Neurodiversity: A Bold Approach to

Although I am a business professional in mental health, I am not a subscriber to the panoply of neuro-nonsense that abounds in mainstream conversations. Neuro-babble is the unfortunate result of exciting research being appropriated by folks that don’t understand the nuances of research, who then apply shrewd marketing tactics to it for the sake of whatever (profits, etc).

If neuro-manipulation were a thing, I’d be inclined to say that many of those in commerce are guilty of it. 

I lay out this disclaimer because I don’t want to give anyone the idea that we at SoCal Neuropsych are in the business of selling brain fads in the name of profit. While we support a lot of brilliant businesses that harness the power of neuroscience, like Empatica, or up and coming technologies like that of Quasar USA, these are research org’s that have a full understanding of the limits of their craft and have carved out niches in the economy accordingly.

With all of that stated, I come to the concept of neurodiversity. Neurodiversity has been around since the ‘80s and is primarily associated with movements in the Autistic and ADD/ADHD support communities. In a nutshell, arguments for neurodiversity center around the idea that brains come in a variety of ways and that it is short-sighted to treat people of divergent neuronal configurations as “disabled”. 

Dr. Conover recently picked up a book by Dr. Thomas Armstrong entitled The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain. By the third page, I was hooked as Dr. Armstrong echoed all of the sentiments we hold in the office regarding the value of differences amongst human cognitive, emotional, and social profiles. Without untoward platitudes, suffice to say that Dr. Armstrong’s ideas are vital to the understanding of the human and ways we can weave fibers for better societies. 

When I work with my students, I find that it is necessary to walk them through some of the basics of brain functioning and -- more importantly -- where one should start en route to understanding humans. 

Humans are biological machines whose actions are generally life promoting. That is, the purpose of living life as a human is to continue living until your genes or some other malfunction occurs. While computers' sole purpose is processing information via mechanical calculations, human computations are directly related to biology and survival within our ecological niche. Ergo, we process information with much different methods that have been adapted over time via natural selection.

Furthermore, humans are intensely social. It has been posited for quite some time now that our rapid cognitive evolution has been borne upon the wings of our lingual abilities. Communication not only progressed verbal communication, but all communicable signs and symbols (nonverbal etc) discussed in the domain of semiotics. Our brains are constantly updating the internal narratives that promote life sustaining activities and try to communicate those narratives to others in some cohesive fashion. 

Another component of evolution is that diversity is generally good. A widely cast net of traits can mean that surmounting environmental obstacles is much more likely. If every organism does the same exact thing, then an obstacle that they lack the means of negotiating around can increase the likelihood of extinction. 

Enter neurodiversity. If Nature is anything, it is the most relentless engineer. Humans are already the most advanced species on this planet; however, we are still being updated in real time as we negotiate with our surroundings. The idea of neurodiversity adds an interesting element to the conversation as it points to a novel suggestion that while the deepest of our structures are shared as humans, the results that we come to know as mental and behavioral eventualities are variegated attempts at updating and improving our fitness. 

Thus, all brains and their concomitant minds must be seen as valid, even if they fall outside of some “norm”. Especially if they fall outside of the norm.  

Rather than being social aberrations, it is much more likely that all of these brains and minds and their associated traits exist along continuums of combinatoric configuration. Thus, while a schizophrenic is seen as being crazy by virtue of his or her hallucinations, it is widely known in our field that many non-schizophrenics experience hallucinations, but have the wherewithal to understand that these are not a part of “reality”. Thus, how we approach schizophrenia and those suffering from it must evolve accordingly. More specifically, how we discuss schizophrenia and treat those within that population must progress.

Same is true for social or attentional “disorders” like Autism, Aspergers, and ADHD, respectively. 

What does any of this mean to the average Joe off the street? As aforementioned, a HUGE part of the human condition is how we interact with one another. We spend so much of our time marginalizing those who don’t conform to some norm, but that norm is, in and of itself, an illusion of averages. When you take the sum total of all continuums and average them across a population, you get an illusion of normality. When normality is treated in communication as the gold standard, then one finds themselves in a very contentious situation. 

Our minds construct our schemas based on word and concept associations. When we are interacting, the things we associate with some term or some phrase lead directly into behavior. If we are thinking in some marginalizing way, we are directly obstructing someone else’s ability to find a high quality of life. 

What we aim to do at Southern California Neuropsychology Group is change the dialogue by changing the a priori assumptions about humans and our place within the universe. If we can change how people view themselves and their fellow humans, we can change the words they use, and hopefully change the sometimes destructive way we get down. 

Hopefully you will join us on this journey to a better tomorrow.

Bryce Brown
Director of Business Operations and Development
Southern California Neuropsychology Group