Neurodiversity: The Birthplace of Advocates and Unenlightened Bullies
Neurodiversity: The Birthplace of Advocates and Unenlightened Bullies
L.T. Force, Ph.D.
The term “Neurodiversity” is presently being used in the field and arena of disabilities.
Neurodiversity is the idea that it's normal and acceptable for people to have brains that function differently from one another. Rather than thinking there is something wrong or problematic when some people don't operate similarly to others, "Neurodiversity" embraces all differences.
As a society, we have become more sensitive to the value and importance of not describing or treating a person - by their diagnosis. As I explain to my students: “Everyone has a life story - we all do. You never want to find yourself in a work setting where you are identifying a - person via their diagnosis. For example, it is not proper or acceptable to engage in a scenario where you are describing a person as: ‘You know that patient I’m talking about - she is the Alzheimers patient in Room 232 ’. But rather, ‘you know Edna - she lives in Room 232’.
It is all about dignity".
Further evidence of how, as a society, we have become sensitive to the use/ misuse of labels - are found in the transitions within the field of Intellectual Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) and Mental Health (MH). When I first began my professional clinical work - it was commonplace to use the terms: “Mental Retardation or Mental Illness”. Today, the terminology has evolved where we speak of: “a Person with an Intellectual or Developmental Disability (I/DD) or a Person addressing a Mental Health (MH) concern”. As you can see, the designation of “Person” is always recognized first. In addition, we have shifted from a: “stigma / illness-based model” to one being framed out within a: “Health and Wellness Paradigm”. This shift is such a good move - and one that should include the term: “Neurodiversity” rather than other stigmatizing labels. (An additional point. I highly advocate, as we are reshaping our thoughts, language, actions and behaviors within the field of disabilities - we take it one step further and redefine the implications of the word “disability”, itself. Recognizing it would take 3-lifetimes to delete and replace the word “disability” with a more empowering word - as it is so embedded in policy on the federal, state and local level. Therefore, if we need to live with this word….then let’s redefine the interpretation of it…..from a connotation of negativity to reframing it as: "DIS-Ability (Designated Individual Strengths and Ability)". This transformation…. in the reinterpretation of the word - would allow one to focus on - and promote the strengths and inclusivity of all people.
As we take a further look at the history of the word: “Neurodiversity”- we find the usage anchored in the work of Judy Singer and Harvey Blume (1998).
Neurodiversity, or ND, refers to variations in the human brain and cognition, for instance in sociability, learning, attention, mood and other mental functions. It was coined in 1998 by sociologist Judy Singer, who helped popularize the concept along with journalist Harvey Blume, and situates human cognitive variation in the context of biodiversity and the politics of minority groups. This view arose out of the autism rights movement, as a challenge to prevailing views that certain things currently classified as neurodevelopmental disorders are inherently pathological. It builds on the social model of disability, in which disability arises out of societal barriers interacting with individual differences, rather than people being disabled simply as a result of having impairments. Some neurodiversity advocates and researchers, notably Judy Singer and Patrick Dwyer, argue that the neurodiversity paradigm is the middle ground between strong medical model and strong social model. (Wikipedia)
Fast forward, we see the use of the word: “Neurodiversity” being amplified across many domains - and specifically as it relates to the workplace setting.
Today, Dr. Tiffany Jameson (https://www.gritandflow.com/tiffanyjamesonphd ) has developed a strong leadership voice and role in the field of “Neurodiversity in the Workplace". Recently, I have come across her work / videos / training…etc. she has created for LinkedIn - regarding “Neurodiversity” in the workplace: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/hiring-and-supporting-neurodiversity-in-the-workplace/defining-the-spectrum-of-neurodiversity Dr. Jameson has done an incredible job in highlighting the important components within this area. I highly recommend a view of her work.
The reality is - an understanding of “Neurodiversity“ as it relates to the interpersonal dynamics and the implications for workplace settings is crucial - especially as we move to fully incorporate the paradigm and practice of “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)”.
Found within the “Neurodiversity” arena - "Advocates are born!". These Advocates assume many forms, i.e., as individuals, as groups, as organizations, as policies/programs and as corporate cultures, as well. In these settings, you find the theme of empowerment, an underpinning of support, care and heart-driven interest for others. However, there are also times where one finds “the flip-side of advocacy” - where people with specialized needs are excluded, segregated, omitted and held to and treated with different standards….it is a form and style of being “Bullied”. Again, these individuals, groups, organizations, policies/programs and corporate cultures, i.e., “Unenlightened Bullies” (as I term them) assume many forms. I refer to them as: “Unenlightened Bullies” - because they may not be excluding or holding people to different standards with intent (we hope not), but rather as a result of: “a lack of contact, knowledge, awareness, empathy or a heart-driven response”…. this type of outcome and result can happen. It is then the responsibility of the “Advocate(s)” (individual, group, organization, policy/program or corporate culture) to address this concern, identify it, provide consultation/support, training, education and opportunity to heighten awareness, thereby, providing a remedy for this situation…. and increasing the enlightenment for all.
Why all this effort? "Because the overarching goal as an advocate…. in building alliances and coalitions around 'causes'….is to surround yourself with more advocates….that is when change occurs". And what do we know from experience? Through the use and tools of providing opportunities for: "increasing knowledge, increasing contact, increasing trainings and exchanges....increasing compassion....transformation can occur". In fact, at times, you will find the strongest detractors....aligning to becoming the strongest advocates and allies, themselves.Yes, change is possible and paradigms can be shifted....i.e, "the unenlightened can become enlightened!".
So as you can see - the field of: “Neurodiversity" can be a Birthplace of "Advocates and Unenlightened Bullies". Our collective responsibility, (in and out of the workplace) for the benefit of all, is to build upon our sense of dignity, justice, fairness and heart-driven practice …..to leave no one behind!