Saturday, December 25, 2010

Maybe All We Need is Love

The Christmas Eve homily at midnight mass got me thinking about neurodiversity and our need for a bit of understanding and love.    I went over to Princeton for the service.  It was a beautiful mass with great music.  The priest gave a great sermon about God's love and included this little annecdote:A Love waveImage via Wikipedia

Apparently, he was waiting in the checkout line at one of the big-box stores and people were a bit grumpy. Until they reached the checkout counter, that is.  Then they started to smile.  When it came to his turn at checkout, he understood why.  There was a little sign near the cashier that said:

"I was made with love.   Please treat me accordingly."

Maybe what we need to look at neurodiversity through a different lens:

The concept of neurodiversity is timely in that it respects recent research suggesting that what we call disabilities exist on a continuum with normal behavior. [9] But instead of viewing Ratey's "half-empty glass" (more people are disabled than we previously thought), it takes a "half-full" glass perspective (individuals with"disability labels"are more closely linked to "normal" people than we thought). It also gives us a context for understanding why we are so frequently delighted with Calvin's ADHD behavior in "Calvin & Hobbes" in the comics, amused by Tony Shalhoub's OCD super-detective "Monk" on television, and inspired by Russell Crowe's performance as Nobel-Prize winner/schizophrenic John Nash in the movie "A Brilliant Mind."
The use of the term neurodiversity is not an attempt to whitewash the suffering undergone by neurodiverse people, nor to romanticize what many still consider terrible afflictions (see Peter Kramer's attack on so-called romanticizers of depression). [10] Rather, its use seeks to acknowledge the richness and complexity of human nature, and specifically, of the human brain. The more we study the brain, the more we understand that it functions, not like a computer, but more like a rainforest (see Gerald Edelman's work in this regard). [11] The "brainforest," in fact, may serve as an excellent metaphor to use in the neurodiversity field to talk about how the brain responds to trauma by redirecting neurological pathways, and how genetic "flaws" may bring with them advantages as well disadvantages. Disorders such as autism, ADHD, bipolar depression, schizophrenia, and dyslexia have been in the gene pool for a long time. There must be a reason why they're still there. The work of evolutionary psychobiologists and evolutionary psychologists represent a key component in exploring this fascinating question.
The implications for special education are enormous. Instead of wallowing in the current "disability discourse," both regular and special educators have an opportunity to step "out of the box" and embrace an entirely new trend in thinking about human diversity. Rather than putting kids into separate disability categories and using outmoded tools and language to work with these students, a perspective based on neurodiversity invites educators to utilize tools and language from the ecology movement as a key to helping kids succeed in the classroom. If we apply the same kind of diversity model to children as we do to the flora of the world, then we should be in much better shape than we are now.
Consider the issue of inclusion in education. Regular classroom teachers are far more likely to want a "rare and beautiful flower" or "an interesting and strange orchid" included in their classroom than a "broken" or "damaged" child. The use of ecological metaphors suggests an approach to teaching as well. Individual species of flowers have specific environmental needs regarding sun, water, soil conditions, and so forth. Similarly, neurodiverse children will be seen as having their own differing ecological thriving factors, and it will be a key role for a neurodiversity specialist to understand each child's unique needs for optimal growth. The goal will not be to try and "cure" "fix" "repair" "remediate" or even "ameliorate" a child's "disability." In this old model, such kids are made either to approximate the norm (especially for national accountability tests), or helped to cope with their disabilities as best they can (the phrase "she can learn to have a successful and productive life despite her disability" comes to mind here).
In the new model, there is no norm. [12] Rather, the neurodiversity-based educator will have a deep respect for each child's differences and seek ways to bring together an optimal joining of nature and nurture, finding the best ecological niche for each child where his assets are maximized and his debits are minimized. This, of course, represents an enormous challenge for public schools, since they are not known for their flexibility in creating a variety of learning eco-systems. [13] Hopefully, schools will be forced to change by the sheer variety and force of their student population's neurological organization.
To this end, the neurodiversity-inspired educator will strive to educate others (parents, administrators, colleagues, students) about "differences, not disabilities" through diversity programs that are similar to those used in schools and the workplace for gender and race. These programs will include information on the abilities of neurodiverse people, showcase examples of neurodiverse individuals who have achieved success, and help people discard old disability-based ways of thinking in favor of a new neurodiversity discourse (not with the intention of being "politically correct," but of being "neurologically accurate.") Finally, educators who are engaged in research projects will have a new avenue of exploration in identifying the strengths, talents, abilities, multiple intelligences, and other assets of neurodiverse people. Such research is very much in line with contemporary psychology's new approach to "positive psychology" and will be fundamental in changing the attitudes and outlook of people toward children in special education programs. [14Neurodiversity and Ecology

Maybe because God created us with love, we should be treated accordingly.



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