Brain diversity

Thomas Armstrong, USA

Author & Speaker. http://www.thomasarmstrong.com/

(Submitted by Dorothy Huber, Australia)

Imagine for a moment that our society has been transformed into a culture of flowers. Now let’s say for the sake of argument that the psychiatrists are the roses. Visualize a gigantic sunflower coming into the rose psychiatrist’s office. The psychiatrist pulls out his diagnostic tools and in a matter of a half-an-hour or so has come up with a diagnosis: “You suffer from huge-ism. It’s a treatable condition if caught early enough, but alas, there’s not too much we can do for you at this point in your development."

"We do, however, have some strategies that can help you learn to cope with your disorder", he continues. The sunflower receives the suggestions and leaves the doctor’s consulting room with its brilliant yellow and brown head hanging low on its stem.

Next on the doctor’s schedule is a tiny bluet. The rose psychiatrist gives the bluet a few diagnostic tests and a full physical examination. Then it renders its judgment: “Sorry, bluet, but you have GD, or growing disability. We think it’s genetic. However, you needn’t worry. With appropriate treatment, you can learn to live a productive and successful life in a plot of well-drained sandy loam somewhere.”

The bluet leaves the doctor’s office feeling even smaller than when it came in. Finally, a calla lily enters the consulting room and the psychiatrist needs only five minutes to determine the problem: “You have PDD, or petal deficit disorder. This can be controlled, though not cured, with a specially designed formula. In fact, my local herbicide representative has left me with some free samples if you’d like to give them a try.”

These scenarios sound silly, but they serve as a metaphor for how our culture treats neurological differences in human beings these days. Instead of celebrating the natural diversity inherent in human brains, too often we medicalize and pathologize those differences by saying, “Johnny has autism. Susie has a learning disability. Pete suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”
Imagine if we did this with cultural distinctions (“People from Holland suffer from altitude deprivation syndrome”) or racial differences (“Eduardo has a pigmentation disorder because his skin isn’t white”). We’d be regarded as racists. Yet, with respect to the human brain, this sort of thinking goes on all the time under the aegis of “objective” science.

The lessons we have learned about biodiversity and cultural and racial diversity need to be applied to the human brain. We need a new field of neurodiversity that regards human brains as the biological entities they are, and appreciates the vast natural differences that exist from one brain to another regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood and other important mental functions.
Instead of pretending that hidden away in a vault somewhere is a perfectly “normal” brain, to which all other brains must be compared (e.g., the rose psychiatrist’s brain), we need to admit that there is no standard brain, just as there is no standard flower, or standard cultural or racial group, and that, in fact, diversity among brains is just as wonderfully enriching as biodiversity and the diversity among cultures and races.

Comments

1 comment

Submitted by Joseph Hofler III on Wed, 05/16/2012 - 14:29.

Thank you for mentioning autism. I have long argued that the definitions and application of the "spectrum" in this case have been misused to unnecessarily drug children into submission in educational systems that have become increasingly rigid and dysfunctional.

Rather than look at the system, we blame the intelligent and creative kids who are simply bored to death with it or rebelling against it and label them with "autism" or a "learning disability". This is criminal and a sign of the increasing rigidity in our society in many areas. Clearly there are indeed many children who have problems, but many doctors are now beginning to speak out about the over-diagnosis of spectrum disorders.

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