my senior year this coming fall.

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