By Chen Gershuni-
Over the past two decades, we have been witnessing a growing awareness of the Autism spectrum, which spans across various forms and degrees of Autism. One of the positive outcomes of this newly found awareness is the formation of the Autistic community, which includes Autistics of various ages and of various abilities, who communicate with each other through either speech, writing, gesturing, painting, filming, or other forms of communication.
Since the late 1990's, many members of the Autistic community have been promoting the concept of Neurodiversity, which recognizes, explores, respects and celebrates the wide variety of neurological wirings which exist among humans. While this concept of Neurodiversity has become increasingly associated with the Autistic community, it also applies to other groups of people, as demonstrated in Thomas Armstrong's book "Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Brain Differences".
In its broadest meaning, though, Neurodiversity applies not only to people whose neurolocial wirings differ from the norm, but also to those whose neurological wirings are considered to be normal.
It is estimated that about eighty five percent of the world's population is of normal neurological wiring, also known as neurotypical wiring. About fifteen percent of the world's population is believed to be of neurodivergent wiring, which includes such phenomena as autism, AD(H)D, dyslexia, dyspraxia, bipolarity, social anxiety, etc. In particular, about one percent of the world's population is believed to be Autistic.
At first glance, it seems that the main beneficiaries from propagating the concepts of neurodiversity would be those fifteen percent of the population whose neurological wiring is neurodivergent. In a closer look, though, it is evident that adopting the ideas of neurodiversity would greatly benefit the entire human population.
People differ from each other on various levels. When we examine the myriad tastes and opinions of various people on subjects such as science, art, politics, sports and religion, to name just a few, we observe a wide variety of human perceptions. Considering that people's opinions about the world around them are greatly dependent upon their nervous systems, we may ask ourselves if total neurotypicals exist at all.
Here are some deliberately extreme examples, in order to make the point clear:
Can people from average backgrounds, who find themselves drawn towards esoteric strands of Hinayana Buddhism, be neurotypical? Or must they have divergent neurological wirings, which underlie their gravitation towards a tradition so obscure to most humans?
Can people from average backgrounds, who find themselves drawn towards the musical style of serialism, be neurotypical? Or must they have divergent neurological wirings, which underlie their gravitation towards a musical style so incomprehensible to most humans?
Can people from average backgrounds, who find themselves drawn towards social anarchism, be neurotypical? Or must they have divergent neurological wirings, which underlie their gravitation towards a political tradition so unknown to most people?
Can people from average backgrounds, who find themselves winning Nobel prizes, be neurotypical? Or must they have divergent neurological wirings, which underlie their academic achievements, which greatly surpass most people's?
The above are extreme examples, but the same goes for any differences of human taste, perceptions, or achievements -
Human neurological wirings are as diverse as human tastes, perceptions and talents are.
If the world at large embraces the ideas of Neurodiversity, then we would further develop the different strengths of various groups of people, while simultaneously strengthening the similarities and connections between various groups of people, to allow all of us to work together, as an intricate network of human networks.
On the smallest scale, we can observe what is currently happening within the Autistic community itself.
Autistic-run retreats and conferences, such as Autreat and Autscape, exemplify how various Autistics, whose strengths and weaknesses vastly differ from each other, can cooperate with each other and complement one another in creating successful, long standing events.
On a somewhat larger scale, we can observe how the Autistic community integrates into the wider neurodivergent community, how it is aiding the wider disability rights movement and how other minority groups are aiding the Autistic community.
In Britain, the Developmental Adult Neuro-Diversity Association, includes Autistics and other neurodivergents, who network with each other in order to reach their full potential and play a full role in society.
One of the largest Autistic-run organizations in America, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, is regularly advocating for the rights of all disabled people, regardless of their specific disabilities. Some of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network's recent actions include campaigning for retaining Medicaid Home and Community Based Services for disabled people, and campaigning against restraining and secluding disabled students in schools.
Recently, we have been witnessing some media personnel from the gay community who are beginning to assist the Autistic community in the production and publication of articles, books and films on the subject of Neurodiversity.
On the larger scale, we can observe how the Autistic community is integrating with society at large.
For the past few years, more and more IT companies are hiring Autistic IT professionals, to accomplish tasks which are best accomplished by members of the Autistic community. The first of those companies was Specialisterne, which is based in Denmark and which employs mostly Autistics. The first of those companies in the United States is Aspiritech, which is based in Chicago. Similar companies operate in Sweden, Belgium, Israel and in some other countries.
We can foresee that during the next few years, similar projects will start utilizing Autistic talents in other fields, for the benefit of society at large.
This great wave of Neurodiversity oriented collaborations owes its existence, in part, to the advent of the Internet.
As early as 1994, Autistics were already e-mailing each other on the first ever Autistic-run mailing list, which was started by Autism Network International. By 1996, the first ever Autistic-run retreat and conference, Autreat, was produced by Autistics. Autreat's planning process was, and still is, done mainly online.
About a decade later, in 2004, both AspiesForFreedom.com and WrongPlanet.net were established as online forum systems for the Autistic community. During the eight years which passed since then, numerous Autistics have exchanged countless ideas over those two forums, which sometimes resulted in practical actions. To this day, almost a hundred thousands of Autistics have registered to those two forums, as well as to several other, smaller Autistic-run online forums.
The challenges which lie ahead of us are several.
First, within the Autistic community itself, we should be sharing much more information with one another, to ensure people are aware of the various Autistic-run local groups which operate in their areas, as well as of national and international Autistic-run organizations and events, such as the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, Autreat and Autscape.
Second, we should ensure that the wider disability rights movement, especially its cognitively divergent members, is aware of the Autistic community and cooperates with us whenever cooperation is suitable.
Third, we should ensure that all people on this planet know that they, too, as neurotypical as they may seem, posses unique neurological wirings, which place them somewhere among this vast human spectrum, called Neurodiversity
Digital artwork: "Forty Eight" by Chen Gershuni
Digital artwork: "My Neon Bird" by Chen Gershuni
Chen Gershuni was born in Israel in 1970.
Chen, who is on the autism spectrum, is active in the neurodiversity communities in both Israel and Britain.
He is a musician, poet and digital artist.