Yesterday (or today depending on where you live) was International Asperger’s Day. It is not a day I celebrate for a number of reasons, many of which are outlined in this post.
I was asked to join an online group last year which had the term ‘Asperger’s’ prominently displayed. The questions the group admins needed me to answer to gain entry to this apparently prestigious club were all centred on the idea that there is a clear difference between ‘Asperger’s’ and ‘autism’ and the emphasis was on basically them not wanting to be included with ‘those autistics’. Horrified I deleted the request and advised the person who asked me to join that this was not an approach I would ever take.
It seemed amazing to me that at this point in history people wee thinking this way. These kinds of ideas were percolating around when the diagnostic manual the DSM 5 was being introduced a few years ago. As someone who had the Asperger’s diagnosis under the DSM IV I thought about how I wanted to describe myself and very soon after the change of diagnostic manuals I decided to identify as autistic not Asperger’s in keeping with both the new diagnostic label and my feeling that separatism was not going to serve our community well and besides it was elitist, mean and rude.
The ideas of neurodiversity and neurodivergence are not new but I have seen great usage of them in recent times rather than using specific diagnostic terms like autism or ADHD. Similarly to those of us in the autistic community when the DSM 5 and its changed diagnoses came in, we now get to think about how we describe ourselves in relation to others with similar but different experiences. Lately I keep finding myself writing ‘autistic people’ and then realise that what I refer to relates to people with other neurodivergences than autism alone. I feel it is a matter of inclusion. If something is experienced by people from a number of different neurodiverse groups, I feel it is often better to says neurodivergent rather than list the different diagnostic labels which whatever is being discussed applies too.
For those who haven’t come across the term, neurodiversity is based in the idea that all humans have differently wired brains. People who are neurodivergent have brains which are ‘wired differently’ to the typical neurology. This is not a deficit or something ‘wrong’ but it is a difference to the ‘neurotypical’ majority. The idea of ‘different, not less’ is firmly based in ideas of neurodiversity, The neurodiversity movement works to address the disparities and discrimination against neurodivergent people. And neurodivergence definitely doesn’t relate only to autistic experience.
I must admit that up until quite recently when I thought about neurodiversity I only really conceptualised that as being an autistic experience but of course that is far from the truth. Some experiences relate only to autistics, some things only to people with dyslexia or those with dyspraxia etc. but where there are commonalities I like the idea of capturing them within the umbrella of neurodivergence.
There is also the fact that many neurodiverse people have a number of neurodivergences. For example I am currently in the process of being assessed for ADHD (OK, I am just starting out but that still counts as being in the process!). I know a number of autistic people who also have a diagnosis of ADHD or ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia or other things.
Not everyone will agree with my approach of course and, as so many of us had to when the autism diagnostic label was changed, this is something people will need to consider where it relates to them.
I may be wrong but I think the current focus on neurodivergence rather than specific diagnostic descriptors is a relatively new thing. As such it is an evolving understanding. I love evolving understandings because there is so much opportunity to find a way forward into an inclusive and respectful space. I tend to think that the concept of diagnosis is quite fraught anyway when talking about neurodiversity. I mean I know in current society we need to have a diagnosis in order to access the necessary services and supports but I don’t think I have a ‘disorder’ at all. I’m not broken and neither are my neurodivergent peers. My ‘disorder’ is based in living in world that struggles – and sometimes completely fails – to understand or respect me a lot of the time. My disability is very much from the social model more than the medical model. A world full of Yenn Purkises would be a functioning world, just a bit of a different world from the one we have now. I am always aware when speaking of diagnostic labels that in a better world our diversity would not be so pathologised and that neurodivergence to me is more a sort of cultural linguistic thing than a deficits thing. If allistic folks l learned our ‘language’ a lot of the issues would cease to be issues.
So if we accept that diagnosis and disorders are a problematic concept and that the things which disable us are frequently nothing to do with any deficits on our part and are more due to a world which doesn’t understand us…well that suggests to me that a focus on what different neurodivergent people share rather than our differences is a good place to focus in order to make change and support one another to live our potential.
So I am Yenn and I am neurodivergent and proud.