13 Apr

#NTBS Challenge: Anytime you encounter people patronizing or dismissing a person with divergent neurology, hashtag it to #NTBS

It is time to point out how comfortable people from the neurotypical majority feel patronizing and disregarding people from neurodivergent families. It is like this constant message from the world that it is pointless to try. Pointless with them at any rate.

Each of the neurological subgroups has its own Achilles heel. People with reading disabilities are targeted for their reading speed, their lack of fluency, their spelling. As a teacher, I have written something like, “ofen must waite,” as a hormone addled class snickers at my mistakes — etched in chalk or dry-erase marker — so many times I have come to accept it. However, most dyslexic people I know would rather quit a job than publicly demonstrate any shortcomings.

Furthermore, people from the ADHD community are frequently targeted for their disorganization and struggles with time management. Many people in this group are charismatic and highly articulate and can pass fairly unnoticed until landing in the hyper-competition of the professional context. I know many high-potential people who have abandoned working in any “professional” field to avoid the constant humiliation of being reminded about their punctuality or their organization.

People within the ASD community, however, are the most likely to be targeted. When you struggle with social pragmatics or processing speed, you’re at the mercy of every fool with even a minimal level of social status. I have met many autie folks, often possessing superior IQ and educational attainment, who have given up on holding a job — and not because they can’t do the work. They refuse to endure the constant humiliation and discrimination from the neurotypical culture.

FRANKLY, I’m astonished by the prevalence in the field of education: how can a well-educated professor who would never tolerate the targeting of individuals based on other minority characteristics — religion, race, ethnicity — feel so comfortable humiliating an ADHD student for being disorganized?

Why do we so easily join the chastising mob, when someone makes us feel “uncomfortable” through a perceived lack of social sophistication? “You are a creeper! Shame on you!”

I find it astonishing how many educators cherish the belief that clerical errors in a document will provide immediate, ad hominem proof the ideas are not worthy of consideration.

“Does spelling count?” the student chirps, sliding deeper into the chair.

“Well, of course, dunderhead — spelling always counts!”

ADD TO THIS the statistical prevalence of innovation and ingenuity within these minority populations, and the plot turns even more sinister.

As cited last year in the Harvard Business Review, many atypicals often seek new ways to do things, becoming agents of innovation: the existing systems can be so painful to adopt that we constantly challenge and reimagine the systems around us.

Indeed, history is shaped by gifted thinkers who struggled in school.

Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein — all stand as examples of atypicals who, frustrated by traditional systems, sought alternatives and reshaped the world’s understanding.

Psychologist and longitudinal researcher Russell Barkley demonstrates statistically that being from a neurological minority group significantly increases one’s likelihood to become a millionaire. Cleverness, ingenuity, reflection on existing systems — these are also traits that make one more likely to become a target.

When you construct your sense of self from the ease with which you can master existing systems, people who challenge those systems are terribly inconvenient. Rather than examine the shortcomings of those systems, it becomes existentially necessary to target those agents of change — and we are such easy targets.

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