From “On the Spectrum: Autism, Faith, and the Gifts of Neurodiversity” by Daniel Bowman Jr.
The phrase “the gifts of neurodiversity” appears in the subtitle. Neurodiversity’s gifts do not form a discrete list. I think they are ways of being, of approaching our days; they are lenses through which the autistic person sees and feels the world uniquely – lenses that can lead to helpful contributions to culture. In my case, my autistic brain wiring leads me to see storytelling and poetry and teaching and learning and worshipping God in ways that are different from what most readers will be accustomed to. I hope you’re open to exploring those ways alongside me, wherever they lead.
Neurodiversity may in fact be a new idea for some readers. It’s not a scary or difficult concept; it simply means that there are different kinds of brains, different operating systems (OS) that run different people, to use a common, if simplistic image. There’s a neurotypical OS, which means that the brains of people in that group are similar, within a certain range. They are highly diverse in many aspects, and so they will function differently and yield different results, making for unique individuals. However, neurotypical brains are similar enough overall that the outcomes – neurotypical people’s behaviors and actions and language – will mostly be considered “normal.”
Then there’s a neurodivergent operating system. It will result in people on the spectrum functioning in the intellectual, emotional, social, and physical realms differently from neurotypical people. Our actions and behaviors, then, should not be seen in light of the absence of neurotypical traits but instead the presence of autistic brain wiring.
When I talk about the pathology model or paradigm of viewing autism, I mean seeing an autistic OS and viewing it, and the results it produces, as deficient because it’s not a neurotypical OS with neurotypical results. A laptop that runs Windows is not deficient just because it’s not Mac OS, or vice versa; it’s just a different operating system that functions in different ways. Overall, many of the needs of the average user – word processing, photo editing, web surfing, online collaboration – can be achieved by either OS, and even by other, more obscure operating systems.
So it is with neurodivergent persons; we have most of the same core features and bugs as anyone else. Our autism itself is our OS, not a bug.
Autistic brain wiring occurs naturally, not through insidious means like vaccines gone wrong or bad parenting. And it occurs in about 1 in every 45 people, regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and other factors. It’s not true that there is “more autism than ever before” – there’s not more than ever. It’s that medical and psychology communities have grown better able to recognize and correctly diagnose it. Autism is simply more visible as a direct result of knowledge.