In a world of neurotypical individuals—those that have brain chemistry considered normal under any accepted societal standard—it is impossible to be fully understood as a neurodivergent individual in terms other than described in the terminology and stigma of one’s diagnosed condition. The basic reasoning behind the stance is that while a neurotypical individual may seek to connect empathetically they simply lack the peculiar mental quirks that would allow them to experience the world in a similar enough capacity to enjoinder a true sympathetic response and facilitate open rapport on a significant level. Both of these are relatively new terms that are gaining in popularity and acceptance following in tow with the Neurodiversity Movement which seeks to strengthen the popular theory that rather than engendering through a stigmatized population the acceptance and understanding needed by those that fall under the current header of mentally ill it is possible to change the overall perspective and the conversation itself
This is a good point to establish a clear cut definition of what I mean by neurodivergent. Nick Walker does a wonderful job presenting this through his advocacy website and defines neurodivergent as “having a brain that functions in ways that diverge significantly from the dominant societal standards of ‘normal.’” Some common examples would include autism, schizophrenia, dyslexia, or epilepsy. Within these neurominorities exists a continuum of specialized perception and thought patterns that are often referred to as distortions from the normal way of processing information and ideas. In more extreme cases, the manifestation of this can take the form of hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, or even extreme intelligence isolated to select areas of expertise. Speaking as an individual diagnosed as multiply neurodivergent through extensive brain changes owing to Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and schizoaffective bipolar disorder, I can attest to how isolating the current paradigm can feel even as there are those that reach out their hands to cross the neuroverse to create a bridge of hope.
As noted by Patrick Corrigan and Amy Watson in their study to understand the impact of stigmas on people with mental illness, “…people with mental illness are robbed of the opportunities that define a quality of life: good jobs, safe housing, satisfactory health care, and affiliation with a diverse group of people.” They conjecture that this happens because of a dual stigma that exists in regard to mental illness that exacerbates stressors of the underlying personal and societal pressures we all face and compounds the challenges faced by the mentally ill—or by our new definition—neurodivergent person. “Table 1” has a beautiful breakdown of their stigma specific findings relating to those afflicted with mental illnesses.
Comparing and contrasting the definitions of public stigma and self-stigma
|Stereotype||Negative belief about a group (e.g., dangerousness, incompetence, character weakness)|
|Prejudice||Agreement with belief and/or negative emotional reaction (e.g., anger, fear)|
|Discrimination||Behavior response to prejudice (e.g., avoidance, withhold employment and housing opportunities, withhold help)|
|Stereotype||Negative belief about the self (e.g., character weakness, incompetence)|
|Prejudice||Agreement with belief, negative emotional reaction (e.g., low self-esteem, low self-efficacy)|
|Discrimination||Behavior response to prejudice (e.g., fails to pursue work and housing opportunities)|
In essence, as those coined mentally ill find it, they are stigmatized both by society as a whole and by themselves—I know I’ve found the latter to be sometimes the more difficult proposition to deal with many times in my life. So what about changing the tone of the conversation through simple adjustment to the vernacular? Neurodiversity is the idea that we are all part of a neurologically complex network of individuals for whom there may well be no standard normal from which to deviate when taken at the grandest of scales. Building from Watson and Corrigan’s work, it is the concept that there is an imposition of normalcy placed on us by societies and self that could be adjusted to reflect instead a microcosm of beautiful and talented people with highly segmented skills, assets, gifts, and attributes amongst the “special” portions of the population.
My original statement does hold; for instance, I do not believe that I could adequately explain in great enough detail to a neurotypical individual the emotional turbulence and isolating idiosyncratic moments that emerged from being fully delusional and believing that I was an android after losing my own personal identity to the extent that I didn’t know even my own gender. It’s simply an unfathomable state to consider finding oneself in, I mean after all, we all know where to look to discover what gender we are. Brett Heasman and Alex Gillespie suggest in a study “…that neurodivergent intersubjectivity reveals potential for unconventional forms of social relating and that a within-interaction analysis is a viable methodology for exploring neurodivergent communication.” In essence, scientists out there are working on improving the understanding of how to improve on the degrees of communication required to more fully bridge the gap to create a neurodiverse interactivity that would allow us to tap the remarkable talents of all the people out there regardless of genetic predisposition and structure. For me, this is also an acknowledgement that currently, we aren’t quite there yet.
All things considered however, I too share a dream of inclusion like Mr. King did years ago. That one day those things that make me unique amongst all the other two legged flowers out there won’t be a hindrance, but might yet be construed as an asset that I can bloom to my fullest extent. We are all radiant in our own ways, neurotypical and neurodivergent alike; it’s part of the dramatic portrait that paints humanity the multitude of colors we show as on the spectrum of life.
Corrigan, Patrick W. & Watson, Amy C. Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. World Psychiatry. 2002 February 1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1489832/
Heasman, Brett & Gillespie, Alex. Neurodivergent intersubjectivity: distinctive features of how autistic people create shared understanding. 2018 August 3 https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361318785172
Walker, Nick. Neurodiversity: Some Basic Terms & Definitions. Neurocosmopolitanism. 2014 September 27 https://www.neurocosmopolitanism.com/neurodiversity-some-basic-terms-definitions