Cats and Theories
a blog by coticheque
a blog by coticheque

Neurodiversity movement

Temple Grandin is an American writer and animal rights activist. Throughout her life, she managed to significantly advance the sphere of ethical treatment of animals on the farms, because she herself was very sensitive to the environment. Thus, she assumed that if flashing lights, workers’ shouts and chain clanging were irritating for her, animals must have been feeling stressed by such stuff too.

Temple claimed that the cause of her sensitivity is her autism. She wrote a book “The Autistic Brain” to show how many features of her personality are explainable by the neuroscience. She managed to excel in life and contribute to the world thanks to the fact that her brain was different. The movement of Neurodiversity has exactly this on its agenda: embrace the fact that each person’s brain is different and make the world a good and accommodative place for everyone.

I don’t want to focus on such big topics as autism, sociophobia or social anxiety for now, but I would like to talk about two other conditions that Temple writes about in her book: hypersensitivity and a non-verbal thinking. For better or worse, I share these features myself.

Hypersensitivity is a sensory processing disorder, a condition when even slightest visual or auditory stimuli can easily cause a sensory overload. This is an inability to divert attention and filter out irrelevant stimuli. Sounds from multiple sources, crowded spaces, bright sunlight, the feel of cloth on skin – such mundane stuff becomes extremely irritating and causes immediate distress. For instance, you cannot focus on a conversation over lunch in a noisy cafe, or calmly walk on a sidewalk when someone is talking behind you. Every supermarket visit becomes a nightmare because of the uncontrollable movement of people in a closed space. And unfortunately it negatively affects your life, as you cannot calm down and focus on other stuff until these stimuli are gone. A distant chatter of neighbors from the floor above makes you consider suicide after a few nights of sleepless hell. If I had a choice to deliberately go deaf with an option of using hearing aid upon necessity, I would go for it. The ability to hear simply brings more harm than good. This is how bad the auditory hypersensitivity is.

The second neurologically atypical thing familiar to me is a non-verbal thinking. Most people have an internal monologue constantly running in their head: words, phrases, sentences. It’s often hard to stop it, therefore meditation is getting increasingly popular. Internal monologue is also a reason why most people find it easier to express thoughts in speech rather than writing – well, all phrases are already there, you just need to open your mouth and vocalize them. For those people with a non-verbal thinking… life is different. Thinking is more visual-spatial: subtle feelings, intuition, “habits of mind”, ideas and concepts just somehow snapping together. And all this stuff happens without activation of the speech center in the brain.

So the problem with non-verbal thinking is that it takes more time to convert it into speech compared to the neurotypical people. Speech has to be linear. You cannot start saying a sentence from its end. But when you have no internal monologue, presenting your thoughts linearly is hard, and writing them is just so much easier. Like, when you have a feeling of how the text should look like and start writing it from the middle of the paragraph, or… from any other part. Of course, such preferences in self-expression present certain obstacles in the world that considers speech a default means of communication that is supposed to be something effortless to everyone.

Non-verbal thinking makes many widespread activities pointless. For instance, learning languages. It’s not easy to learn a language when you don’t even use your native language for thinking and don’t have much desire to talk in it. As already mentioned, meditation is another experience that a non-verbal thinking makes very different. Like… what’s the point of meditating, when the default state of your mind is already something that resembles a clean and unspotted page. Nirvana is achievable and some of the people were born right into it. Buddhism was clearly invented by verbal thinkers.

So according to Temple Grandin, all the weird cognitive stuff from above is explained by the way how someone’s brain is “hard-wired” – how one cortex is connected to the other, etc. You cannot change these things on a psychotherapy session or by taking antidepressants. This is why we all need the Neurodiversity movement – so that neurologically atypical people don’t think there’s something wrong with them. Throughout my life I was moderately lucky to find a supportive and tolerant environment that would accept my differences. Despite that, the world as a whole still has a long way to go in accepting many various things: for instance, that communication over text is in no way worse than via mouth. We also need a public space reform or at least a mandatory education in the ethics of public space behavior. To support Neurodiversity, people need to acknowledge the fact that a quiet environment in public spaces is something desirable by default. Why do people assume it’s acceptable to shout at public, or let their children scream like there’s no tomorrow? Why do people believe that standing or walking at the distance of less than one meter from someone is OK? Instead, people should get educated and embrace a simple fact: if you intrude personal space of others or clutter the public space with loud noises, you’re making someone’s life hell right now.

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