De wereld heeft neurodiversiteit nodig: ongebruikelijke tijden vragen om ongebruikelijk denkenmaart 25, 2020
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The world is in the early stages of grief right now. We’re grieving for the 2020 we were planning to have, and we’ve moved from preoccupation with intellectual and social pursuits to survival mode, and rapid re-calibration of social norms. Some of us are in denial, some are in anger or bargaining. We’re flicking between our ‘reptile brain’ that keeps us alive, our ‘mammal brain’ that holds our values and social abilities and our ‘neo-cortex’ where we can think and make decisions. It’s a roller coaster.
Neurominorities Can Cope
Many of us in the neurodiverse community experience fight, flight or freeze responses daily, in response to situations that are not dangerous in the conventional sense. When there is a more widely acknowledged threat however, our brains are weirdly well equipped to cope. We are well used to the roller coaster.
As an ADHD-er I have been in full problem-solving mode, hyperactively thinking through various scenarios for my business and family and putting measures in place to protect both. I am also coordinating responses to the crisis throughout my local community, business customer and industry commissioner relationships. I am more able than usual to remain calm and focused because at times of crisis, my typically too low noradrenaline/norepinephrine levels increase. This neurotransmitter affects higher order cognitive skills, and a medium amount is optimum. Usually, my levels are low, and I need to work on concentration. However right now the panic boost places me in the clear-thinking zone, and I can respond, unlike many people who will be working on extreme levels right now and may be beyond clarity of thought.
Our autistic colleagues are also in an interesting space, where their ‘social battery’ (the amount of energy needed to cope with social interaction) is not being taxed to the same extent. And this leaves valuable cognitive capacity, for problem solving, creating and planning. Did you know that Shakespeare wrote King Lear whilst in quarantine from the plague? It is possible that when all the extraverts stop demanding video conferencing and calm down that some of us may have a creative burst.
In addition to our naturally occurring cognitive differences, neurominorities also have lived experience of isolation and limited choice that makes many of us well suited to the new social restrictions. Many (but not all) of us experience a degree of social isolation due to our difference. Some through choice and some because we are misunderstood and can struggle to make connections. For this reason, we may be more familiar than most with making friends and socialising online, finding purpose and meaning in our hobbies and special interests, spending time on quality self-care and enjoying our own company. So since we are used to supporting ourselves in weird environments we are well placed to understand how neurotypicals might be feeling right now.
Neurominorities Add Value
We have unusual skills and specialisms, as my diagram depicts. Many neurodivergent individuals have spent years developing specialisms and expertise in fringe topics, like my esteemed colleagues those who have pioneered accessibility at Microsoft – Michael Vermeesch is worth a follow on twitter, as is the AXSChat network– their work is coming into its own right now as we see the benefits of widespread closed captioning, read-back options and speech-to-text built into our software. The sciences are full of neurominorities, who have been quietly beavering away for years on things that were “not cool” and the artists and visual culturists who have expertise on communicating quickly and effectively through symbol, graphics and code.
This stage of panic and alarm will fade. The world will settle into our temporary slowdown, there will be thought and reflection and regrouping. The world needs its neurominorities right now more than ever. When we emerge the other side, we will have greater respect for those who work best at home, greater appreciation for those who think differently and gratitude for the problem solvers who rapidly mobilized in a crisis. I hope we can carry these lessons into a more neurodiverse workplace.