Dandelions, Tulips, Orchids and Neurological Pluralism

While reading up on the stress model of autism, I came across the Dandelions, Tulips, and Orchids framing via @peripheralminds.

According to empirical studies and recent theories, people differ substantially in their reactivity or sensitivity to environmental influences with some being generally more affected than others. More sensitive individuals have been described as orchids and less-sensitive ones as dandelions.

Although our analysis supports the existence of highly sensitive or responsive individuals (i.e. orchids), the story regarding ‘dandelions’ is more complicated because they can be further divided into two categories. If we consider ‘dandelions’ as the metaphorical example of the low-sensitive group, what plant species best reflects the medium-sensitive group? Sticking to the well-known flower metaphor, we suggest ‘tulips’ as a prototypical example for medium sensitivity. Tulips are very common, but less fragile than orchids while more sensitive to climate than dandelions. In summary, while some people are highly sensitive (i.e. orchids), the majority have a medium sensitivity (i.e. tulips) and a substantial minority are characterised by a particularly low sensitivity (i.e. dandelions).

Source: Dandelions, tulips and orchids: evidence for the existence of low-sensitive, medium-sensitive and high-sensitive individuals | Translational Psychiatry

Most of us have genes that make us as hardy as dandelions: able to take root and survive almost anywhere. A few of us, however, are more like the orchid: fragile and fickle, but capable of blooming spectacularly if given greenhouse care. 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. With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail-but with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society’s most creative, successful, and happy people.

At first glance, this idea, which I’ll call the orchid hypothesis, may seem a simple amendment to the vulnerability hypothesis. It merely adds that environment and experience can steer a person up instead of down. Yet it’s actually a completely new way to think about genetics and human behavior. Risk becomes possibility; vulnerability becomes plasticity and responsiveness. It’s one of those simple ideas with big, spreading implications. Gene variants generally considered misfortunes (poor Jim, he got the “bad” gene) can instead now be understood as highly leveraged evolutionary bets, with both high risks and high potential rewards: gambles that help create a diversified-portfolio approach to survival, with selection favoring parents who happen to invest in both dandelions and orchids.

Source: The Science of Success – The Atlantic

For in the story of the figure of speech from which this book draws its enigmatic title—the metaphor of orchid and dandelion—lies a deep and often helpful truth about the origins of affliction and the redemption of individual lives. Most children—in our families, classrooms, or communities—are more or less like dandelions; they prosper and thrive almost anywhere they are planted. Like dandelions, these are the majority of children whose well-being is all but assured by their constitutional hardiness and strength. There are others, however, who, more like orchids, can wither and fade when unattended by caring support, but who—also like orchids—can become creatures of rare beauty, complexity, and elegance when met with compassion and kindness.

While a conventional but arguably deficient wisdom has held that children are either “vulnerable” or “resilient” to the trials that the world presents them, what our research and that of others has increasingly revealed is that the vulnerability/resilience contrast is a false (or at least misleading) dualism. It is a flawed dichotomy that attributes weakness or strength—frailty or vigor—to individual subgroups of youth and obscures a deeper reality that children simply differ, like orchids and dandelions, in their susceptibilities and sensitivities to the conditions of life that surround and sustain them. Most of our children can, like dandelions, thrive in all but the harshest, most bestial circumstances, but a minority of others, like orchids, either blossom beautifully or wane disappointingly, depending upon how we tend and spare and care for them. This is the redemptive secret the story herein reveals: that those orchid children who founder and fail can as easily become those who enliven and thrive in singular ways.

Source: The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive

I’m always on the look out for new ways of thinking about and designing for neurological pluralism, especially when it comes in threes. Dandelions, tulips, and orchids designate low-sensitive, medium-sensitive, and high-sensitive people. I like the way this aligns with caves, campfires, and watering holes, the red, yellow, green of interaction badges, and the three speeds of collaboration.

Like many of my fellow autistics, I’m a cave orchid. I’m high-sensitive and need just the right sensory environment. I need deep spaces for deep work.

One of the more interesting ideas emerging from attention capital theory is the surprising role environment can play in supporting elite cognitive performance.

Professional writers seem to be at the cutting edge of this experimentation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the near future, we start to see more serious attention paid to constructing seriously deep spaces as our economy shifts towards increasingly demanding knowledge work.

Source: Simon Winchester’s Writing Barn – Study Hacks – Cal Newport

When I get the right sensory environment, I can put the power of autistic special interest to work.

I’ll likely work dandelion, tulip, and orchid framing into my neurological pluralism advocacy, but first some more reading.

See also:

A Triptych of Triptychs for Designing for Neurological Pluralism

ANI launched its online list, ANI-L, in 1994. Like a specialized ecological niche, ANI-L had acted as an incubator for Autistic culture, accelerating its evolution. In 1996, a computer programmer in the Netherlands named Martijn Dekker set up a list called Independent Living on the Autism Spectrum, or InLv. People with dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, and a myriad of other conditions (christened “cousins” in the early days of ANI) were also welcome to join the list. InLv was another nutrient-rich tide pool that accelerated the evolution of autistic culture. The collective ethos of InLv, said writer and list member Harvey Blume in the New York Times in 1997, was “neurological pluralism.” He was the first mainstream journalist to pick up on the significance of online communities for people with neurological differences. “The impact of the Internet on autistics,” Blume predicted, “may one day be compared in magnitude to the spread of sign language among the deaf.”

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

A triptych of triptychs for designing for neurological pluralism

The cave, campfire, and watering hole archetypal learning spaces:

The red, yellow, and green of interaction badges:

The three level communication stack of distributed collaboration:

 

Living Privately. - Building and maintaining a sense of what to show in each social environment. - Discovering and creating new environments in which we can show more of ourselves. - Assessing where you can grow new parts of yourself which aren’t (yet) for public display.

Source: On Privacy – Human Systems – Medium

Opportunity but Not Pressure

I updated “Interaction Badges: Opportunity but Not Pressure” with a longer selection from “NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity”.

In 1995, an organization for parents of “high-functioning” children asked Sinclair to organize a series of presentations at an upcoming conference. He opened up the process to the members of ANI-L, who explored ways of making the event as a whole more accessible and comfortable for people on the spectrum. They requested that a special quiet room be set aside for people who needed to chill out or totally shut down for a while. They also devised an ingeniously low-tech solution to a complex problem. Even highly verbal autistic adults occasionally struggle with processing and producing speech, particularly in the chaotic and generally overwhelming atmosphere of a conference. By providing attendees with name-tag holders and pieces of paper that were red on one side and yellow on the other, they enabled Autistics to communicate their needs and desires without having to articulate them in the pressure of the moment. The red side facing out signified, “Nobody should try to interact with me,” while the yellow side meant, “Only people I already know should interact with me, not strangers.” (Green badges were added later to signify, “I want to interact but am having trouble initiating, so please initiate an interaction with me.”) These color-coded “interaction signal badges” turned out to be so useful that they have since been widely adopted at autistic-run events all over the world, and name-tag labels similar to Autreat (” autistic retreat”) green badges have recently been employed at conferences for Perl programmers to indicate that the wearer is open to spontaneous social approaches.

The conference began with an orientation session in the main lodge led by Sinclair, who explained the guidelines that had been established to maintain and preserve the environment as autistic space. Photographs and videos could only be taken after asking for permission, and only outdoors, so that the flash didn’t trigger seizures. Cigarette smoking and perfumes were banned. Respect for each person’s solitude and personal space was essential, and the interaction badges allowed everyone to know at a glance who was open to talking. All of the conference events were optional, including the orientation itself; the overriding principle was “opportunity but not pressure.”

Source: Silberman, Steve. NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (p. 448, 449). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I updated the title of the post to include “Opportunity but Not Pressure”. I’ll elaborate on and emphasize this further in a future update, tying it into presentation culturepsychological safety, and habitable, inclusive world-building at school and work.

But in the past few years, students have started calling out in-class presentations as discriminatory to those with anxiety, demanding that teachers offer alternative options. This week, a tweet posted by a 15-year-old high-school student declaring “Stop forcing students to present in front of the class and give them a choice not to” garnered more than 130,000 retweets and nearly half a million likes. A similar sentiment tweeted in January also racked up thousands of likes and retweets. And teachers are listening.

Students who support abolishing in-class presentations argue that forcing students with anxiety to present in front of their peers is not only unfair because they are bound to underperform and receive a lower grade, but it can also cause long-term stress and harm.

Source: Some Students Want to Abolish In-Class Presentations – The Atlantic

Public speaking can indeed cause “long-term stress and harm”. See “Autistic Burnout: The Cost of Masking and Passing” and “Bring the backchannel forward. Written communication is the great social equalizer.”.

I also added a photo of and link to the communication necklaces we use in our unschool.

Two communication necklaces strung with silver chain lie on a cream colored beading mat. Each necklace has multiple cards with different faces. The necklace on the left shows a green colored card with a smiley face printed in black. The necklace on the right shows a red-colored low battery icon on a black background. The cards are held to the chains with two silver rings. Flip the cards around the rings to expose different cards.
Two communication necklaces strung with silver chain lie on a cream colored beading mat. Each necklace has multiple cards with different faces. The necklace on the left shows a green colored card with a smiley face printed in black. The necklace on the right shows a red-colored low battery icon on a black background. The cards are held to the chains with two silver rings. Flip the cards around the rings to expose different cards.