Tag Archives: Social Model of Disability

Neurodiversity #AtoZChalenge

Welcome to another day in the A to Z Challenge on autism. I can’t believe we’re halfway through the challenge already! Today, for the letter N, I will explaint he concept of neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity refers to the idea that autism, bipolar disorder and other neurological or mental disorders are not inherently pathological. Rather, they result from normal variations in the human genome and should be seen as natural ways of being and self-expression. The diversity of neurotypes need therefore be seen as similar to the diversity in gender expression, sexual orientation or ethnicity.

The neurodiversity movement rejects the idea that autism and other neurological conditions need to be cured, or even that they can be cured. It sees one’s neurological type as an essential part of one’s being, and therefore, changing someone’s neurotype will change their essence.

Some people within the neurodiversity movement say there is no such thing as a neurodiverse person. Rather, neurodiversity encompasses all people of all neurological types, including so-called neurotypcal people.

Neurodiversity activists see the spectrum of neurological expression as a sort of bell curve, whereby on the edges are people who are often seen as too impaired to accommodate. Yet these people might provide the cues to solving important problems or might be exceptionally able to contribute in a specific way. Some extremist neurodiversity advocates even see autistic people as somehow evolutionarily advanced.

Neurodiversity activists, for clarity’s sake, do advocate for supports for autistic and otherwise neuroatypical people. They embrace the social model of disability, which sees disability as originating from a lack of accommodation for people with impairments, rather than from the impairments themselves. Neurodiversity activsts advocate for inclusive education, independent living supports and occupational training which allows the autistic or otherwise neuroatypical person to remain as they are rather than conform to a majority view of “normal”.

A problem with neurodiversity and the osicla model of disability is that autism and other neurological disorders do impair people, whereas for example being gay or a person of color does not. They are often also the more capable autistic people who advocate for neurodiversity. This may lead some people to an exclusionist approach, whereby “high-functioning” autistics do not need a cure whereas “low-functioning” autistics do. I advocate looking at what symptoms are inherently impairing and what symptoms are not, rather than saying that certain people need a cure and others do not.

Inclusion vs. Insertion or Integration

On a post on disability acceptance, someone commented that insertion is not the same as inclusion. This means that putting disabled people in mainstream classrooms, in the community, etc., does not automatically lead to them being accepted into that comunity. In this sense, there are parallels to the racial and gender equality movement, but there are also differences. The parallel involves the fact that, just because for example African-Americans were finally legally allowed to sit in the front of the bus in the 1960s, doesn’t mean they weren’t bullied into the back anymore. The difference, which to soe extent applied to certain groups of ethnic minorities too, is the need for accommodations to be made to fully include disabled people.

There is another word that is frequently used in disability situations and which is commonly used for ethnic minorites: integration. Integration involves not just insertion, but the expectation on the part of the majority that the ethnic minority or disabled person adapt to the majority. In a sense, this is somewhat opposite to inclusion, where the majority makes reasonable accommodations for the minority. It is also contrary to acceptance, because, while the majority tolerate the minority once integrated, they won’t accept them the if they don’t meet up to the cultural norms of the majority.

I have often struggled with the social model of disability, because it to some extent ignores the fact that disable dpeople aren’t just as capable as everybody else – an argument used by the women’s and African-American civil rights movements to claim equal rights. With equal rights, after all, come equal responsibilities. To draw a parallel to ethnic minorities again, immigrants to the Netherlands are themselves responsible for making sure they learn Dutch civics and language. I do not personally agree with this, but it is reasonable from a conservative, small government perspective, which is currently holding the majority here. Is it unreasonable then to insist that a person with a disability put every effort into becoming as non-disabled as possible? My heart says it’s unreasonable, but my head is having a hard tiem finding arguments for it.

Non-Disabled Standards and Afjustment to a Disability

When in counseling at the blindness rehab center in 2005, the psychologist, herself blind from birth, had me read her college thesis. I don’t remember its exact topic – it was soomething about adjustment to disability -, but I do remember her outlinign stages of becoming aware of nd adjusted to disability:

  1. Adhering to non-disabled standards while not feeling one’s disability is a handicap. This is the stage where a person is mostly unaware of their difference from non-disabled people. People with an acquired disability may not go through this stage – I am not sure whether the psychologist, herslef blind from birth, talked about this -, but congenitally disabled people do, for example, when they’re in special education surroudned by all disabled peers.
  2. Adhering to non-disabled standards while feeling one’s disability is a handicap. This is the stage of becomign aware of one’s difference, but not accepting it and assuming one shuld really be non-disabled.
  3. Putting non-disabled standards into perspective while feeling one’s disability is a handicap. This stage is somewhat of an intermediate stage between non-acceptance and adjustment. I think it can be seen as encompassing the reassessmet and reaffirmation stage and the coping stage in Tuttle’s model. While in this stage, the person acccepts the use of alternative techniques, for example, but still feels their disability makes them somewhat inferior.
  4. Putting non-disabled standards into perspective while not feeling one’s disability is a handicap. This involves self-acceptance as a person with a disability, with an awareness of the way in which one is different but while not seing this as making the person inferior.

I do not remember ever having been unaware of my disability, but my parents tell me that, as a preschooler, I was. I was quite a cheerful child back then. When I was still having the DID diagnosis, my parents assumed the trauma causing it was my having had to go into special education and hence becoming aware of my difference. This is somwhat contrary to my rehab psychologist’s experience, who shared in her thesis that she was mostly naive towards her difference when attending special education.

Stage two is where I was stuck for years or even decades. I was solidly stuck on this stage when I was in rehab. When my mental health conditions forced me to step back and put non-disbled standards into perspective I slowly slided into stage three, but with a twist of overcompensation. I became insistent on accommodations probably a little more than I could expect. I am still not sure whether my emphasis on my difference as a badge of honor, so to speak, is in itself unhealthy. I do think that its masking a sense of inferiority is.

What I am not sure about, is what putting non-disabled standards into perspective means. Can you overemphasize your difference and alienate yourself from non-disabled people? Or are disabled people naturally alienated from the non-disabled through the idea of non-disabled standards. After all, what I see in this stages model, is that the person with a disability is always seen as deviant rather than equal. They adjust to their disabiliy relative to non-disabled standards. Is this really as it should be? From a social model perspective, can we abandon this non-disabled standards paradigm and replace it with ahumand ignity paradigm? If we can, will this make adjustment easier? I will have to think on this.