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Blogathon: 21st Hour

Damn.

The birds outside are being total jerks right now. You have like no idea.

I also think it’s important for you to know that my favourite Marvel characters are totally Dr. Strange, She-Hulk, Mystique, Magneto and Emma Frost, while my favourite DC characters are Barbara Gordon, Commissioner Gordon, Renee Montoya, The Doom Patrol, Wonder Woman, Vandal Savage, Lex Luthor and Zatanna. And maybe Dick Grayson. He’s really warming on me lately.

Right now my brain is functioning quite strangely. Sleep dep and all. That stuff.

And as it happens, I’ve lately been questioning the concept of “neurotypical” lately.

The thing that concerns me is not that we have a term describing normativity in relation to cognitive function, or that we’ve developed a frame work of how privilege and marginalization can occur in relation to such normativities, but mainly that the term “neurotypical” seems a bit too broad, in relation to the somewhat too narrow range of things that are described as, well, NOT neurotypical.

All too often, I see the phrase “neurotypical” being used to describe anyone who doesn’t happen to have one of a relatively narrow range of diagnoses. Such as autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, ADD, ADHD and OCD. That seems sort of at odds with how we normally define normativities.

Generally, for these distinctions to be really useful, it has to be the normative category that has the relatively narrow definition, based on social prescriptions, while the “outsider” category is broad and inclusive enough to accept anyone who isn’t accepted and privileged by those social prescriptions. But by allowing the social structure to define who and isn’t included in the category of “non-neurotypical”, by way of the diagnosis, it becomes highly rigid and exclusive, as well as makes the non-normative category a function of the normativity itself. Or, to reference a recent post, it’s a clubhouse instead of the outside of the clubhouse.

I myself don’t have any of the diagnoses listed above, but it just seems jarring, dismissive, and very inaccurate to desribe my cognitive functioning as “neurotypical”, given that they’re very much non-normative, and I’ve been obliged for much of my life to try to cobble together little adaptations and ways of coping in order to navigate a world structured by and for people whose brains work very differently than mine. In fact, I’m inclined to think the atypical nature of my brain is exactly what makes a diagnosis unlikely.

It feels somewhat arrogant, narcissistic or self-indulgent to describe one’s non-normative cognitive traits, but it feels like that is itself a product of the normativity… a way that we’re shamed and conditioned into remaining silent about ways we diverge from the norm. People have knee-jerk negative reactions to anyone vocalizing any way that they’re cognitively different. If not seen as self-indulgent, narcissistic, etc. it’s seen as whiny, “making excuses”, or “making up self-diagnoses”, etc.

So even though I have those feelings of hesitation to actually describing such elements of myself, I’ve said A LOT of personal things tonight, and I think it’s important to work against those shames and limitations. To not treat simple embarrassment under externally defined cultural norms as a legitimate reason to remain silent on something that seems important to talk about.

I have an IQ of 149. That doesn’t mean I’m “smarter” than other people, or “more intelligent”, or anything like that, but it does indicate that my brain operates in a certain way that is different from most people. When tested as a kid, I had prodigy “genius”-ish spatial and verbal reasoning abilities, but was below average in mechanical reasoning. I’ve always been very clumsy and easily distracted. I’ve got an extremely good memory for information learned through language, either spoken or written, and as such am very gifted at remembering trivia, quotes and things like that, and never, ever had to study for a test in my entire life. Once I learned something, it was learned. I hated math class, and never much liked formulae and “rules”, but could often get great scores on tests by, as my teacher’s called it, “common sensing” my way through problems and devising my own solutions. I have TERRIBLE executive functions and impulse control, have an endorphine deficiency and pretty bad tendencies towards addiction, I can’t manage money or paperwork or anything like that, I didn’t learn to drive until I was 21, I’m awful at maintaining routines, etc. All in all, I’m pathetic at basic life-management stuff, but am nonetheless resourceful and tough enough to fairly reliably get myself out of trouble not too long after getting myself into it. I think in language, in a constant internal dialogue (not monologue) that never, ever, ever shuts up, no matter how badly I want it to. I require mild stimulants like cigarettes and nicotine not so much to focus my thoughts, as in ADD, but to make them manageable, comprehensible, my own. To be able to process them into something genuinely intelligible (or at least communicable). I had Asperberger’s-like symptoms while young, in terms of poor social skills and self-imposed isolation, but I grew out of it and eventually became a rather friendly, empathic, extroverted, and even perhaps a bit charismatic, person. I have a knack for perceiving breaks in pattern, and as a result have always been very, very good at finding four-leaf clovers. There was one summer where I found so many I started just casually giving them away to strangers.

And so on.

None of that is in any way “typical”, but nonetheless my lack of a diagnosis classifies me as “neurotypical”, and suggests that I have “neurotypical privilege”, despite the fact that I, like people who don’t fall under that classification, have struggled my whole life to be able to fit into a society that isn’t structured for people who think and process the way I do. I’ve had to learn to adapt and cope and come up with all kinds of little “tricks” and stuff. Learned to lean on my strengths and minimize my weaknesses. Learned what about myself I could and couldn’t rely on.

I’m not saying the term “neurotypical” needs to be discarded, or that there aren’t clear normativities, privileges and marginalizations operating in relation to cognition. I just think the definitions need to be tweaked such as that the NON-normative category becomes clearly the broad and inclusive one, accepting anyone who is not so privileged under present social structures, while “neurotypical” is narrowed to represent the “clubhouse” to which the people who think and process within the range our society is adapted to belong.

Knawmean?