This is another opinion piece by one of our readers. Unfortunately I do not know much about Claudia except for her participation in the recent discussion regarding the Neurodiversity Movement. Some biographical information can be found in her comments to a recent blog (http://bit.ly/1Anrlex). Claudia is originally from Argentina but has traveled all over the world. She was diagnosed with autism in adulthood. I have not corrected or altered her contribution. From her email, Claudia expressed her desire to “look for answers”. Can autism be properly diagnosed in people who lack the juxtaposition of a developmental disorder? Are Asperger’s and autism different entities? These are all ideas guiding her thoughts. Claudia wished to add her name and residing information at the end of the blog.
Although there is no harm in wishing for a cure, putting serious energy toward that wish now may be draining and frustrating. Autism is a brain stuck against a wall, lost in a labyrinth of unconnected neuropaths, which has no immediate interest in the world, indifferent to human affection, and must be cured by science. It is not a different way of thinking. I feel an immediate indignation arise in me against such a notion and I am moved by the strongest antipathy against its author. On the contrary: being autistic has meant (to me) that one must wrestle with a brain built wrong, with its stubbornness and unpredictable behaviors. I’ve compensated by learning somehow to think through the mind of others and thereby acquired an intellectual development which gave me a measure of independence. In a sense the sensory processing disorders which are chronic in autism led me to the practice of reading in silence. By doing so, I withdrew myself from the world and came into contact with the text only through the mobility of the eye, which skipped over the pages as quickly as it could. It also brought a growing measure of sensibility or disposition of being affected with every feeling and situation, which I learned by reading books. The beauty of thinking through a book is that by perceiving myself through the mind of a skillful writer, I was able to see how the autistic brain fails to reach all the potentials and capabilities that a human brain can achieve by its natural design, like conceptualization and abstraction and in the worst cases, articulated and coherent speech.
There are so many causes that develop autism. The great mystery, however, remains unsolved. All kinds of theories are advanced. What if this one basic deficit that experts and researchers in the field talk about is the inability to put the world in sequence of images first and then sequence of words that initiate language? Would that not be an explanation? For our senses have evolved to receive and interpret, as reliably as possible, the world around us, but under the stimuli of too much information, sequential thinking is required; and if from the moment of birth, it is not possible to arrange things (sensations, words, images) in a particular order, no one could either capture a common reality nor learn a language save by reciting from memory the whole text of a children’s story, a story I learned by conjuring up a mental image of the exact page of text I read at home.
Is it because an autistic brain has organized itself in an alternative way in order to compensate for its own disabilities, that the Neurodiversity Movement has come to the conclusion that we are “neurological different”? The left-brain is our verbal and rational brain. It is considered dominant in language, math and logical thinking. If because of a disruption in the left-brain functions the process of learning a language does not begin in an infant, could this hemisphere develop in a normal and healthy way? If one conceives of autism as an impossibility for the infant to put the world in sequence, then could the disorder be restricted in the left-brain? And if the left-brain is dawdling, will not the right-brain automatically act to take over almost all of the functions of the other? Reduce a person to the impossibility of representing the world in abstraction and concepts, and he/she will develop an uncanny ability to think in pictures, which is the province of the creative right-brain. This is what Dr. Darold Treffert refers to when he said, “There’s powerful evidence that brain damage can trigger the release of hidden talents much later in life.”
When I think of the Neurodiversity Movement, about how an elite of individuals with no communication impairments and perfect command of language, who feel marginalized by society and mistakenly think that a devastating neurological disorder will bring them to center stage, I often think of Lou Marinoff, the president of the APPA (American Philosophical Practitioners Association), who one day awoke to the psychotherapist’s power to make their clients dependent on the therapy, and condemned the increase in the number of disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders. He criticized many psychiatrists who are simply handing out medication to patients without exploring their problems, and by fusing a number of philosophical ideas together, he wrote an ingenious book, Plato. Not Prozac! Applying Philosophy to Everyday Problems (HarperCollins, 1999) In a similar manner I am increasingly persuaded that a new book ought to be written for many in the Neurodiversity Movement, which I’d call Augustine, Not Asperger! The ideas of famous thinkers can provide a structure of thought that may be helpful to them in sorting through what is clearly a severe case of existential emptiness. A reading of The Confessions of Saint Augustine could provide great comfort. Augustine told his story with dramatic force and an exact eye for the differing motives of human character, but above all he manifested great affection towards frail mortals whose actions he thought far from a model of conduct. As Henry Chadwick said, “Without illusions about himself, he draws his readers into a personal quest for happiness as he acts on his own maxim “We are all human; let us hate, not one another, but errors and lies.”
Why can I not believe in the Neurodiversity Movement? There is straightforward and very simple evidence that all human brains are much alike in form and chemical makeup, except perhaps for some dependence on body weight (women’s brains average a scant 10 per cent less than men’s because women weigh less). They work much alike, the same section in each controlling the same activities. The left-brain controls speech in the majority of human beings. The dissimilarities among two people depend on cultural standards. Writes Robert Ornstein: “They might speak different languages and be of different sexes, builds, and interests. One could say they’re completely different, but biologically they’re 99.98 percent the same.” I understand that behavior is so infinitely varied that brains might be expected to come in a variety of structures, sizes and shapes. They do not. The brains of notable individuals like Einstein, Lenin and Napoleon have been examined with great interest after death, and they did not appear to be much different from anyone else’s. The basic physical similarity reflects specificity of the brain: the precision with which evolution laid down cerebral wiring patterns and established their development.
When you connect to yourself, to your world, you get more strength. You have self-confidence, you know the facts of where you come from and that is something important. What we need to fulfill our own humanity is human companionship: the steady joys of friendship or, at least, family and romantic relationships alloyed with friendship. “Of all the means which are procured by wisdom to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life,” Greek philosopher Epicurus declares, “by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.”
I now realize that this stigma of “being different” (that people in the Neurodiversity Movement want us to believe) is both unnatural and unnecessary, and it can be eliminated.
Claudia Mazzucco, Hartford, CT,
January 14, 2015