Subject: Discrimination / Opportunity Barriers Facing ND Canadians Highlighted by COVID Government Response
COVID Appeal Letter
NOMADS | United
April 21, 2020
Dear Minister Qualtrough,
My name is Robert Peacock. The reason I am contacting you is to discuss challenges faced by a significant minority group of Canadians that no one else is representing fairly or clearly. We are 20% of the global population, with approx. the same representation within Canada. I am talking about a diverse group of individuals collectively described as neurodivergents.
Neurodiversity & Neurodivergence in Canada
You may not be familiar with the term because they / we have mostly been described with medical labels since the advent of eugenics and later the Nazi social hygiene program (i.e. genocide). Labels like autism came directly from this era. Later, the American Psychological Association would adapt this same mindset (neurotypically-biased, effectively the neuromajority in most developed countries) and the labels would grow to include dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, dyscalculia and informally, Aspergers (among others). In effect, the benchmark was any sign of thinking, emotion or behaviour outside of the normative majority was indicative of pathology.
The results of this medicalizing of our differences in traits have been devastating. We often live in a “no person’s land”. We are neither disabled by nature, as we function perfectly well in the right environment, nor are we functionally able in a set of social systems that disadvantages and discriminates against all of our natural differences. A few find a way to success, but most of us suffer silently in anxiety, depression and trauma from years of structural violence until we are truly and fully disabled psychologically and physically by the effects of the systemic oppression on our personhood.
COVID has been helpful in highlighting the issue here at home. For Canadians, support was first forthcoming for fully employed people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Then non-qualifying EI workers. Then businesses and disabled. All of this is good and welcome. But with every further announcement, another sting of being the invisible minority already shut out from most traditional (i.e. neurotypical) education and work opportunities – now being shunned once again. Not all of us qualify or want to be on social assistance or disability (although most of us end up there eventually, due to the system’s unyielding barriers and blows). No, we want to contribute and do not want to be dismissed and disregarded as low potential individuals.
Most artists, entrepreneurs, missionaries and other societal creators and innovators who make our world liveable and able to flourish are in fact NDs. It is ironic that we are not then included, just as we are (not with the assistance of drugs or therapies that attempt to change, and often degrade, our innate design). We have no voice in government, no protection within the laws and are dehumanized in a thousand little ways as abled persons with different neurological traits.
Instead, we end up in less desirable places and spaces in society. The working poor (i.e. “the starving artist”), homeless, addicted, imprisoned (ADHD are 45% of prison population, or approx 10:1 over-representation), unemployed (autistic reports are as high as 85% un-/under-employed as a group), placed in asylums and premature death are our lot in a hostile world. In the words of Thom Hartmann , we are “hunters living in a farmers’ world” (hunter vs farmer hypothesis).
Steve Jobs, himself an ND (look at the ad he was responsible for inspiring and narrated that work put Apple on the world stage) interviewed by the Smithsonian Institute in the early years of his success, had this to say:
“School was pretty hard for me at the beginning. My mother taught me how to read before I got to school and so when I got there I really just wanted to do two things. I wanted to read books because I loved reading books and I wanted to go outside and chase butterflies. You know, do the things that five year olds like to do. I encountered authority of a different kind than I had ever encountered before, and I did not like it. And they really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me.”
“I’m a very big believer in equal opportunity as opposed to equal outcome. I don’t believe in equal outcome because unfortunately life’s not like that. It would be a pretty boring place if it was. But I really believe in equal opportunity. Equal opportunity to me more than anything means a great education. Maybe even more important than a great family life, but I don’t know how to do that. Nobody knows how to do that. But it pains me because we do know how to provide a great education. We really do. We could make sure that every young child in this country got a great education. We fall far short of that. I know from my own education that if I hadn’t encountered two or three individuals that spent extra time with me, I’m sure I would have been in jail. I’m 100% sure that if it hadn’t been for Mrs. Hill in fourth grade and a few others, I would have absolutely have ended up in jail. I could see those tendencies in myself to have a certain energy to do something. It could have been directed at doing something interesting that other people thought was a good idea or doing something interesting that maybe other people didn’t like so much.”
The work you are doing for the disabled is greatly appreciated, including the Accessible Canada Act. But I would ask you to see beyond the disabled, to those who are able but discriminated against as a group (in effect, disabled by prejudice). There is no current protection for the category of neurodiversity in Canada or anywhere else in the world. We could take the lead in this important area of human rights and show the world what diversity is supposed to look like. It is about flourishing for all. It would not exclude others, nor dismiss those who need help as disabled persons but would strengthen and protect diversity for all kinds of minds (in the words of autistic scholar and innovator, Temple Grandin). It means moving away from medical labels and entrenched discrimination to free NDs to serve Canada and the world with a welcome seat at the table, including the same rights and protections, as intrinsic creators and innovators.
I myself am a neurodivergent (ND), with multiple ND traits, and an advocate for neurodivergence. Over the past five years I have been investigating the challenges faced by NDs to discover a solution. And I think I have discovered the beginnings of one, but it will take a few visionaries and systems builders to see the potential (and the cost of what we are doing now in both human and economic terms). Currently, I am working on a book to be launched later this year on the challenges and potential solutions for ND socio-economic inclusion and contribution. You can learn more about me and our important work for NDs in Canada at our newly launched website nomadsunited.org.
Robert M Peacock
NOMADS | United (Nu) Founder
Neurodivergent Advocate and Neurodiversity Ambassador