I’m going to cover something that a lot of autism parents either have no idea exists. There are probably an equal number of parents who have come in conflict with neurodiverse folks on the internet and were left blindsided. I think of it as a human rights movement for adults on the spectrum and adults with ADD/ADHD, but I’m a romantic so I’m probably romanticizing it a bit.

Neurodiversity: atypical (neurodivergent) neurological development is a normal human difference that is to be recognized and respected as any other human variation.

That definition is from the Neurodiversity Wikipedia page and is a fairly accurate description of how I understand the concept of neurodiversity, which will hereafter be shortened to ND. To put the application of the term in simpler perspective, my son with autism is ND while I and my wife are neurotypical, or NT.

It helps if you look at the diversity concept from a different perspective. For example, our biggest human rights challenges in the past have been biodiversity equality issues like skin color and gender. However, ND presents a different way of viewing equality and human rights. While different cultures and genders bring different concepts and ideas to the mix, of equal value and import are the concepts and ideas of those who think differently. Obviously men and women think differently about things, as do people from different cultures. I rarely hear an idea dismissed simply because it came from a woman or someone with a different skin color. However, I have heard people say “well he has autism so he doesn’t really know what he’s saying.”

That dismissive thinking gets at the heart of what neurodiversity is all about. The ND perspective is that even people who can’t communicate their feelings still have feelings and should be treated with respect. I know, reading that, you’re thinking “well duh. Everyone deserves to be respected.” However, many people on the spectrum are not treated with respect.

The biggest thing we need to understand as parents is that the ND perspective believes that no one can be “fixed” or “cured.” This took me some time to understand, as I believe my son’s issues are rooted in an epigenetic cause. I found it difficult to reconcile the belief that his issues were caused by an environmental insult with the ND perspective, which is much more of a “born this way” sort of idea.

I know there are a lot of parents out there who “hate autism.” Many caregivers teach “you’re not tired of your child, you’re tired of the disorder” sort of thinking to encourage parents to get respite and take care of themselves. While there is some truth to that, I think it is an oversimplification. There are enormous challenges that come with raising someone on the spectrum. Nobody is disputing that. I know there are parents out there who have nonverbal kids that tantrum and are self injurious. I know you want to help your kids.

For me the key is in the approach. I don’t want to “fix” my son. At one time I thought a “cure” was a good idea, but now I’m not so sure. What if autism is more than a reaction to environmental toxins? What if our kids are a different evolutionary expression? I’m not recanting my beliefs on my son’s causation, but I am open minded. The possibility exists that our kids, and folks on the spectrum in general, show us different ways to view our world.

Regardless, Raymond is my son and I love him. The therapies, the biomedical treatments, the forthcoming service dog, all are things I try to do to empower him. I don’t want to fix him. I want to make him strong and independent. I want him to be able to express himself artistically. I want his emotions to grow so he can understand love and share a relationship if he chooses. Most of all, though, I want him to be safe, respected and happy.

I’ve gone off on a little tangent here and left the main point, so below are some more links with info on neurodiversity. These folks honestly hone in on the issue a little better than I can as I’ve just begun to really study it. However, I like what I’ve read so far. Nothing we do for our kids will be more important than changing the world so it can accept and nurture them.


Thomas Armstrong’s piece on ND