A new book by Thomas Armstrong compares the human brain to a rain forest, and suggests that we apply lessons learned about biodiversity and racial diversity to brain differences.
Entitled: Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Brain Differences, the book focuses on the 'hidden strengths' of mental illness, describing this as a powerful concept backed by brain research, anthropology and other fields, that can help revolutionize the way we look at mental illness. The author is quick to point out that he has no intention of trivialising mental health issues, and recognises that they involve tremendous hardship, suffering and pain. He also advocates the identification and treatment of mental illness in early childhood, to enable the best outcome. In his view, however, one important aspect of alleviating this hardship is an emphasis on the positive dimensions of people who have traditionally been stigmatized as less than normal.
Thomas asserts that there is no such thing as a 'normal' or standard brain, just as there is no standard plant, or standard cultural or racial group. In fact, diversity among brains is just as wonderfully enriching as biodiversity and the diversity among cultures and races. Instead of viewing brains as disordered, the emphasis in neurodiversity is placed on differences. For example, people with Dyslexia often have minds that visualize clearly in three dimensions. People with ADHD have a different, more diffused attentional style.
Eight principle of neurodiversity are proposed in this book:
1. The human brain works more like an ecosystem than a machine. As with ecosystems, the brain can transform itself. .
2. Human beings and brains exist along a continuum of competence. Knowing that we are all connected to each other on a continuum, just like ecosystems, means we need to have far greater tolerance for those with neurological systems that are different from ours.
3. Human competence is defined by the values of the culture to which you belong. By specifying precisely what human behaviours represent abnormal functioning, society upholds those social values it regards as sacred, and shuns any deviations.
4. Whether you are regarded as disabled or gifted depends largely upon when and where you live. Modern day students with learning disabilities often perform poorly in skills schools value most (reading, writing, maths, test-taking and rule-following), and strongly in things schools value least (art, music, nature, physical skill).
5. Success in life is based upon adapting one's brain to the needs of the surrounding environment. Instead of attempting to adapt neurodiverse brains to suit their environment, we should seek surroundings compatible with their differences.
6. Success in life depends upon modifying your surrounding environment to fit the needs of your unique brain. We are all constantly changing our suroundings to build niches for ourselves. It is possible for neurodiverse individuals to alter their environments to match the needs of their unique brain.
7. Niche construction includes career & lifestyle choices and assistive technologies tailored to the needs of a neurodiverse individual. Choices about lifestyle of career may be among the most critical in determining whether a person suffers as a disordered individual or finds satisfaction in an environment that recognises his strengths
8. Positive niche construction directly modifies the brain, which in turn enhances its ability to adapt to the environment.
Seeing our own inner strengths builds our self-confidence, provides us with courage to pursue our dreams and promotes the development of specific skills that canprovide deep satisfaction in life.
An edited excerpt from the book, which was recently published by Ode Magazine, can be read at: http://www.odemagazine.com/doc/
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