Op-Ed: Neurodivergence — A term to excuse misunderstanding humans?

Robot at the Barbican Centre, London. Photo: © Tim Sandle

The term neurodivergence has become a sort of crusade. It lumbers through the headlines like some sort of magic word. Its main impact so far is to find a word for people who are “different”. This includes autism and just about every other form of mental state other than sitcom level.

If you’re somehow getting the impression that the dummies have discovered a new word for something they’re not wired to understand, you’re at least partly right. The theory of normality is arguably one of the most insular ideas in history.

Why should different individuals be the same in any way at all? Even the idea of a norm is accepting stagnation. People may be wearing the same organism, but they have no reason to conform to any particular behavior. Does someone think a neurological monoculture is good? Can that view of humanity be anything but a psychological form of a neatly mown lawn? …Presumably with garden gnomes, existential kitsch, etc.

It’s an insult. To be normal, you have to be utterly unremarkable. You do nothing unusual. Your thinking is pretty much baseline. You are part of a very similar social group. You’re a sort of macro-human. Fill in the blanks with identifiers.

So what’s new, you enquire from your burrow?  The link is to Kafka’s story The Burrow, about as neurodivergent as a writer can get. That story is neurodivergence incarnate at work. Point made?   

Ever since psychology and behaviorism became so utterly dismissive of human behavior, it’s an admission of guilt if not stupidity. The world became “the masses” and was duly ignored.

Humanity is routinely devalued this way as a result of undiagnosed superiority complexes rampant in this professional barnyard hierarchy. Main Street, that place where you pay the bills, was also devalued by the finance sector on that basis. Now, they realize that a lot of people don’t fit the norm. It’s taken them about a century to notice that.

Neurodivergence is a far too simple term for the not-very simple facts of being a human being. The expression neurodivergence comes from that monument to simplistic thinking, behaviorism.

Behaviors are described as normal according to the majority of behaviors in a given category. As applied to the individual circumstances of, say, 8 billion people, it’s largely a reflection of their environment. How normal can you possibly be and still be alive?

People generally behave the same way when doing the same things. Many of those things are unavoidable. “Get born and try to stay alive while nutcases try to make your life impossible” is one of those things…Do you think neurodivergence might have a practical role in surviving this global idiocy?  

The main difference with the idea of neurodivergence is the terminology and range of applications. The University of Edinburgh has a useful glossary of terms related to neurodivergence. This glossary also defines the response to the theory of neurodivergence to some extent. The U of E’s glossary also defines the current thinking about neurodivergence -slow and not very penetrating.

Let’s try the easiest possible structured example:

Your 5-year-old kid doesn’t want to mix with a group of other kids. There seems to be a communication issue. Therefore, the kid is neurodivergent? No. More likely the kid is a lot saner than most spectator psych people.  

Consider this, O Bovine Boors of Behaviourism:

The kid doesn’t like the other kids. Doesn’t want to socialize. That’s a right, not a pathology.

Communication with a herd of brats may be the reason.

The parent will spend the next 20 years advising that kid to avoid certain types of people, with good reason.

…So, what’s wrong with the kid? Nothing. The kid has made a social judgment call. Now waste a lot of time diagnosing a good social move and a psychological condition.

That example couldn’t be any more straightforward. Self-determination is normal, remember?

Some people do have developmental problems. True. That doesn’t mean you can cripple them for life with some half-baked definition.

Meanwhile, back on the cliché testing grounds, we have the theory of “idiot savants”. People with incredible skills who otherwise seem “normal”. Is that neurodivergence, or a human being that works properly in some ways? How’s the good old behavioral cookie-cutter getting on there? As lousy as ever, perhaps? (Obviously, I’m guessing.)

The trouble with setting the lowest common denominator as the norm is that it can’t possibly be right. Neurodivergence may be the best, quickest way out of this mediocrity to which people who should know better have consigned humanity.

Equating neurodivergence with health problems and severe handicaps is highly destructive. It’s also totally wrong in practical terms, particularly in kids. You have created a portable stigma for people who definitely don’t need stigmas.  

Stop pretending to manage things you can’t possibly have experienced with useless generalizations. Get your facts straight and respect individuality. Who knows, some might respect your individuality sometime.

Postscript: What bothers me most about this article is that I’m saying things that shouldn’t even need mentioning. Get out of the theoretical comas and pay attention, fools.


The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Digital Journal or its members.

Op-Ed: Neurodivergence — A term to excuse misunderstanding humans?

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