Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In Respect of Difference

Just picture a society where everyone interacted under the exact same set of rules. Can you imagine a place where everyone thought about things in the same way? Can you picture a culture where everyone was predictable and where sameness was the norm?

Thankfully, this is not the way of the world. Difference is the norm. Difference provides our richness, our truth. It is our reality.

Neurodiversity is a term that describes difference based on neurological attributes. Most commonly attributed to those with Autism or Asperger Syndrome, it asserts that this difference is a natural part of human development that should be respected and appreciated.

Many people with autism have the ability to see things in ways that most of us do not. They often have strong ability at systematizing and seeing logic and rules and patterns where others do not. But, they struggle socially. The set of social rules that most of learn so easily at a young age are foreign to many people with autism. Imagine you were dropped in a foreign country where you were expected to know all the conventions, traditions and ways of interacting. You would want to get it right. You wouldn’t want to offend someone, to do something wrong, to say something wrong. You would likely feel on edge and be anxious about doing something wrong or saying something wrong. You would spend your time watching others, reading books about the culture, reading websites about tradition and you would try to use your intellectual part of your brain to figure out this foreign culture. This is often the life of someone with Autism or Asperger Syndrome.

But it doesn’t mean they are less. It does mean that the challenges of those who are seen to be outside of the norm should be seen through a lens of acceptance, understanding and openness. Their struggles in a world where difference is sometimes viewed as less are real. I compel you that the next time you encounter a person who may not behave the way you expect to look at their way of being as different, but not less. Do not pity them, but do give them the patience and understanding they deserve.

To quote Temple Grandin, doctor of animal sciences and a professor, a woman with Autism, and advocate for persons with autism, “After all, the really social people did not invent the first stone spear. It was probably invented by an Aspie who chipped away at rocks while the other people socialized around the campfire. Without autism traits we might still be living in caves."

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