Thursday, March 18, 2010

Think About Thursday: Neurodiversity

I always keep an eye out in the science and medical news for information about Asperger's Syndrome. I have been frequently frustrated by the medical approach to AS. The terminology used is simply ridiculous. I recently read about a finding that individuals with AS have higher concentrations of neurons in the prefrontal lobe or their cerebrum (brain) and that the concentrations of neurons and neuro-transmitters (chemicals) present point to elevated obsessive behavior and poor social skills.

The language used is, however, highly negative: "disorder" and "abnormalities," for example. Would anyone apply such language to the study of neurological differences between ethnic groups? "Irish people have abnormally high concentrations of neurons in their occipital lobe," or "Swedes have more severe obsessive behavior." The fact that a cause has not been established should be evidence enough that there are forces at work here that humanity does not fully comprehend. These are the same forces that brought us to what we are now. I do not mean that individuals with AS are in anyway more highly evolved or superior, but simply one component in a necessary series of diverse neurological types.

As a society we readily accept that some people are tall and some short. Some people are quick on their feet, ready to make snap decisions, and others need to ponder the matter for a while. There are those who are talented in music and those who are not. Any episode of American Idol can demonstrate this. Yet we cannot seem to cope with the idea that some people are more socially aware and attuned then others. Some individuals are not very social at all.

When we look at famous individuals with AS like Albert Einstein, Andy Warhol, and half of Silicon Valley, we find highly eccentric individuals who have certain gifts. I cannot see what is wrong with this diversity. In business, art, and science we call it talent, in medicine, psychology, and education it is called a disorder. In certain degrees of "severity" AS can be disruptive to an individual's ability to function in society, but then so can the opposite "severity" of extremely social behavior.

Eventually, our society is going to have to face the fact that there are many different kinds of people and everyone has something valuable and marketable to contribute.

Special thanks to Joseph for reminding me to write something on this topic.


  1. Thank you for this perspective. We are always trying to fix our kids. I understand fitting in and the cost our kids pay when they can not get along in certain situations. On the other hand, please stop making me feel like a failure as a parent because my kids have never played a team sport. Please stop predicting our futures.

  2. I am not certain what you mean and I apologize if this post has caused you to feel anything negative. Most of the children I have worked with never participated in a team sport. Trying to fit in is a major stressor for children with AS and one that I find overrated. In my opinion as a parent, parents are a failure only when they give up and stop trying to raise their children. In the Special Education system I have seen this and it is sad, especially with children who have potential. I make no predictions about the future. Children with AS are children nonetheless and they will grow up and hopefully find success and fulfillment. The Asperger Society is here to educate people and try to provide some of the tools that will help.