COVID Appeal to All Neurodivergents (ND): A Call to Solidarity
NOMADS | United
April 14, 2020
Dear Fellow Neurodivergents,
Whether gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion or language every one of us looks for a bit of ourselves in others. People like us. It can give us a sense of community, connection, and belonging. This is a part of being human, one we are deeply and sometimes painfully reminded of in times of social isolation and loneliness. Times like the COVID global pandemic and quarantine.
Unfortunately, this search and deep desire to belong can wrongfully instill wrong attitudes and values towards others we perceive are not like us. and even institutionalize prejudice and discrimination at a larger societal level. It becomes a form of segregation, apartheid. An out-group and an in-group. The world becomes people like us and people not like us, and this can be both dangerous and narrow-minded. It leads to missing out on wider connection, growing empathy and to violence in all forms (verbal, physical & psychological).
We as neurodivergents understand this phenomenon all too well. We have grown up experiencing being outsiders in our society. And for many, it was a confusing experience. We saw ourselves in others but they did not reciprocate. And this often escalates to bullying and shunning. This is the one to one experience in the social realm. At school, work and in social situations.
And then there is the broader, institutional experience of being ostracized and disenfranchised by society itself. Some of you see this clearly and painfully. It began at an early age for most of us with the advent of attending a traditional (i.e. neurotypical) school system. It would not be an unfair comparison to liken this moment to being imprisoned. We went from a place of loving discovery and learning to this strange and unsettling encounter with authority and compliance.
This only became worse and more damaging throughout our teen and early adult years. By the time most of us reach middle age we are aware that no matter what we do, we cannot flourish through our own efforts and that we have been shut out of fully participating in community because of our innate differences. Resources and opportunities have been systematically designed in a way that we cannot access. And punishments have been designed, whether intentionally or not, to fully exploit our weaknesses. We have been shunned and disabled by a world not designed to include us and in many times in fact, keep us out.
Many of us appreciate our solitude, the quiet room, and our downtime OR high energy environments OR both (we are people of extremes). In fact, our neurological system demands it in order to re-charge our physical, cognitive and emotional energy levels. But there is a big difference between choosing to be alone and having no other option. And this, along with a thousand other little differences, leads us to a feeling of not being understood, even by our family and few friends. This cuts more deeply than the forced aloneness for many of us.
Not only are many of us painfully alone and misunderstood, but in addition to the social fallout we also pay a terrible economic price. None of our innate abilities are intentionally praised and developed by the school system. In fact, the system works to “train them out of us”. Of course, we know that is impossible without terrible internal damage. We are designed as a highly sensitive and powerful instrument in the world and so to force-fit a make to a more routine, repetitive purpose both dismisses our greatest potential strengths and forces us to work to our greatest weaknesses. Of course, there are exceptions. And we should celebrate those who have found success. But we need to be reminded that they succeeded in spite of their education, social and work environments. It could have been serendipity, a champion, defender or advocate in the system and/or simply showing an unusual level of courage and perseverance outside the system in pursuit of creation and innovation (where in fact, we all as neurodivergents do our best work because we are not exposed to the barriers and rules that hamstring us within the system).
And then there is the medical/healthcare system. It should be said that there are a number of neurodivergents within the system (as with all other systems) but as a mentor reminded me, the system changes us. Many of us become prisoners adopting a “learned helplessness” mindset and all of the psychological and emotional fallout that goes with this while others become prison guards. In fact, they actively practice discrimination against other NDs personally, “If I have to go through this and be tough in order to survive then so do you” so goes the logic. The medical system has a long and troubling system related to neurodiversity and neurodivergence. Through a pseudo-scientific ideology called eugenics, NDs were made social pariahs. In fact, it was the Nazi medical program that aimed to perfect society through genetic cleansing which as we now know included the active development of diagnostics to identify and eliminate the “weak or differently minded”. Ironically, it would be the ND code breakers and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, “the Bulldog”, that would defeat the Nazis in their pursuit of world domination and mass genocide of “undesirables”. Neurodiversity and neurodivergents won out, both for themselves and for the world. The brain trust lost by Germany became the intellectual wealth of the US and America’s economy bloomed as a result. It explains why there are so many entrepreneurs and innovators in one nation (but not nearly as many as we are lead to believe).
The institutional practice of labeling and diagnosing for narrow social values based on neurological traits was carried forward, captured in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), even while the United Nations was being assembled in Europe to ensure these types of human rights violations never occur again. It morphed and took on another form, but it was still the same spirit that fed and led the Nazi neurodivergent children killing programs. And it is still very much alive and well today. Why do you think people need a diagnosis for a condition that describes their disorder to then, in turn, receive medical supports (i.e. drugs and therapies to change their thinking and social behaviours) for their disability? We are not talking about cancer or diabetes, but about pathologizing intrinsic and normal variations in neurological traits. Even today, the pharmaceutical industry and medical community benefit monetarily and satisfy a hidden ideology of perfection through high social cohesion and order. This is simply Eugenics 2.0. And it is the primary reason we are seen as disabled, are being disabled (Why fix the system? Change the individual.) and even believe we are disabled (this idea of learned helplessness again). If you lived in a house with short entranceways and you are tall, you will keep bumping your head on the door jambs. What to do? Design a house that fits your traits, or make you shorter? It seems like a silly question, but aren’t ADHD drugs and ABA for autistics functionally the same thing? Thom Hartmann, a neurodivergent himself, has captured this truth in his many books but the hypothesis he proposed of ‘hunter vs farmer paradigms’ is at the heart of his work. And it is an effective analogy of the way our genetic makeup predisposes, not predestines, us to certain ways of being in the world.
Instead, imagine receiving a non-medical assessment of your innate abilities from a mentor or educator and then nurtured with personal and experiential forms of development that respect your unique mix of traits and the associated potential within.
There is much more to say on this topic, and I would encourage you to learn the history of the medical and other societal system’s treatment of our differences. Do not let it make you cold towards others but let it inform your thinking. It is a chilling reminder and a warning that dehumanizing behaviours are not some aberration of a certain time and place but can grow anywhere, anytime unless we actively and vigilantly root out these hateful attitudes, values and systems and replace them with love and care of our neighbours.
Now that I have painted a picture of who we are and we were come from in our collective experience, can you see that we have more in common than you may have thought at first? Can we agree that we need each other as fellow neurodivergents more than we initially thought? We need each other and we need to work together to bring social justice, inclusion and equality to the broader community of neurodivergents. And we need to work with the neurotypical majority to flourish together. A beautiful field of wild flowers is not a monoculture but a broad and diverse representation of nature’s beauty and in this diversity we find something that is deeply missing in our current global systems: resilience. In the words of Nassim Taleb, we live in a fragile system and this global pandemic (COVID) has exposed that “the emperor has no clothes”. Not only medical, but education, government, transit, transportation, manufacturing, economic and all other forms of physical and social systems – like a series of dominoes – were all broken in succession very quickly and exposed for what they are over a period of days after living under an illusion of reality (albeit pervasive) for decades. And the system’s leaders first response is to prop up the broken system. To “return to normal”. It included a very quick move by politicians to restore a sense of help in all forms for the privileges that neurotypicals previously enjoyed, but nothing for the neurodivergents who are systemically unemployed or underemployed. For example, in Canada the federal government fast tracked EI for full time workers and then the Canadian Emergency Response Fund for alternative forms of work. While this looks promising, it came with the proviso that you had to be directly affected in work levels by COVID and have made over $5000 in the past 12 months. If you were searching for employment, working on new forms of self-income or new ventures, raising funds through tent-making (i.e. gig work) work on gifts raised from friends and family, lived by choice on lower income for faith or planetary stewardship reasons and could no longer make the small amount that allowed you to pay your rent and eat (which were already a struggle), there is no help here.
Yes, our traits and our experience of life through COVID shine a spotlight on how much is shared among the various neurodivergent minds and communities even in all of our differences. We are all kinds of flowers, with some subtle and some broad differences but we are still flowers. We have a lot to offer each other and the world at large. Now more than ever, the world needs us. It’s our time. To be heard, to have a voice, to be included in the new world we envision together. Let’s not turn our back on our neurotypical allies, but remember the real enemy is hatred for our neighbour and it’s up to all of us to fight this battle together.
To my fellow neurodivergents, I urge you to remember what brings us together is our nomadic mind (i.e. hunter-gatherer). We are all more than divergent (different), we are nomads (part of a discovery-based community). It is why we are NOMADS|United.
Robert M Peacock
NOMADS|United (Nu) Founder
Neurodivergent Advocate and Neurodiversity Ambassador