Neurodiversity colours our world. (Illustration by Charlene McLaughlin.)

In an article for Wired magazine, science writer Steve Silberman explains the history and significance of the term neurodiversity:

In the late 1990s, a sociologist named Judy Singer—who is on the autism spectrum herself—invented a new word to describe conditions like autism, dyslexia, and ADHD: neurodiversity. In a radical stroke, she hoped to shift the focus of discourse about atypical ways of thinking and learning away from the usual litany of deficits, disorders, and impairments. Echoing positive terms likebiodiversity and cultural diversity, her neologism called attention to the fact that many atypical forms of brain wiring also convey unusual skills and aptitudes.

The neurodiversity movement fosters recognition of cognitive differences among human beings as difference and diversification, rather than a set of neurological “deficits.” Epilepsy, schizophrenia, autism, and Alzheimer’s disease are illnesses that severely disrupt lives. Cultural assumptions and social behavior can make these lives even more difficult. The concept of neurodiversity suggests a sense of hope that people will begin to recognize the challenges of living with neurological difference. It emphasizes the cultural contributions made possible by  individuals whose “atypical ways of thinking and learning” can teach “neurotypicals” a thing or two. In this sense, narratives about neurodiversity are pedagogical: they aim to give readers a simulated experience of what it’s like to live with epilepsy, schizophrenia, or autistim.

As Samantha Christian argues in her project about schizophrenia narratives, they also seek to promote “social cures”: to destigmatize neurological difference. Adrian Casiano  addresses the the relationship between self and illness in “Self in Disorder,” examining two autobiographical cases, Siri Hustvedt’s Shaking Woman and David B.’s Epileptic. With very different results, the protagonists in these texts use writing and expression in their attempts to restore a homeostatic sense of who they are, even as they are being rewritten by neurological disorders. Shahana Mannan examines the ways writers of  graphic narratives use language and images to make meaning of illness, focusing on  David B.’s Epileptic and David Small’s  Stitches, as case studies in debates about the healing capacity of writing. Shannon Ritchey TEXT HERE.

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