‘The criterion for classifying behaviour as normal or abnormal was the challenges it created to the individual child, not whether it strayed from an idealised template of psychological health’ – Steve Silberman
The methods used by Hans Asperger and others in studying ‘gifted, sensitive children’ (Silberman 2015) differed greatly from other approaches of the time; they catered to the childrens’ needs and sought to understand them, rather than force them to adhere to societal standards of education. The focus on individual children is something I feel may have been lost in today’s society, where institutions ‘cater to the neuro-‘typical’ or ‘normal’ majority’ (Monique 2015).
Although Michaels disparagingly described the Heilpadagogik Station’s methods as ‘more of an art than a science’ (Silberman 2015), it was because of this that they aided the childrens’ growth. The emphasis on a variety of learning activities from music to literature to athletics (Silberman 2015) demonstrated a willingness to help children learn. It was obvious to me during my mainstream public education that no such accommodations were made for those who were neurodiverse. Rigid teaching methods, standardised testing, and an insistence that work be done ‘the right way’ prevailed. Knowledge and levels of intelligence were deduced by pitting students against their peers. This style of education made little effort to adapt to those who learned in different ways.
It can be argued that neurodiverse people have no requirement for mainstream education as they can receive ‘special’ education. While I agree that special needs schools provide the resources to foster alternative learning, they also further the distinction between neurotypicality and neurodiversity. Many neurotypical individuals pass through their childhood and adolescence (and maybe even their adulthood) while only interacting with other neurotypicals. They are socialised to view those who are neurodiverse as ‘other’, and this leads to the creation of an environment where neurodiverse people are shunned and ‘pigeon-holed according to [their] labels’ (Monique 2015). They are viewed not for their individual talents, but for their failure to meet neurotypical norms. Asperger first described autism spectrum disorder as something that is ‘not at all rare’ (Silberman 2015), and his account has proved accurate with the increasing rate of autism diagnoses; a large proportion of the population is now considered ‘other’, which raises questions of what defines neurodiversity. If ever-increasing numbers of people are excluded from mainstream society due to this label, then perhaps there is an issue with the label itself.
While society has progressed from labelling people as ‘normal or abnormal’ (Silberman 2015), there still exists a great deal of separation between neurodiverse and neurotypical people. This is enforced by rigid methods of education geared towards neurotypicality, as well as the social stigmas surrounding neurodiversity. In order to move towards Lazar’s vision of ‘a more humane society…[founded on] mutual respect and appreciation’ (Silberman 2015), changes must be made to the institutions which regulate the public. Education in particular must become more flexible to best serve the needs of every child rather than most children.
Monique 2015, The Problem With Being Neurodiverse. Available from: http://needtosay.weebly.com/blog/the-problem-with-being-neurodiverse. [9 October 2016].
Silberman, S 2015, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, Avery, New York.