Sunday, August 12, 2007

Popular Conceptions of "Mental Disorder" Impair NT Development

It isn't just the "neurodiverse" who are being held back by the view that they all have "diseases" that must be "cured" in order for them to live fulfilling lives.

The shrinking of the category of "normal" to an increasingly unattainable ideal is bad for the development of the full strengths of neurotypicals, too.

Compared to autistics, neurotypicals are supposed to be good at seeing "big pictures," changing their routines and habits, and imagining and working with the minds of other people. And although I don't believe autistics are necessarily as weak in these areas as they're made out to be, and especially not for the reasons they're made out to be ("they're just born that way" rather than "they just see the world differently and nobody realizes what to do about it"), I think that NT cognitive styles really do have potential for a certain flexibility that can be put to many great uses. The adaptability of modern humans to ever-changing environmental conditions and social situations is thought to have been essential to their evolutionary success, and the majority of modern humans, pretty much by definition (though given the way definitons are going, this might change), are neurotypical. Oftentimes if something in nature ends up common, it's because it "works."

But current concepts of "mental disorder" shrink down "normalcy" to a pinpoint and lead to the expectation that someone or another will "treat" or "cure" everyone who isn't "normal." This encourages us normal people to be lazy, thinking, "Oh, we don't need to change, THEY do. THEY have the problem." As a result, we don't change, and our cognitive flexibility that we could be using to work on reaching a mutual understanding with the neurodiverse people next door goes unused. We are not encouraged to stretch our imaginations to peer into very different minds, because those minds don't need to be so different.

And so we become just as inflexible and unempathetic as we claim autsitics are.

And it's not because we're just wired to be that way. Yes, part of our nature does include the capacity to dim or shut off empathy if fierce competition with another human or group of humans becomes necessary or exceptionally advantageous for survival. But another part of our nature, probably just as powerful, allows for the overriding of the nasty side when there is much more of an advantage to cooperation.

A lot of talent, spirit, and even life can be lost if that overriding capacity is underdeveloped. Do we really need all those wars, and all that schoolyard bullying? Would relationships be as strained and short-lived if people were encouraged to try to understand people who think radically differently from themselves?

We NTs don't even all think the same way as one another. We miscommunicate all the time. We fail to see the other's perspective. And that's supposed to be our strength. Focusing on the weaknesses of those who think differently from us, labeling them as disordered and inherently at fault for all their problems and expecting them to be cured, plays against that strength, and instead fortifies costly ego defenses that amplify our weakness of tending to pay too little attention to the hard and relevant facts of reality. How can we see the gorilla in the basketball court when we're too busy trying actively NOT to see things that threaten our ever-so-fragile egos? It's a lose-lose situation. The strengths of all are underdeveloped, and the weaknesses of all are amplified.

No comments: