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Diversity Perspective Adaptation Vision  Shop Discussion Links Contact

Neurodiversity is an inclusive concept... everybody is part of it because no two people are the same. Everybody is unique, and I am not just talking about people's personalities, experiences and choices... the physical, measurable facts of neurodiversity are that peoples brains may develop along more or less the same lines, but are in fact so complex, that there can be a great deal of variation both in their structure and how they operate as well.

"One part of the brain, the anterior commissure (the smaller of the two links between the two cerebral hemispheres) varies sevenfold in area between one person and the next. Another part, the massa intermedia (whose function is not known) , is missing entirely in one of every four people. The primary visual cortex can vary threefold in area. Our amygdala (responsible for our fears and loves)  can vary twofold in volume - as can our hippocampus (involved in memory). Most surprisingly, in people with normal intelligence the cerebral cortex varies nearly twofold in volume. Such differences are found throughout the brain. How far these differences affect who we are is not known, though they no doubt are of considerable consequence in shaping us and our abilities." (Up From Dragons: The Evolution of Human Intelligence Skoyles & Sagan)

Further more the development of the mind is flexible. For example, the visual cortex of people born blind under normal circumstances will not develop, however if given access to Braille from early on it will develop into the Braille reading cortex instead, thus adapting to it's circumstances. This ability of the mind to adapt is called neural plasticity. The extent of it's influence is still debated, but there is no doubt that such adaptations can and do occur. Take for instance violinists. Practice does not change the structure of their hands but it does enlarge areas of the brain linked with dexterity.

There are also many measurable differences in the way peoples minds work. For example, whether they are empathisers or systemisers and what sort of interests appeal to them.

Considering the potential for variation in human minds it is far from surprising that there can be massive differences in how people think, communicate, learn, understand and experience the world, and this is partly to do with genetics, partly to do with adaptation and partly to do with experience.

Neurodiversity is undoubtedly most important to those people whose neurology is an issue in their lives, be they immersed in an entirely different world of communication and understanding that is the autistic spectrum or those who have different sensory, learning or behavioural needs, but ultimately I believe it has the potential to enrich all of human society and to change the way people understand themselves and other people.

Nature does not plan what is going to happen next. The idea of evolution as a steady march of improvement toward a goal of perfection is just a fantasy... It's what we'd like to think, but it's not true.

Evolution is not about improvement, it is about adaptation. Diversity within the gene pool means you can adapt faster and better. It is a bit like playing golf... to play your game the best you can you take a variety of clubs designed for different purposes... the idea of a single multi-purpose club has never taken off simply because it always involves a compromise of the various specialised features. Likewise the idea of us designing human beings that are all the same and are all good at everything would also be a compromise. Anything that could defeat one could defeat all. We can't all be great at everything... that is why we form organised societies, we support each other and we work as a team.

I find it somewhat ironic that the very values that once championed the individual have become the driving force behind a society obsessed with making everyone the same. One of the things that makes us so successful as a species is our ability to specialise. The reality is that it takes all sorts of people to maintain a society and make it work. Diversity and specialisation make us strong, adaptable, and interesting. If improving human life is our goal, then we should not just be tolerating diversity as if it were some foul stench we had to put up with... we should be embracing, if not encouraging it.

I am not suggesting the world would be a better place if it had more autistic people in it, just that we should be careful before we try and rid the world of autism altogether in case by trying to take away the obviously not so good bits we loose some of the good bits too. I think the best way to do this is to remember that autism is just a concept... a word... it is not a real thing that you can reach out and touch. It describes people, so when you talk about getting rid of autism you talk about getting rid of the people it describes, and I know I am not alone in feeling threatened by and taking offence at that sort of language. People on the autistic spectrum need to be treated as individuals... as people. That is where we need to start.

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