All posts filed under: Neurodiversity

A (Failed) Campaign to Smear a University of Toronto Scholarship Student as a Bigot

Arjun Singh is an Indian-Canadian student of mixed Sikh and Hindu ancestry, set to finish a four-year undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto in just three years, while reportedly boasting a 3.96 cumulative GPA in his course work with the departments of Political Science, International Relations, and American Studies. His LinkedIn page indicates that he speaks multiple languages and has work experience with the US State Department. So no surprise that this high achiever has earned numerous awards and scholarships. In recent days, however, 13 fellow students (six of them white, for those who count these things) publicly expressed their claimed “shock” that Singh had received the Political Science department’s $1,000 David Rayside Undergraduate Scholarship, awarded to “students who have demonstrated commitment and leadership in co-curricular activities, on or off campus, promoting greater public understanding of social and cultural diversity and enhanced inclusion of historically marginalized populations: for example racialized minorities, women, Indigenous communities, immigrants and refugees, people with disabilities, sexual minorities. Award is based on academic achievement and financial need.” On January 31st, …

First, Do No Harm: A New Model for Treating Trans-Identified Children

We are two psychotherapists, husband and wife, with professional involvement in the therapeutic treatment of trans-identified individuals in the UK. The material that follows is connected to a paper we presented at a multi-disciplinary conference on January 23rd, Do Not Adjust Your Set: Sex, Gender And Public Policy, and reflects our serious concern about the transition of children before maturity—though, as we would like to emphasize, we are not taking a position in regard to an adult’s right to transition. Indeed, we understand that transition is, for some adults, the optimum way to lead their lives and present to the world. In all cases, we encourage a psychotherapeutic model that provides a process of psychological exploration, in which an individual’s personality structure, beliefs, defence mechanisms, and motivations are assessed and examined in a supportive environment. All of these elements, we believe, are helpful for anyone planning this kind of life-altering decision. Between 2003 and 2007, I, Susan Evans, worked for the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) at the Tavistock Clinic in London, a specialised facility …

My Brief Spell as an Activist

I knew a few social justice campaigners in high school. They were advocates, they liked to remind the rest of us, and they were endowed with holy outrage and an acute awareness of inequality and a passion for tolerance that never quite translated into actual kindness. They wore t-shirts that bore slogans like “The Future Is Female,” they crusaded against “oppressive” dress codes, and they confronted a patriarchal grading system. They were practised in the art of derailing conversation with accusations of heteronormativity or cultural appropriation. The battles they won (“We can wear tube tops now!”) were triumphs of resistance, while those they lost only accentuated the ubiquity of the inequity du jour. No matter how petty and irrational their grievances became, these students eluded criticism from peers, teachers, and administrators alike. Nobody wanted to take them on. After all, who wanted to argue with the pursuit of justice? Throughout high school, conversations were had, discourses were dismantled, lived experiences were brandished, and I sat through all of it silently. I was more bored by …

What Explains the Resistance to Evolutionary Psychology?

A recent study conducted by evolutionary psychologists, David Buss and William von Hippel, has found empirical support for the claim that evolutionary psychology is a controversial field among social psychologists.1 Their study titled, “Psychological Barriers to Evolutionary Psychology: Ideological Bias and Coalitional Adaptations,” posed questions to social psychologists to assess their political orientation and their attitudes towards evolutionary psychology, specifically, the extent to which evolutionary theory applies to humans. The responses of the social psychologists to the question of whether Darwinian evolution applies to human minds were highly variable despite being in near unanimous agreement that Darwinian evolution is not only true, but also applies to physical human traits. Further questions revealed that their discomfort with the notion of evolved minds was neither due to religious beliefs nor to beliefs in human specialness, but were due to their varying opinions on “hot button variables” in evolutionary psychology. These included topics such as genetic tendencies for violence, universal standards of beauty, and psychological sex differences. In other words, evolutionary theory becomes contentious when it veers away …

In Defense of Male Stoicism

I dealt with the most stereotypically feminine of mental illnesses in the most stereotypically masculine way. After acknowledging that I was anorexic, and deciding that I had no wish to be, I put my head down and tried to recover with the minimum of fuss. I told almost nobody about my condition, and almost never discussed it with the people I had told. I had two sessions with a therapist—almost missing the first after getting myself lost and terrifying pedestrians by running up to them, wild-eyed, to ask for directions to the mental health center—and then abandoned them out of embarrassment and reticence. I did not want to talk, and I did not cry, and I had no wish to hold anyone’s hand or be hugged. As a means of recovery, I would not recommend this. I was fortunate enough to have a family who supported me as I recovered, and someone less privileged would need additional support. Had I been more open to professional help, meanwhile, I might have made a quicker and more comprehensive recovery, …

High Functioning and Fine

Those familiar with the “discovery” of autism usually attribute it to Leo Kanner, an American psychiatrist working at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. His famous monograph, published in 1943, was made possible with the help of assistants Georg Frankl and Anni Weiss, both of whom had previously worked with Hans Asperger, a pediatrician working in Vienna during WWII. Kanner had a narrow definition of autism. He thought it was a rare childhood psychosis and forwarded the theory of “refrigerator mothers” as the cause. Asperger thought it was far more common and existed on a “continuum,” or what we now call the ‘spectrum.’ Asperger’s position vis-à-vis the Nazi regime under which he lived put his research in the shadows, and it was only in 1991 that Uta Frith’s book Autism and Asperger Syndrome brought his work to the English-speaking world at large. The American Psychiatric Association included Asperger Syndrome, as distinct from autism, in the DSM-IV in 1994, and subsequently removed it from the DSM-5 in 2013. I suspect the American health system, run by insurance clerks, …

The Autistic Buddha—An Interview

The UK writer Thomas Clements recently published a book titled The Autistic Buddha. I wanted to find out more about the book, so I contacted Thomas who agreed to be interviewed for Quillette. What follows is a summary of our interview conducted over email. Thanks for agreeing to talk to Quillette. Tell us about The Autistic Buddha, what is the book about?  The Autistic Buddha is a memoir detailing the extraordinary inner and outer journeys I have had to undertake in my life in order to make sense of the world as a man on the autism spectrum. Because of my disability, I have struggled throughout most of my life to fit into polite society, and like many autistic people, I’m quite blind to the finer nuances of social interaction which are often so crucial for getting on in the world. Autistic people like me are also characterized by their intense and sometimes excessive level of focus on one particular theme which in my case happened to be the culture of East Asia. This particular obsession was an alternate universe into which I …

The Empathy Gap in Tech: Interview with a Software Engineer

Last year I was working on an article about the tech industry when I decided to interview a software engineer who writes for Quillette under the pseudonym “Gideon Scopes”. Gideon had mentioned to me in passing that he had Asperger’s Syndrome (a mild variant of autism spectrum disorder) and I wanted to find out more about the industry from the point of view of someone who is not neurotypical. I first asked him when it was that he knew he wanted to work in technology. He told me that he first knew it when he was five. His family got their first home computer and he was transfixed. Later, he would come across a brief introduction to the BASIC programming language in a book and proceed to teach himself his first programming language. He was only seven. As a child he taught himself programming out of books, mostly alone at home. He told me that his family were not particularly supportive of his hobby. His mother was not happy to see him focus so intently on one …

The Neuroscience of Intelligence: An Interview with Richard Haier

Richard Haier is a Professor Emeritus at the University of California Irvine and is the author of the Neuroscience of Intelligence published by Cambridge University Press. Over his career he has used neuroimaging to study how brain function and structure relate to intelligence, and the ways in which “smart” brains work. He is the editor-in-chief of the journal Intelligence and the past president of the International Society for Intelligence Research. I reached out to him earlier this year to ask about his new book. What follows is an interview conducted with Quillette via email. Thank you for taking the time to talk to Quillette Professor Haier. You’ve spent forty years studying intelligence and have compiled your knowledge into a new book accessible to the general reader called The Neuroscience of Intelligence, which looks fascinating from its précis. Firstly, can you tell us how you became interested in intelligence research, and how you came about studying intelligence through neuroimaging? When I started graduate school at Johns Hopkins in 1971, I was interested in social psychology and personality …

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 …