Cognitive diversity exists for a reason.

if neurodivergence is essentially disablement, why do we keep replicating the gene pool?

Source: Neurodiversity at work: a biopsychosocial model and the impact on working adults | British Medical Bulletin | Oxford Academic

Human cognitive diversity exists for a reason; our differences are the genius – and the conscience – of our species.

Source: A Thousand Rivers — Carol Black

“Great minds don’t always think alike.” We already understand the value of biodiversity in a rainforest. The presence of a wide variety of life forms — each with its own distinctive strengths and attributes — increases the robustness and resilience of any living community as a whole, and its ability to adapt to novel conditions. The same is true of any community of human minds, including workplaces, corporations, classrooms, and society as a whole. To face the challenges of the future, we’ll need the problem-solving abilities of different types of minds working together.

Source: The Best Books on New Books on Autism | Five Books Expert Recommendations

Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general.

Source: Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity | IndieBound.org

neurodiversity: the notion that conditions like autism, dyslexia, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) should be regarded as naturally occurring cognitive variations with distinctive strengths that have contributed to the evolution of technology and culture rather than mere checklists of deficits and dysfunctions.

Source: Silberman, Steve. NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (p. 16). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Rather, the neurodiversity perspective posits that autistics are part of humanity because our differences have been critical to the advance of our species.

Neurodiversity is an argument that autistics evolved naturally, for the benefit of the species, just like other forms of diversity.

Those findings buttress the neurodiversity argument that autism is a stable part of our genome.

Source: Scientific Research Supports a Neurodiversity Model of Autism | The Mighty

In natural selection, the environment represents a static entity to which a species must either adapt or fail to adapt. In niche construction, however, the species acts directly upon the environment to change it, thereby creating more favorable conditions for its survival and the passing on of its genes. Scientists now say that niche construction may be every bit as important for survival as natural selection (Lewontin, 2010; Odling-Smee, Laland, & Feldman, 2003).

Source: Reimagining Inclusion with Positive Niche Construction |

So holds a provocative new theory of genetics, which asserts that the very genes that give us the most trouble as a species, causing behaviors that are self-destructive and antisocial, also underlie humankind’s phenomenal adaptability and evolutionary success.

Source: The Science of Success – The Atlantic

The idea of neurodiversity suggests a much more complex system, a more deeply heterogeneous social system, than most people realize. This neurodiversity is what makes human society so dynamic and creative. The lack of it in other social species it what keeps them relatively stagnant in comparison.

My diagnosis, then, has had a significant impact on the way I think of myself and on the way I think about social issues. When you begin to realize that so many important people in the past and present were on the autism spectrum, and that autism is over-represented among creative people, you start thinking about creativity and social evolution quite differently. You also think about the importance of autism in society differently.

Source: Adult Diagnosis: Now What? – An Intense World

As part of the broader picture of neurodiversity, any cognitive difference that interferes with or weakens social learning (subconscious imitation) enhances creativity. Since autism is characterised by differences in social motivation and by weakened subconscious social learning, autistic people tend to be at the core of many deep innovations.

Source: The evolution of evolution – Autistic Collaboration

A subtle change occurred in our evolutionary history 100,000 years ago which allowed people who thought and behaved differently – such as individuals with autism – to be integrated into society, academics from the University of York have concluded.

The change happened with the emergence of collaborative morality – an investment in the well-being of everyone in the group – and meant people who displayed autistic traits would not only have been accepted but possibly respected for their unique skills.

It is likely our ancestors would have had autism, with genetics suggesting the condition has a long evolutionary history.

But rather than being left behind, or at best tolerated, the research team conclude that many would have played an important role in their social group because of their unique skills and talents.

“We are arguing that diversity, variation between people, was probably more significant in human evolutionary success than the characteristics of one person, “said Penny Spikins, senior lecturer in the archaeology of human origins, at the University of York.

“It was diversity between people which led to human success and it is particularly important as it gives you different specialised roles.

“We are arguing that it is the rise of collaborative morality that led to the possibility for widening the diversity of the human personality.”

“There has been a long-standing debate about identifying traits of autism in Upper Palaeolithic cave art.

“We can’t say some of it was drawn by someone with autism, but there are traits that are identifiable to someone who has autism. It was also roughly at that time that we see collaborative morality emerging.”


Source: Autism and human evolutionary success

The ability to focus on detail, a common trait among people with autism, allowed realism to flourish in Ice Age art, according to researchers at the University of York.

Many have argued that psychotropic drugs were behind the detailed illustrations. The popular idea that drugs might make people better at art led to a number of ethically-dubious studies in the 60s where participants were given art materials and LSD.

The authors of the new study discount that theory, arguing instead that individuals with “detail focus”, a trait linked to autism, kicked off an artistic movement that led to the proliferation of realistic cave drawings across Europe.

Lead author of the paper, Professor Penny Spikins from the Department of Archaelogy at the University of York, said: “Detail focus is what determines whether you can draw realistically; you need it in order to be a talented realistic artist. This trait is found very commonly in people with autism and rarely occurs in people without it.

“We looked at the evidence from studies attempting to identify a link between artistic talent and drug use, and found that drugs can only serve to disinhibit individuals with a pre-existing ability. The idea that people with a high degree of detail focus, many of which may have had autism, set a trend for extreme realism in ice age art is a more convincing explanation.”

The research adds to a growing body of evidence that people with autistic traits played an important role in human evolution.

Source: How our ancestors with autistic traits led a revolution in Ice Age art

There was an articlethat came out last year that argued that the presence of autism could be important for the health of groups and thus would arise through group selection. This argument is not dissimilar to observations I have made hereand here. The bottom line is that neurodiversity is vital for the health of any society. There have to be a large majority (around 80%) who act to stabilize the system, and there have to be a small group (around 20%) who destabilize the system through creativity and innovation.

The article makes this point as well. Those groups that tolerated autistics seem to be those better able to survive. Of course, creative innovators, those who challenged the status quo in technology or culture, have always been at best “tolerated.” But the more tolerant a culture has been to such people, the more innovative and wealthier that culture has been.


Source: Autism and Group Selection – An Intense World

Evolutionary Neurodiversity

Theoretically this theory proposes that throughout history we evolved working together in villages and communities. The core majority were a group of similar-minded individuals that could get along easily and keep the peace. They evolved to process and prioritize information for sociability. They were adept at imitation, following the crowd and working with others. Because we know from the work of Dr. Fisher and Dr. Michael Lesser that these personalities were dispersed in such a way as the periphery were the more rare personality types. More interested in things and tinkering, exploring, telling stories and taking up causes. These different groups, or personalities, processed information uniquely and had different priorities and motivations. They were innovators, explorers, protectors, leaders, scientists, geeks, artists and creatives (Lesser and Kapklein, 2003). These neurodiverse outliers processed and experienced the world very differently than the more sociable core. However, because of both the core and the diverse Peripheral Minds we thrived with each unique personality bringing value to cooperative goals (Bergmüller et al., 2010; Smaldino et al., 2013).

This diversity is stable across the world, as shown in personality and evolutionary studies (van Oers and Miller, 2010; Crespi, 2017; Quinn et al. 2016). Personality studies additionally inform us that these diverse groups are uniquely vulnerable to stress (Matthews, 2016). Personalities, or character traits, are shown to have unique genetic, neurobiological and neuroendocrine underpinnings. As described in studies linking serotonin, dopamine, testosterone and estrogen to both personality (Fisher 2015) and stress resiliency (Van Bodegom et al., 2017; Arnold et al., 2014; Boersman and Tamashiro, 2015; Boyce, 2016).

When considering the “what ifs” of autism and the BAP, “what if” these phenotypes are more sensitive because they are more evolutionarily adaptive and plastic?

Studies on the genetics of autism have suggested just this. That the genes involved in autism include signatures for both positive and negative selection (Shpigler et al., 2017). They are part of the essential genes we need to survive and thrive (Xiao et. al., 2016).

Autism as a platform has the potential to teach us quite a lot about stress and evolution. What happens, both positive and negative, to our minds and interrelated systems when we stress our diversity of talents and thinking types. And the answer could be a gateway to new understandings of human behavior, potential and limitations. In a recent 2016 paper in Scientific America by science writer and computational biologist Jim Kozubek, new research from CRISPR (gene editing technology) has currently led us to the conclusion that “there are no superior genes, only genes that provide advantages with a tradeoff for other disadvantages” (Kozubek in Scientific American, 2016)

Source: Is Autism a Stress Adaptation? – The Peripheral Minds of Autism

One way to understand neurodiversity is to remember that just because a PC is not running Windows doesn’t mean that it’s broken. Not all the features of atypical human operating systems are bugs. We owe many of the wonders of modern life to innovators who were brilliant in non-neurotypical ways. Herman Hollerith, who helped launch the age of computing by inventing a machine to tabulate and sort punch cards, once leaped out of a school window to escape his spelling lessons because he was dyslexic. So were Carver Mead, the father of very large scale integrated circuits, and William Dreyer, who designed one of the first protein sequencers.

Source: Neurodiversity Rewires Conventional Thinking About Brains | WIRED

A new idea was brewing at events like Autreat and in the myriad of autistic spaces taking root online. It turned out to be an idea as old as Hans Asperger’s notion that people with the traits of his syndrome have always been part of the human community, standing apart, quietly making the world that mocks and shuns them a better place.

Autistic people have always been part of the human community, though they have often been relegated to the margins of society. For most of the 20th century, they were hidden behind a welter of competing labels— “schizoid personality disorder,” “childhood schizophrenia,” “children with circumscribed interests,” the initial diagnosis of “minimal brain damage,” and many other labels, such as “multiplex personality disorder,” which have fallen out of use.

In recent years, researchers have determined that most cases of autism are not rooted in rare de novo mutations but in very old genes that are shared widely in the general population while being concentrated more in certain families than others. Whatever autism is, it is not a unique product of modern civilization. It is a strange gift from our deep past, passed down through millions of years of evolution.

“Neurodiversity” advocates propose that instead of viewing this gift as an error of nature—a puzzle to be solved and eliminated with techniques like prenatal testing and selective abortion—society should regard it as a valuable part of humanity’s genetic legacy while ameliorating the aspects of autism that can be profoundly disabling without adequate forms of support.

Source: The neurodiversity movement: Autism is a minority group. NeuroTribes excerpt.

The extremely important role that culture has played and still plays in human evolution represents a transformational change in the mechanisms available to evolution…

Cultural evolution allows the behaviour of human societies to evolve much faster than the behaviour of other complex life forms, to the point that our collective knowledge and medical technologies allow us to engage in an evolutionary arms race with various strains of microbes that used to represent a serious threat to human health.

Whilst in some domains humans have been able to harness our capacity for culture for the benefit of all humans, in other domains our capacity for culture has been used to establish and operate highly oppressive and stratified societies.

Wherever autistic people go, they expose social power games. Pathologisation is the push back from a sick society. Autistic people should be recognised as the agents of a well functioning cultural immune system within human societies.

Source: The evolution of evolution | Autistic Collaboration

Neurominorities, Spiky Profiles, and the Biopsychosocial Model at Work

I’m making my way through my second read of the very interesting ”Neurodiversity at work: a biopsychosocial model and the impact on working adults”. There is a lot to digest. It offers:

  • definitions of neurotypical and neurodivergent based on spiky versus flat profiles
  • a taxonomy and timeline of neurominorities
  • an evolutionary critique of the psychomedical model
  • a biopsychosocial model for work
  • occupational considerations of neurodiversity
  • work-related difficulties and strengths attributed to neurominorities

I recommend this to all DEI and HR workers. Selected quotes:

There is consensus regarding some neurodevelopmental conditions being classed as neurominorities, with a ‘spiky profile’ of executive functions difficulties juxtaposed against neurocognitive strengths as a defining characteristic.

An evolutionary critique of the psychomedical model

Given the extent of overlap between the conditions, the under-diagnosis of females who instead present with anxiety, depression or eating disorders, and the estimated prevalence of each condition, a reasonable estimate of all neurominorities within the population is around 15-20%, i.e. a significant minority. Research supports a genetic component to most conditions which, when considered with combined prevalence rates, suggests an evolutionary critique of the medical model: if neurodivergence is essentially disablement, why do we keep replicating the gene pool? The less extensive, yet persistent, body of work indicating specialist strengths within neurodiversity, supports the hypothesis that the evolutionary purpose of divergence is ‘specialist thinking skills’ to balance ‘generalist’ thinking skills (as per the ‘spiky profile’). The evolutionary perspective is congruent with the Neurodiversity movement and essential to understanding the occupational talent management perspective that is currently in vogue.

The psychomedical histories outlined in Table 2 speak to the evolutionary critique for two reasons. Firstly, they demonstrate the consistency of the ‘specific’ rather than ‘general’ nature of impairment (the spiky profile) across all four conditions over time, irrespective of the changing nature of causal theories. The conditions are named and identified according to their most prominent deficits, which are themselves contextualized within our normative educational social history. Dyslexia is discovered around the same time as literacy becomes mainstream through education; ADHD becomes more prevalent with the increasing sedentary lifestyles from the industrial revolution; autism increases in line with modern frequency of social communication and sensory stimulation and DCD as our day-to-day need for motor control of complex tools and machinery becomes embedded. The evolutionary critique of neurodevelopmental disorders is that their perceived pathology is related to what we consider normal in modern times, as opposed to what is normal development within the human species.3,7,53–55 Secondly of interest from the timeline in Table 2 is the final column, wherein we see that, despite consistent observation of similar neurobiological differences, we lack a single unifying theory for any condition.

Towards a biopsychosocial model

The spiky profile may well emerge as the definitive expression of neurominority, within which there are symptom clusters that we currently call autism, ADHD, dyslexia and DCD

Within the biopsychosocial model of neurodiversity, understanding work-related intervention and treatment becomes more about adjusting the fit between the person and their environment than about treating a disorder. Critical review of the extant biopsychosocial research supports the social model proposition that the individual is not disabled, but the environment is disabling.

The legal status of neurodiversity

Disability status is predicated not on diagnosis of condition, but on the assessment of functional impairment, the extent to which the individual is inhibited and excluded.

Many neurominority employees find themselves in need of disability accommodation at work. Irrespective of legal protection, social and occupational exclusion are endemic for neurominorities.

Occupational considerations of neurodiversity

A reductive, medical paradigm of research is incongruent with the legal status of neurominorities as protected conditions in most developed countries, to which organizations must adjust.

Occupational symptomatology

At the functional level, there are similarities between neurominorities in terms of presentation. As alluded to in Table 2, executive functions are a common psychological complaint, resulting in difficulties with short-term and working memory, attention regulation, planning, prioritizing, organization and time management. Self-regulation of work performance is required in many modern employment contexts and therefore these issues present as the most disabling for individuals. There is also commonality among strengths, many related to higher order cognitive functioning reliant on comprehension and creativity.Table 3, adapted again from the British Psychological Society’s 2017 report, describes reported strengths and weaknesses associated with the four main neurominorities. The comparatively fewer references regarding strengths may reflect a research bias as opposed to an accurate representation of lived experience; it certainly is incongruent with the ‘talent’ narrative that is becoming dominant in workplaces.

Accommodations

The aim of occupational accommodations for neurominorities is to access the strengths of the spiky profile and palliate the struggles.

When assessment methods are more matched to the eventual job performance (for example observation of physical examination skills using role play patients) extra time becomes less important. This principle applies across education, recruitment and employment but is poorly understood by lay people or those without an understanding of cognitive functions and the antecedent components of job performance.

Following Diagnosis

Once a condition or conditions have been identified, an individual may feel vindicated, and experience catharsis. Psychology practitioners report their clients’ mental shift following correct diagnosis at the identity level and warn that, done badly, it can lead to disempowerment.12 However, done well, understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses can lead to breaking down barriers and removing self-reproach.

Accessing adjustments

Adjustments tend to be provided as a compliance activity per individual, with few businesses looking systemically at Universal Design for neurominorities as would be recommended in the United Nations Convention on disability. Access to accommodations is thus predicated on individual disclosure, typically occurring following a conflict or episode of poor performance. Individuals are reluctant to voluntarily disclose in advance as they fear discrimination (with some justification) and therefore the aims of the disability legislation programs worldwide are not yet having the intended effect on inclusion.

Accommodations in providing medical treatment

Differences in sensory perception have been reported as a hallmark of neurominority internal experience, which may affect pain management, sleep patterns and increase routine-change difficulties during in-patient care.

Conclusions

From within an emerging paradigm, clinicians and researchers must appreciate the shift in discourse regarding neurodiversity from an active, vocal stake- holder group and embrace new avenues for study and practice that address practical concerns regarding education, training, work and inclusion. This article has provided an overview of the neurodiversity employment picture; namely high percentages of exclusion juxtaposed against a narrative of talent and hope. Understanding the importance of nomenclature, sensory sensitivity and the lasting psychological effects of intersectional social exclusion is key for physicians wanting to interact confidently and positively with neurominorities. The proposed biopsychosocial model allows us to provide therapeutic intervention (medical model) and recommend structural accommodation (legislative obligation) without pathologization (social model). In other words, we can deal pragmatically with the individuals who approach us and strive for the best outcomes, given their profile and environment.

Source: Neurodiversity at work: a biopsychosocial model and the impact on working adults | British Medical Bulletin | Oxford Academic

Via:

Overwhelm and Isolation: It’s pretty hard to feel alone in a world this constantly loud.

This passage from “Uncomfortable Labels: My Life as a Gay Autistic Trans Woman” captures an aspect of sensory overwhelm I’ve noticed in my own life: “It’s pretty hard to feel alone in a world this constantly loud and busy and full of experiences.”

while oversensitivity to sensory information can sometimes be overwhelming to a ludicrous degree, it is also really useful for being able to feel okay when spending lots of time alone. I work alone from home, and have to be okay with large spells of social isolation, something that many people find exacerbates issues like depression. I tend to find it doesn’t have that effect on me, largely because it’s hard to feel alone when there’s constantly static and noise happening. I can always hear cars driving past which I know are full of people, water moving through pipes that will pass under people’s homes. I can see animals like birds and insects moving outside my window. I can’t tune out the world, and as such I never really forget that the world exists around me. It’s pretty hard to feel alone in a world this constantly loud and busy and full of experiences.

Source: Uncomfortable Labels: My Life as a Gay Autistic Trans Woman

I still get lonely, but my threshold for (and need for) solitude is orders of magnitude beyond the typical.