There’s a lot of talk these days about diversity. The recent Eurovision song contest, hosted this year by Ukraine, in Kiev, had a theme of diversity. I’m guessing they mostly meant ethnic and cultural diversity but there are other forms as well. Gender and sexual diversity is a big topic in the early 21st century and for those of us who sit on the autistic spectrum, neuro diversity is another that we are intersted in.
So what is diversity? One dictionary definition is “a range of different things”. When used in the examples I have used I believe it means a range of different human beings. And I am one of those different humans.
But hold on, aren’t all humans different? I have adult identical twin daughters and despite being handed the exact same genetic code, same family environment and similar experiences they have many differences. There is no such thing as 2 humans who are the same. We are all diverse. The whole human race is diverse.
I wish I didn’t need to say that, but it’s human nature (and I would argue it’s in the nature of all living things) to stay close to those who are similar to us. Despite a need for the gene pool to be constantly mixed and remixed we definitely like to stick to the human types similar to ourselves. And in doing so, we sideline those who are different, or diverse and end up making them stand out even more.
I’m different from the majority of the human population. I have a brain neurology that is different from the dominant neurotype. So I have a label of being neuro-diverse or neuro-atypical. Incidentally, so do people with ADHD, or with various different psychological profiles, including psychopaths. I’m not sure I’m comfortable sharing the term neuro diversity with psychopaths, however that’s the way it is, for now.
As recognition of the autistic neurotype has risen and more people are being identified as on the autistic spectrum, initially boys in childhood, then girls, and gradually more adults, there has been the rise of the voices of those adults. Quite right too I say, no person of one neurotype can understand the internal experience of any other type without listening to each other. As the struggle to work out how our experiences differ continued, and the realisation that autistics have difficulty reading body language and understanding some subtleties and nuances of language and social interaction, some took to describing the differences as if Autistics had arrived as aliens from a different planet, often called planet Asperger.
Now I do get it, really I do, I understand why this came about. The majority of humans were trying to get their heads around the way we need to be taught body language and social skills, and using the Aspergian from planet Asperger was a fairly quick and easy way to do that. However I’m baffled by the need of anyone to go to the extreme of inventing a planet for us to have come from. I am in what is called a mixed marriage, my husband and I are from opposite sides of the globe, one from the West, and one from the far East. Our cultures are very different and our mother tongues are just as different, so much so that one uses the roman alphabet and the other uses characters for words. We each had to learn the social rules of each culture in order to get along with our in-laws. We look different. Much more different than one neurotype to another. But deep down we are both human beings. Homo sapiens. We are much more alike than we are different.
It’s been a joy and a revelation to discover so many autistic voices around the world that resonate so closely with my own thoughts, feelings, experiences. It has felt like I have found my tribe, I’ve come home, these are my people. I’ve never felt that connected before. I love that we are able to share experiences and support across the globe in this way. But…….
As much as I’m glad I know and understand my differences now, I don’t want to live the rest of my life being defined by those differences. I want to be included in the rest of the world also. The fact is, all neurotypes, no matter how superficially different or how many of those differences there are, we all have so much more in common than we have in differences. Let’s celebrate that shall we. It doesn’t matter where we are born, what our ethnic group is, what our eye or hair or skin colour is what language we grow up with, or how our brain is wired, we are all a part of this big wonderfully diverse but single species of animal, humans. Acceptance and full inclusion is what we really need, and it seems to me that is more likely to occur when we start looking past the differences and concentrate on our similarities, as they are far more in numbers and strength than any diversities. I’m not saying the differences aren’t worth recognising, but when that difference defines the whole person, I believe we are in danger of losing the essence of ourselves, our simple common humanity.