Understanding Neurodiversity in Everyday Life

neurodiversity parenting radical acceptance Jun 21, 2024
Understanding Neurodiversity in Everyday Life

Neurodiversity is a celebration of the myriad ways there are to be human. It's a movement that embraces the rich tapestry of brain differences that each of us brings to the table, recognizing that just as diversity in ecosystems strengthens them, diversity within the human species strengthens us too.


In a world teeming with unique individuals, the neurodiversity movement asserts a powerful truth: differently wired brains are not only normal; they are essential for our collective thriving. This perspective helps us appreciate that each person’s neurological makeup contributes to the whole, much like each unique species in a forest contributes to its ecosystem’s health and resilience.


However, acknowledging the value of neurodiversity also requires us to confront the pervasive influence of ableism and the intertwined structures of white supremacy and racism. Ableism is the discriminatory belief that certain types of brains and bodies are superior to others. It’s a deep-seated prejudice that suggests there is one 'right' way to be human, sidelining those who differ from a narrowly defined 'norm.'


White supremacy has historically defined this 'ideal' body and brain, marginalizing those who do not fit its narrow standards. This includes not only neurodivergent individuals but also people of color whose experiences and ways of being have been devalued and pathologized. Recognizing these intersections is crucial for a full understanding of the neurodiversity movement.


Jessica McCabe, an advocate and voice in the ADHD community, captures this sentiment perfectly in her book, How to ADHD: "We are acceptable humans as is, not once we stop having ADHD. You do not need to be fixed because you are not a broken version of normal." This statement challenges the narrative that neurodivergent individuals need to conform to a standard of 'normalcy' that does not align with their true selves.


This bias isn’t just systemic, manifesting in our institutions and policies; it’s also personal, touching the hearts and minds of individuals. It shapes our perceptions and interactions in subtle yet significant ways. For instance, consider how often we praise children for being 'quick learners' or adults for their 'sharp minds.' While seemingly harmless, these accolades can subtly reinforce the idea that faster or more typical cognitive processes are inherently better, perpetuating ableist and racist ideals.


Sonny Jane Wise, in We're All Neurodiverse, also emphasizes the empowerment found in embracing one's neurodivergence: “Identifying as neurodivergent isn't just another label; it's also an identity, it's a reclamation, it's a song. When we call ourselves neurodivergent, we are reclaiming our differences that society calls abnormal or wrong. When we call ourselves neurodivergent, we are challenging you to consider what 'normal' actually means and perhaps even realize that maybe our normal isn't your normal. When we call ourselves neurodivergent, we are rejecting the concept of disorders.”


Confronting ableism involves more than recognizing these biases; it means actively working to dismantle them in our daily lives. For those of us raising neurodivergent children, or who are neurodivergent ourselves, this isn’t just theory—it’s a daily practice. We challenge the world’s assumptions every time we advocate for inclusion or adapt environments to meet diverse needs. This work is deeply interconnected with anti-racist efforts, as both ableism and racism seek to devalue and exclude those who do not conform to dominant norms.


As a white, privileged parent, I acknowledge that my journey in advocating for my neurodivergent children is made easier by my social and economic standing. My three children, like one in five children, are differently wired. This doesn’t just mean they see the world in a unique way, although it does mean that too. It means they often feel overwhelmed by environments that others may not even notice as stressful. Loud noises, bright lights, and crowded spaces that are merely inconvenient for some can be unbearable for my children. They need different learning environments, medical environments, food adaptations, and sleep accommodations.


Recognizing my kids’ neurodivergence has transformed how we approach daily activities. Simple adjustments, like choosing quieter times for outings, allowing them to go barefoot, or using nonverbal communication tools, make a significant difference. These aren't just conveniences; they are essential strategies that allow my children to engage with the world on their own terms.


This is what neurodiversity looks like in everyday life. It’s about more than understanding differences; it’s about making real, tangible changes to support those differences. It's about moving from tolerance to acceptance to celebration. And it’s about acknowledging and dismantling the broader structural injustices, including racism and white supremacy, that shape our understanding of 'normal.'


The neurodiversity movement must account for these structural injustices, integrating a race-based lens. White supremacy is at the heart of the creation of an ideal body and brain, and this perspective must layer into all work around neurodiversity. Let’s challenge ourselves to question our assumptions about what’s 'normal' and recognize the strength in diversity. Whether it's in how we raise our children, design our schools, or build our communities, let’s commit to creating a world that truly values all ways of being human.

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