I saw an intriguing post by Penna on the subject of Neurodiversity Celebration Week that grabbed my attention for a couple of reasons. The first was that I’d recently met with someone who introduced themselves as Neurodiverse and, while I’d previously heard the word, I wasn’t particularly clear on its meaning. So, here was an opportunity to learn more. The second reason was that that recent meeting made me realise that I had a close family connection with Neurodiversity. My Dad, my big brother, my son and all three of my nephews are (or were in the case of my Dad) dyslexic. So, this was more than an opportunity to understand a concept, it was an opportunity to better understand people I’ve lived my life with.
I know for sure that dyslexia made life (and in particular their time in school) hard for my Dad, my brother and my son. My Dad hated school and left at the age of 13, having been told that he would never amount to anything. Similarly, my brother and son fought their way through the education system without ever feeling that they really belonged in a world that only really valued academic success.
I also know, however, that my Dad had the capacity to hold a room in the palm of his hand and that his life’s work inspired countless young people to do more than they ever thought possible. I witnessed my brother in the classroom and saw what a brilliant teacher he was. I also saw him perform and envied his musicianship. My son is a remarkable young man who produces “banging” music and, so I’m told by his boss, turns complex concepts into steel or wooden reality with remarkable ease.
So, although I knew of their challenges (even before they had a name in my Dad and Brother’s cases), I never thought of them as disabled. In fact, in many ways, I’ve admired (and yes, envied) them. I wish that I had had my Dad and my Brother’s ability to connect with and inspire people. I wish I could see the world through my son’s eyes and share what he sees so creatively.
So, I think that, despite originally being hazy around the concept of Neurodiversity I do now get the core message at a very personal level. Living with my family I know that great minds don’t think alike. I know that Neurodivergent people can feel excluded and undermined but, wow, I also know what a difference they make when they’re not.
I am, however, left with a couple of questions.
- Much of our work involves getting people to recognise the value of their own unique contribution and to respect, be open to and willing to draw on the unique contribution of others. This, to me, sounds like Neurodiversity. But to make that point feels like it’s diminishing the message’s power. So, my first question is; where do we draw the line? When does “neurotypical” become “neurodiverse”?
- My second and slightly broader question relates to the uncomfortable recognition that I’m now part of the “older generation”. That means that I’m living in a world where things that I’ve seen through a particular set of lenses for some 60 years are now being seen, inevitably, through very different lenses by those younger than me. It’s clear that I have a responsibility to stay curious and seek out and be open to new thinking. What, however, are the responsibilities of those who create and polish new lenses such as Neurodiversity? There are a number of recent examples where people, who have had no part in the creating and polishing of a new lens, have been harshly judged for not seeing the world through it. That can’t be right can it. Wouldn’t it be better to do what Penna and Alexis Curtis-Harris have done in this post and seek to start a dialogue where, to paraphrase Alexis, a question is the start of a conversation, not something that might blow up in your face? What do you think?