By Jake Crosby
Neurodiversity, albeit not accepted by the medical mainstream, is making its way into prominent consideration by university intellectuals. It's even starting to be supported by scientific studies and doctors within the mainstream medical monolith. As we've entered the Age of Autism, we're also descending into a new dark age of neurodiversity where more people are seeing autism as neutral or even positive.
In his own book "Autism's False Prophets,” Paul Offit, while using the "no medical background" excuse on any non-doctor who disagrees with him, specifically attacks the credentials of those who do. He disregards what prominent groups such as SafeMinds have to say on this same excuse. Yet, he strangely cites two neurodiversity moms, Kathleen Seidel and Camille Clark for medical evidence, neither of whom have any medical background. Clark's experience doesn't go beyond a BA in psychology while Seidel is a librarian. Not only is he revealing what a hypocrite he is, Offit is also supporting one view very much rejected within the consensus, denial that autism is even a problem.
These actions reveal the true cherry-picking nature of Offit's motives which support any ideology, however non-medical, to push his agenda. He would simultaneously oppose any alternative therapy or pathological theory for autism, however effective or true, even if it is on the basis of what a few ND moms say. In his final chapter, "A Place for Autism," Offit continuously touts the views of the five autism parents he dedicates his book to, the majority of whom believe in neurodiversity while the remaining have pharmaceutical industry ties.
In my last two articles, I've concentrated primarily on the effects neurodiversity has had on believing autism is entirely genetic and opposing a cure. What has not been discussed, however, is how neurodiversity affects confidence and career ambition. A recent study done at De Montfort University as part of the BRAINHE project, according to an article posted on this website (HERE), suggests that autistic people who support neurodiversity are positively effected in this way by their beliefs.
This is strange, as apparent confidence or career ambition does not dictate real success or happiness. There was no evaluation of why the neurodiversity students felt the way they felt, or whether or not their ambitions were anymore realistic than the delusion of neurodiversity itself.
After a closer look of the study, “Student experiences of neurodiversity in higher education: insights from the BRAINHE project,” I quickly noticed that not all the people in the study were autistic. For one, it was published not in a journal about autism, but dyslexia. In fact "Dyslexia" is the name of the journal. It was not even focused on autism. Furthermore, the sample size consisted of a mere 27 students, hardly an accurate representation of the student masses. Plus, it did not say these students have ASDs but were rather LD (had learning differences).
After taking a closer look at the study itself accessed at my university science library, I found only six were autistic (Asperger Syndrome). The rest were of a variety of other disorders, such as Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, ADD, ADHD, depression, and strokes. What really struck me was that it did not refer to the attitudes of Neurodiversity participants as Neurodiversity, but their conditions themselves. This is the first time I’ve heard of a stroke being referred to as “neurodiversity.”
Although the study examined other unrelated issues concerning disability services accessibility, learning strategies, general education experiences, social life etc., the portion of it that dealt with neurodiversity seemed to have a bias in the way the ideology was presented.
One quote said:
When previous educational experiences included the use of negative
epithets by teachers, participants often reported a determination to prove
them wrong. These participants mainly held a ‘difference’ view of their
neurodiversity. P. 32
The implication of this quote that neurodiversity equals more motivation is shot down by the previous quote:
Six of the seven participants who reported experiencing unpleasant epithets from
teachers and/or lecturers were from this group. P. 31
So participants in the ND group expressed more of a desire to disprove negative feedback simply because more people in that group, perhaps as a denial mechanism, reported such feedback to state their opposition to it. “Prove wrong,” does not equate to motivation. It could just mean flat out denial without further action.
Furthermore, I had been told, “you need to listen” by teachers my whole life up to ninth grade. I was determined to prove them wrong but not once did I deny my Auditory Processing Impairment, as part of my Aspergers, was anything but a hindrance.
One line in the abstract of this study states:
"The former view was associated with expressions of greater career ambition and academic self-esteem, while the latter view was associated more with processes for obtaining the Disabled Students' Allowance."
The idea was perplexing, as I then started thinking about my own experiences regarding my condition. I never considered autism a positive way of life or even as a neutral way of being, nor do I take accommodations for having an ASD. Even after openly accepting that I have Aspergers, I did not take academic accommodations; I don't even take shortcuts neurotypical students often take like asking for extensions. ASD is not something I enjoy having, but my attitude towards it doesn't make me any more inclined to seek support.
The study also said:
Twenty-one of these participants had been or were funded by the DSA and received assistance from their institution’s disability department. (p. 33)
So most of the students involved in the study had received DSA support, anyway. It could’ve been that non-NDs happened to fall more into that category. What it also didn't say was whether or not students who took support needed it more, nor did it give any insights into the real success of each student and post-graduate surveyed. While it did attempt to address how long the neurodiversity idea would last by looking at both students and ex-students, although only 8 (<1/3 of the study) were in the workforce, it was not time-oriented. That is, it did not follow the same set of students from school into the real world.
What it also does not mention is whether neurodiversity beliefs in certain students have anything to do with autism. Although it did touch on the idea in one sentence out of the entire 19 page analysis:
When they(non-ND students) did identify strengths, they tended to claim that these were not directly related to their neurodiversity. (p. 31)
Temple Grandin, for example, is a rare case in which her autistic spectrum disorder allegedly did not get in the way of immense success. Grandin's story is primarily the result of a superior visual memory, which like all other fallacious neurodiversity claims of alleged autism-induced success, is not related to autism. The closest trait one would find to this in the DSM-IV is "rote learning," or rather learning based on memorization due to a lack of ability to make sense of the information and derive concepts. That is not a "difference," that's a disability.
One fault in the study was that it did not consider how a student feels about their condition based on their label. However, the one example provided of a negative view expressed by a student towards his diagnosis suggests how autistic students in this study felt:
Jack (Asperger ’s syndrome) was very negative about his neurodiversity. He only talked about his weaknesses and held a medical/deficit view of his label.
Beforehand you’d think I wouldn’t want to have this or I wouldn’t want to suffer from that, but when you’re told you have it, you can’t really do anything about it. He also displayed negativity and minimal optimism about his future you’ve had this structure, this school structure for twenty years or so and then you’ve got this empty, there’s nothing to look forward to, you’ve got to get a job for yourself and look after yourself and speak for yourself and take yourself more seriously and just, change the, different mindset really it’s a bit of a struggle, I’m thinking, I’m not really looking forward to it that much (p. 31)
Furthermore, this study does not contribute to how prevalent the idea of "Neurodiversity" is within the autistic community because this study examines six autistic people. Presenting it as if it reported that autistic students and graduates adhere to neurodiversity is a misrepresentation within the article that cited it. The one autistic account quoted in the study write-up revealed autism for what it is, a disability.
Jake Crosby is a student with Asperger Syndrome at Brandeis University who plans to major in history, and a Contributing Editor at Age of Autism.