I’ve met with 16 year old Jesse four times. Dad comes with Jesse to my office and attended the first two meetings. I can tell that Dad is very concerned about Jesse – “he’s not mainstreaming well with his peers, high emotional EQ manifesting in hurt feelings, feeling defeated, and considerable social anxiety.”
Did I mention that Jesse has tested off the charts on standardized tests but his GPA is a 2.5? Oh, and he was diagnosed ADHD six months ago.
In the second session, I thought there’d be value in running the idea of neurodiversity by Jesse.
What is Neurodiversity?
Thomas Armstrong, PhD defines neurodiversity as “an idea which asserts that atypical (neurodivergent) neurological development is a normal human difference that is to be recognized and respected as any other human variation.”
Psychology Today ran an interesting piece called Disease, Disorder, or Neurodiversity: The Case of ADHD in which author Marc Lewis PhD states “many scientists believe that a certain amount of psychological diversity is built into the human race because it provides an evolutionary advantage for all of us. This built-in diversity in brain plans — or neurodiversity — has often been linked with genetic variation.”
He concludes by saying “the psychological qualities of a genetic distinction can’t be defined or labeled in a vacuum. The advantages or disadvantages of that distinction can only be described in context.”
A lot of big words, I know, but the gist is that differences in neurology don’t have to be automatically labeled as bad or wrong or disordered. They are a normal part of the human spectrum. This is so refreshing and revolutionary — and sadly so different from what most people think when they start recognizing ADHD traits in themselves or get an ADHD diagnosis.
The Advantages of a Neurodiversity Approach
I’ve been working primarily with those of us who are “other wired” for nearly 20 years, and I know that variations in brain wiring come with both strengths and challenges. This is a huge theme in my Adult ADHD classes. Just because your brain is wired differently, doesn’t mean you need to “fix” it or try to make it “normal.” It is what it is. The path is to understand it, accept it, and work to leverage your strengths and manage your challenges.
In that second session with Jesse, I noticed his mood shift abruptly. The concept of neurodiversity made sense to him. He told me that he felt, for the first time since he’d been diagnosed, like there was a path he could navigate.
Context and Calla Lilies
The even bigger and truly revolutionary message of a neurodiversity approach is recognizing that variation can be positive in and of itself. It moves away from labeling people in a vacuum. Instead, as Lewis says in his piece, ADHD is “a genetic distinction that can only be described in context.”
In The Myth of The Normal Brain: Embracing Neurodiversity, Thomas Armstrong, PhD quotes Harvey Blume: “Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment?
Armstrong goes on to ask: “How absurd it would be to label a calla lily as having ‘petal deficit disorder’ or to diagnose a person from Holland as suffering from ‘altitude deprivation syndrome’?”
What Do You Think?
Where do you stand when it comes to defining the threshold from “normal” to pathological? What is disease, disorder, or neurodiversity? I’m very interested to know. Please share your thoughts in the comments.
I’ve been leading groups for adults living with the traits of ADHD for more than 15 years. I am a licensed counselor in the state of Washington, and I received my own diagnosis of ADHD in 1997. I am passionate about sharing cutting edge information about ADHD wiring and helping people with ADHD connect with others in their “tribe.”