A Parent’s View of Neurodiversity by Sigrid Van Bladel

Neurodiversity encompasses a wide range of neurological differences (be it autism, ADHD, sensory processing challenges, dyslexia or other variations) and means different things to different people. There is a substantial movement within the autism community to promote neurodiversity and have society stop treating autism as a disorder and see it instead it as just one of many possible neurological variations. “Don’t try to cure or help us”, the argument goes, “we don’t have a disorder and don’t need help

Our son, whose autism is quite severe and whose suffering and frustration as a result of his autism are significant, has a real need for help and so is not particularly served by this movement. What he does share, however, is a longing to be embraced and accepted for who he is.

Embracing neurodiversity means more than merely embracing differences.  We need to embrace empathy and patience as well. I find it difficult not to be unnerved by my son’s anxious and repetitive behavior; after answering for the umpteenth time that a favorite babysitter won’t be here till Saturday, I can feel quite frazzled. In a classroom, wiggly kids – who may be dealing with balance and proprioceptive challenges to their sensory system, i.e. a poor sense of space – can be quite distracting to their classmates. Students who don’t have an easy grasp on social convention and might stand too close to you for comfort (until reminded not to) might be off-putting to you, until you realize that they are more likely than not doing the best they can, and their intention is definitely not to make you uncomfortable. There is nothing more heartbreaking to me than our barely verbal son sobbing “sorry, sorry!” after an outburst when he knows his autism has gotten the best of him.

My son’s hard work is inspiring, and I marvel at how he sees the world differently from me. Where his verbal abilities are limited, his understanding of others and his uncanny ability to pick up on people’s moods and states of mind is at times profound. He will pierce through the clouds and see the sadness or anxiety behind a smile, whereas I may well be fooled by the decoy.

A week ago, our 11 year-old daughter started sobbing uncontrollably. When asked asked what was troubling her so, she replied “I feel bad for AJ.  He tries SO hard and nobody gets him!” Her empathy for her brother was beautiful, and her sadness saddened me. The world would be a beautiful place indeed if we could all just “get” each other.

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