I would like to rephrase Dr. Stephen Shore’s statement “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism,” to become “if you’ve met one person with a label, you’ve simply seen the label and not the person.”
By Kurt Muzikar
The definition of neologism is “a relatively new or isolated term which has not yet been accepted into the mainstream.”
A newsworthy event happened last week when the word “neurodiversity” was accepted into dictionary.com. The definition of neurodiversity reads “Noun. The variation and differences in neurological structure and function that exist among human beings, especially when viewed as being normal and natural rather than pathological.”
The word “neurodiversity” was coined by an Asperger’s woman, Judy Singer, in 1998 to describe the “infinite variation of neuro-cognitive functioning.” Diverse means having a manifold of differences.
Neurodiversity is a fact. The word speaks for itself. I’m happy to see it become part of accepted lexicon.
The word neurodiversity was originally used to get away from the medical model which sees autism as a disorder replacing it with a model which sees autism and other differences in neurological functioning as an adaptive evolutionary aspect of the human species. The concept of neurodiversity follows suit with the 1961 book by Szasz titled The Myth of Mental Illness. The premise of that book is what the medical community defines as “mental illness” is an alternative way of experiencing the world. Szasz believed modern psychiatry had become a way to label a person in order to profiteer off of people who may need help in adapting to a society that doesn’t tolerate differences.
Autism is a word coined by the Austrian Psychiatrist Bleuler in the early 20th century as an attribute of another word he coined “schizophrenia.” (Bleuler was quite the neologist!) Autism comes from the Greek word for “self.” Autism was originally described as a turning inward towards the self. Kanner in the 1943 described autism as egocentricity. Over the last couple decades autism is seen as a pervasive developmental disability on a spectrum and schizophrenia has become a psychiatric diagnosis under psychotic spectrum disorder. Schizophrenia was first distinguished from autism in 1971 (Kolvin) and formalized in the DSM-III.
I believe the word autism is out-of-date and has become a catch-all for a variety of different conditions. Autistic can be used to describe a technologically savvy geek who has a tremendous ability to focus and not much of a social life. It also can be used to describe a person who may need 24-hour one-on-one support and care. Instead of saying Autistic, I prefer the broader term ASD or PDD spectrum which captures this diversity.
According to the AMA, 18 – 25 percent of people will experience a “mental illness” each year. Many will not be diagnosed because the diagnostic constraints typically require months to establish. Fifty percent of all people will experience what I am going to reluctantly call an a-neurotypical (rather than the neologism neurodivergent) condition during their lifetimes. A recent study found that 5.8 percent of the population experience a psychotic episode each year. These people are not diagnosed on the psychotic spectrum or with a mental illness.
If you visit the website ForIamhuman.com you can see a diametrical spectrum with psychoses on one end and autism on the other which is a model proposed by Crespi. Psychosis is described as a disordering of the psyche, which in Greek means “soul.” Both autism spectrum and psychotic spectrum have strong genetic components to their expression. One of the most important ideas to be derived from such a spectral idea is the large number of people who are neither “ill” or perceive themselves as normal or “typical.”
I’ve seen the word “neurotypical” used to trivialize people. The norms, metrics, measures, and invariants used to model a “typical” person’s neurology as well as variations therein are far and wide; they vary from day-to-day as well as to the subjective bias of the clinician. The infinite variation of neuro-cognitive functioning in Crespi’s spectra is symmetrical. Sometimes typical people may present in the center of the curve. Other times they may have days or weeks where they skew on the curve depending upon a variety of events and stressors in their lives.
The reason why I don’t like the word neurodivergent is sometimes as a literal thinker I look to the meaning of words. Divergent thinking is generating solutions and seeing possibilities in response to questions. Divergent thinking is non-linear. Quite the opposite, convergent thinking is linear thinking. It’s about learning facts, following instructions and solving problems with one correct answer. J.P. Gunford in 1956 developed these concepts for psychologists to study how people learn.
Schizophrenics have disorganized thinking which would be considered divergent thinking processes. Many Autistics on the other hand think in a more linear fashion. Neurodivergent may be appropriate terminology for the psychotic spectrum but I do not believe it’s appropriate for many on the autism spectrum. These are generalities for those on the extreme ends of the spectrum (in the above model). The vast majority of the population has the ability to think abstractly as well as concretely.
I think in both convergent and divergent ways. My normal state of being is an a-neurotypical state. I don’t like the word autism to describe myself because I’m often on both ends of the spectra at once. I prefer the word Kurt to describe myself even though I’m neither abrupt nor to the point (curt). I have what Oliver Sacks calls “Witzelsucht” in his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Witzelsucht (from the German witzeln, meaning to joke or wisecrack, and sucht, meaning addiction or yearning) is a set of rare neurological symptoms characterized by a tendency to make puns or tell inappropriate jokes or pointless stories in socially inappropriate situations. When I hear a word it comes to me with a multitude of meanings, a panoply of interpretations, which makes it difficult for me to understand, yet easy to joke.
I would like to rephrase Dr. Stephen Shore’s statement “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism,” to become “if you’ve met one person with a label, you’ve simply seen the label and not the person.” We are all unique individuals with many labels.
Let’s not trivialize our labels.
Kurt Muzikar attributes his a-typical thinking to a series of frontal lobe brain injuries he received in the 1960’s while experiencing a “free range” childhood. Kurt also believes genetics plays a role in how his a-neurotypical mind functions. Kurt received a degree in Nuclear Physics in 1979. He never worked in the field because he went to school to learn not to get a job. Kurt is writing his biography From Bozo to Bosons.