All posts filed under: Neurodiversity

The Problem with the Neurodiversity Movement

Every morning when I wake up I feel a heavy sense of trepidation as I contemplate the complex series of social interactions I will have to navigate in order to make it through the day at work. Being on the autism spectrum makes me instinctively averse to the superficial chit-chat I am expected to engage in in my job as a retail cashier. To my mind at least, small-talk serves no real practical purpose. It just makes me feel on edge and increases my overall stress levels as I expend huge amounts of cognitive energy decoding idioms and non-verbal communication. Unfortunately, retail work is about the only employment option available to me at the moment because my Asperger’s Syndrome affects my ability to relate to others. Because of my condition, I am prone to be blunt, sometimes to the point of rudeness, which is a personality trait that tends not to sit especially well with many members of the so-called ‘neuro-typical’ or non-autistic world. As a relatively isolated 20-something Aspie with few friends, I decided …

The Pragmatic Case for Understanding Neurodiversity

I live in a Himalayan village. Today, I woke up to a mountain dog chewing my shoes and pulling the strings of my bamboo chair. He was glad I was up early. He wanted to take me out to show me his friends in the valley. I wasn’t mad, but this is not because dogs are cute. If a cute girl had done this, I wouldn’t have seen this as a charming eccentricity. I don’t overestimate the cognitive sophistication of dogs. I know this is stereotyping, but sometimes stereotyping can make us tolerant. I’m an Aspie. Hill people are unusually tolerant of my social ineptitude, unlike in the cities where I grew up and worked. They attribute my social faux pas to cultural differences. We tolerate the “social ineptitude” of foreigners because we know cultural differences are a great source of misunderstanding. We expect them to become culturally assimilated, but we won’t set the bar too high if they’ve limitations. I don’t expect my dog to be good at writing anytime soon. Similarly, I think people …

Mental Health ‘Disabilities’ as Legal Superpowers

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer or a disability rights expert, and I am not offering legal advice. I’m just a psychology professor offering one possible strategy that neurominorities could use to stand up for our free speech rights at American universities. In an earlier article for Quillette.com, I outlined how campus speech codes discriminate against people who show various forms of ‘neurodiversity’ such as Asperger’s syndrome, bipolar disorder, or ADHD. I promised a follow-up article on how neurodivergent people might be able to use the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 to fight these discriminatory speech codes at U.S. universities. This is that follow-up article. I’ll get much more specific about what you can do, at your university, if you have a genuine diagnosable ‘mental disorder’, to advocate for your free speech rights. Mental disorders are highly stigmatized conditions, but they have a hidden upside: they can give you legal super-powers, including a surprisingly formidable set of rights under the ADA. If enough neurodivergent students, staff, and faculty use the ‘ADA strategy’ that …

The Neurodiversity Case for Free Speech

Editor’s note: this article was updated on August 6th 2017, to better reflect current terminology relating to neurodiversity. Imagine a young Isaac Newton time-travelling from 1670s England to teach Harvard undergrads in 2017. After the time-jump, Newton still has an obsessive, paranoid personality, with Asperger’s syndrome, a bad stutter, unstable moods, and episodes of psychotic mania and depression. But now he’s subject to Harvard’s speech codes that prohibit any “disrespect for the dignity of others”; any violations will get him in trouble with Harvard’s Inquisition (the ‘Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion’). Newton also wants to publish Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, to explain the laws of motion governing the universe. But his literary agent explains that he can’t get a decent book deal until Newton builds his ‘author platform’ to include at least 20k Twitter followers – without provoking any backlash for airing his eccentric views on ancient Greek alchemy, Biblical cryptography, fiat currency, Jewish mysticism, or how to predict the exact date of the Apocalypse. Newton wouldn’t last long as a ‘public intellectual’ in modern American culture. Sooner or later, …