May 9, 2004

The "neurodiversity" movement.

"The Disability Movement Turns to Brains," according to the NYT, which includes a link to the Autistic Adults Picture project.
The idea is to show normal-looking people, whose peculiarities stem from their brain wiring - and who deserve compassion rather than exasperation.

Overcoming the human suspicion of oddity will be hard, the more so because the biological basis of many brain disorders can't be easily verified. Usually, all anyone has to go on is behavior.

"It's a tough one," wrote one participant in an online discussion of Asperger's syndrome. "Was that woman," he asked, just "unwilling to think about others' feelings, not caring about whether she's boring me with the minute details of her breakfast wrap?" Or, he asked, was she "really truly incapable of adapting herself to social mores?"

The article includes some interesting debate about the tendency to medicalize too much of human variety by designating syndromes and "hand[ing] out a diagnosis to anyone who walks through the [clinic] door," the effort to control that tendency by including "impairment" as part of each syndrome, and the consequent importance and difficulty of defining "impairment." Medicalizing human difference has its defenders:
For patients, being given a name and a biological basis for their difficulties represents a shift from a "moral diagnosis" that centers on shame, to a medical one, said Dr. Ratey, who is the author of "Shadow Syndromes," which argues that virtually all people have brain differences they need to be aware of to help guide them through life.

The expression "neurologically tolerant society," used in article, is interesting. What are we to make--if we think we are moving toward a neurologically tolerant society--of the emergence of a website that makes fun of "neurotypicals"? (Nice diagnostic test.) "Tragically, as many as 9625 out of every 10,000 individuals may be neurotypical....There is no known cure for Neurotypical Syndrome," says this satiric site. Hmmm.... they need to check their statistics with Dr. Ratey. And I wonder where the neurological aspect of the disability movement goes if it science shows there is endless neurodiversity, with no real normal. I suppose it depends on what the movement seeks: If tolerance is the only goal, then the more pervasive and subtly varied neurodiversity is, the more successful the movement will be. If, however, special accommodations are sought, it is necessary both to define specific syndromes and to do so in a way that constrains the number of people that fall into the group to be favored. I hope that good science prevails over any preexisting goals of a movement.