Neuro-diversity is an emerging concept dotting the scientific, educational, and technological landscapes. For as much as it is a 21st century-current buzzword, the meaning and potential societal transformation it points towards are enormous. I won’t spend the time defining it for you, providing no more than what a simple Google search of the word neuro-diversity could offer. But, I do want to spend a little time framing what neuro-diversity means to me and for my purpose.
Most people think of neuro-diversity in terms of either a scientific/medical definition or what is observable through behavior. In these terms, neuro-diversity is usually considered to be synonymous with terms like autism spectrum, attention-deficit disorder, mental illness, etc. Most people understand neuro-diversity when it is applied to a deficits-based or problem-based perspective. However, in the most general sense, neuro-diversity is the acknowledgement that each human being is created with a neurological framework and capability that shapes and illuminates his/her experience and reality. Therefore, neuro-diversity IS about highlighting that neuro-individuality as the norm, and NOT the exception.
While many families enter the neuro-diverse experience from symptoms and problems. We entered the neuro-diverse journey from an MRI film strip. This ticket to truth was delivered in-living-color clear to me in 2007 when my oldest daughter was born with a structural brain anomaly. Before she could grow into herself and place in this world, we held the diagnosis that her brain was unique. Specifically, her corpus callosum (the brain structure made of numerous communication fiber pathways, designed to function as the brain’s information integration center) did not completely develop. Literally, when you looked at an MRI picture of her brain, it was created differently. Even though from the outside looking in, we had a healthy, almost typically developing baby, her doctor gave us the news that her brain was missing what most take for granted.
There is no doubt that if each of us had an MRI picture of our brains, that each of us would have a unique brain. Truly no two brains are the same. And yet, our societies and our institutions are set up to expect that each of our individual brains experience and perform in one “norm” determined way. The standardized definitions and expectations of previous human "revolutions" have no more fuel or fury in the face of the reality of neurodiversity. Each of us live in individually constructed experiences of the world. The gifts of 21st century science and its applied understanding offer the opportunity to recognize and maximize the entire scope and interaction of human neuro-diversity.
Particularly now, as we move through the early steps of the 21st century, when lines blur between human and machine, and power pushes down a standardized access to resource and definition of humanity, the recognition of neuro-diversity is even more significant and crucial. In a time when science and knowledge enable us to look wide and look deep, we can forgo the basic tethers of surface level understanding and lean into the space that offers individualized knowledge and its consequential wisdom. This means that individual reality and experience can be esteemed for what it is and the interactions and intersections of our individualities can be revealed and understood, instead of missing the mark in comparison to some non-existent standard or norm. Possibilities of neurodiversity being applied to relationships, spirituality, learning, medicine, occupation, are limitless. The irony is that the more individualized the understanding of one is, the more it offers opportunity for applied connection and collective wholeness.
Neurodiversity is the conceptual permission slip to kick “normal” to the curb. Historically, “normal” has been a tool designed more for mass production, collective control. It has been a concept of intent. Yet, for those of us who have seen into or lived on society’s margins, we realize “normal” is an empty promise. Individuality, whether it is lived on the surface or “under the hood,” is where life and innovation exist. As we are better able to acknowledge and honor individualities, then we are free to advance who we are as individuals and who we are as a society.
Kicking “normal” to the curb has been an evolving process for me and it is still. There is so much to “unpack” in letting go of “normal.” Letting go of “normal” isn’t so much just about ignoring societal pressure, it is about knowing yourself, who you are, what you need and being open to knowing that others are different. Letting go of “normal” is choosing to respectfully and meaningfully co-exist, connect, and create with the whole diversity of our world’s neuro-individuality and inter-connectivity. When we are pointed towards and empowered to live our neuro-individuality, then we are poised to experience and share a sacred grace.
Melinda is a recovering "normal" seeker, who is often distracted by unexpected moments of nature's beauty or questioning children