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

Professor Robert Sapolsky has hypothesized that conditions such as OCD, schizophrenia, and epilepsy have been selected for due to potentially massive contributions to religious, spiritual, and philosophical thought. Go check out his lecture, link in the description. In fact, I recommend his whole Stanford lecture series if you have any interest in Human Behavioral Biology. Basically: maybe a little bit of schizophrenia can actually be advantageous if you’re in the right society for it. And no, neither Professor Sapolsky nor I are saying you have to be “crazy” to believe in religion. Ugh, the C word. There are many well-studied advantages to religious thought and experience. Carl Jung, in fact, said that he would have diagnosed himself with schizophrenia though he channeled his experiences into his work on the collective unconscious, and received great spiritual comfort from his hallucinations. You can read about these experiences and experiments in The Red Book, though I personally haven’t read it so I don’t know if it’s any good. Due to migraine, I often have visual hallucinations which are entirely harmless and, sometimes, maybe even a little fun.

Neurologist Oliver Sacks, who also experienced these sorts of migraines, wrote in his book Hallucinations:

“To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see overall patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or at least the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves, whether with telescopes and microscopes and our ever-burgeoning technology or in states of mind which allow us to travel to other worlds, to transcend our immediate surroundings. We need detachment of this sort as much as we need engagement in our lives.”

― Oliver Sacks, Hallucinations

And no, autism is not the next step in human evolution. Stop that. That’s not how evolution works, autism has always been around we’re just now recognizing and diagnosing it.

Source: Neoliberal Eugenics 1: Selective Abortion – Leslie’s Blog

Equity Literate Education: Fix Injustice, Not Kids

I love it when teachers talk equity and justice. All of the tech in the world won’t do any good if we use it for behaviorism and surveillance instead of for telling our stories and challenging structural inequity.

My students and I have taken the curriculum that the world has handed us and tried to figure out where we fit into the world. We have used books and computers to connect to the world. Web cameras, videos, and apps to not just share our work but to learn more.

Yet when a student asked what does refugee mean and another child answered, it means the enemy, it was a stark reminder of the work that still needs to be done. On the urgent need to use technology so that we can make our own decisions based on actual experience and not just hearsay and biased opinions. Use it so that those of us, who live with privilege, can be a part of the fight for a more just world.

Because let’s face it, I am privileged because I get to be afraid of the type of reaction my teaching may cause if I continue to teach about inequity. If I continue to teach what it means to be privileged. I get to be afraid for my job and I get to choose whether to have these hard conversations or not. But the truth is, there should be no choice. We, as teachers, are on the front lines of writing the future narrative of this country. Of this world. Ugliness and all. We are the gatekeepers of truth, so what truth are we bringing into our classrooms?

Where is our courage when it comes to being a part of dismantling the fears that drive us apart because It is not enough to bring in devices, the latest gadgets, without using them to learn about others. To understand others. To have the tools to dismantle our prejudiced world but then choose to do nothing to change the world that we live in.

We, as people with privilege, must use technology to create more opportunities for the students to do the hard work. To create an environment where they can discover their own opinion. Where they can explore the world, even when it is ugly so that they can decide which side of history they want to fall on.

So look at the power of the tools you have at your disposal. Look at what you can do with a camera. With a computer. With your voice and your connections. Look at whose voices are missing in your classroom. Look at who your students need to meet so that they can change their ideas of others.

We say we teach all children, but do we teach all stories? Do we teach the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, or just the sanitized version that will not ruffle any feathers? I can choose to bring others into our classrooms so that their stories are told by them. I can choose to model what it means to question my own assumptions and correct my own wrongs.

Source: In These Divided Times – Pernille Ripp

Yes to all of that. Ditch structurally ignorant behaviorism and mindset marketing. Fix injustice, not kids. “It essentially boils down to whether one chooses to do damage to the system or to the student.”

With this in mind, my purpose is to argue that when it comes to issues surrounding poverty and economic justice the preparation of teachers must be first and foremost an ideological endeavour, focused on adjusting fundamental understandings not only about educational outcome disparities but also about poverty itself. I will argue that it is only through the cultivation of what I call a structural ideology of poverty and economic justice that teachers become equity literate (Gorski 2013), capable of imagining the sorts of solutions that pose a genuine threat to the existence of class inequity in their classrooms and schools.

Source: Poverty and the ideological imperative: a call to unhook from deficit and grit ideology and to strive for structural ideology in teacher education

The Direct Confrontation Principle: There is no path to equity that does not involve a direct confrontation with inequity. There is no path to racial equity that does not involve a direct confrontation with interpersonal, institutional, and structural racism. “Equity” approaches that fail to directly confront inequity play a significant role in sustaining inequity.

The “Poverty of Culture” Principle: Inequities are primarily power and privilege problems, not primarily cultural problems. Equity requires power and privilege solutions, not just cultural solutions. Frameworks that attend to diversity purely in vague cultural terms, like the “culture of poverty,” are no threat to inequity.

The Prioritization Principle: Each policy and practice decision should be examined through the question, “How will this impact the most marginalized members of our community?” Equity is about prioritizing their interests.

The “Fix Injustice, Not Kids” Principle: Educational outcome disparities are not the result of deficiencies in marginalized communities’ cultures, mindsets, or grittiness, but rather of inequities. Equity initiatives focus, not on fixing marginalized people, but on fixing the conditions that marginalize people.

Source: Basic Principles for Equity Literacy

Let justice be the mindset.

And let shame disappear from our repertoire.

And that is what happens when you soak one child in shame and give permission to another to hate.

Source: Hannah Gadsby: Nanette – Netflix

Shame is not a weapon. At least, it shouldn’t be, because it is way too powerful. But here we are living in cultures where we regularly, habitually “soak one child in shame and give permission to another to hate”. Shame is an identity-shredding bullet when aimed at a kid.

Source: Hannah Gadsby on Shame, Power, and Comedy – Ryan Boren

during adolescence, shame has a particularly powerful impact on the brain. Adolescents feel, even anticipate, embarrassment in more profound ways than adults. One sure fire way of making sure that you are neither heard nor respected by a child, is to embarrass them. That’s not a matter of choice. Shame will close down all other options for children other than the quest for survival. It puts them into full on fight or flight meltdown. And in that state of mind, you get nowhere.

We are the adults. We have authority with equal responsibility. Shaming should not be part of a responsible adult’s repertoire. It’s a failure to default to it.

Source: Shame is not a Weapon. – Love Learning….

Design is tested at the edges, and teachers are there to witness and act and act out. Bring the insights of intersectionality, the social model of disability, and design for real life to bear, and tell the stories of the edge-cases and stress-cases and shame-soaked.

Our designs, our societies, and the boundaries of our compassion are tested at the edges, where the truths told are of bias, inequality, injustice, and thoughtlessness. The insights of intersectionality, the social model of disability, and design for real life help us design and build for these truths:

No one knows best the motion of the ocean than the fish that must fight the current to swim upstream.” “By focusing on the parts of the system that are most complex and where the people living it are the most vulnerable we understand the system best.” “When we build things – we must think of the things our life doesn’t necessitate. Because someones life does.” “That’s why we’ve chosen to look at these not as edge cases, but as stress cases: the moments that put our design and content choices to the test of real life.” “Instead of treating stress situations as fringe concerns, it’s time we move them to the center of our conversations-to start with our most vulnerable, distracted, and stressed-out users, and then work our way outward. The reasoning is simple: when we make things for people at their worst, they’ll work that much better when people are at their best.

There is no path to inclusive design that does not involve direct confrontation with injustice. “If a direct confrontation of injustice is missing from our strategies or initiatives or movements, that means we are recreating the conditions we’re pretending to want to destroy.Structural ideology-an ideology shared by intersectionality, the social mode of disability, and design for real life-is necessary to good design.

Source: Design is Tested at the Edges: Intersectionality, The Social Model of Disability, and Design for Real Life – Ryan Boren

“We are the gatekeepers of truth, so what truth are we bringing into our classrooms?” When I was in Texas public education during the 1970s and 80s, my classrooms were platforms for the Southern Strategy and the Confederate Catechism. They were platforms for ethnocentrism that centered whiteness, patriarchy, and neurotypicality. They brought whitewashed myths as truth. Classrooms are indeed “on the front lines of writing the future narrative of this country”. They always have been.

Our public school classrooms are on the front lines and at the edges attempting to fulfill the promise of “free, life-changing, and available to everyone”. To do that, “justice needs a platform”. Justice, not white supremacy. Justice, not patriarchy. Justice, not mindset marketing. Justice, not behaviorism. Justice, not the rearrangement of injustice. De-center, and let equity literacy into our pedagogy and classrooms.

We need to de-center the closed circuitry of either/or thinking and cultivate radical imagination in ourselves, and in our students.

Source: On Cultivating Radical Imagination, or Why I Will Never Teach Debate Again – My Year of Teaching Dangerously

Empathy is a human problem; it’s a deficit in imagination. We can’t truly step into another life or neurotype, but we can seek story and perspective. We can practice de-centering ourselves. End the gaslighting, and stop bikeshedding structural bias and injury. Instead, make room for kids to tell their truths and change their context. Make room for the radical imagination needed to perceive the complex and diverse actuality of humanity. Start “foregrounding complexity as the baseline” instead of reducing spectrums to binaries.

“Use technology to create more opportunities for the students to do the hard work.” Much of that hard work is foregrounding neglected and suppressed complexity, navigating the engines of confirmation bias, and bridging the double empathy gap.

The ‘double empathy problem’ refers to the mutual incomprehension that occurs between people of different dispositional outlooks and personal conceptual understandings when attempts are made to communicate meaning.

Source: From finding a voice to being understood: exploring the double empathy problem

Do that hard work with indie ed-tech. Resist disinformation with hyperlinks and small b blogging. Bring the backchannel forward, and bring safety to the serendipity.

When we design our schools for the edges, when we design with equity literacy, we make psychologically safe ”homes of opportunity” that “provide freedom to those who deal with a world that’s built to be hostile toward them”. We make schools that are better for everyone.