Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Neurodiversity and Brain Markers

Further to my brief mention in my post about best novel contenders for the 2016 Hugos, here's a piece from Scientific American that buttresses what I said about the Ancillary series and erasure of neurodiversity.

The story concerns obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder being associated with alterations in corpus callosum structure. On a purely anecdotal, lots of time spent hanging around with neurodivergent creative types basis, this makes sense.

It doesn't make sense in an interchangeable-brain universe like that of the Radch in the Ancillary series, where a brain wipe standardizes all structural anomalies, making the brain interchangeable with everyone else's. Possibly the people in the Ancillary series are clones in fact, which would make their brains more interchangeable than most. But still.

So I've got this iPhone, within reach. It has a headphone jack that is malsoldered or mismanufactured or askew, which means that in order to enjoy the fruits of my iTunes library, I need to wiggle the headphone plug around, and even then my audio is likely to drop out at any given moment. iPhones are far, far, far, far more symmetrical than brains, and I've got a divergent one.  If iPhones were people, mine would have a speech or hearing impediment, which might lead it to lean on different cognitive structures to get through work, school or life. It might develop social anxiety based on mishearing others, and it might prefer instrumental music -- or silence.

It might band together with others that share the same attribute, encouraging each other to think of it as a feature rather than a defect. There are communities of deaf and autistic and other divergent state people who feel this way. I'm aware of a controversy in the deaf community that has to do with avoiding cochlear implants.  Almost a no brainer of a decision, until you get on YouTube and call up some videos of what a cochlear implant actually sounds like, and wonder if you could handle a world where everyone seems to be talking through guitar effects pedals. Autistic people, meanwhile, are faced with well-meaning do-gooders that want to "cure" them right out of existing. In the case of the anti-vaxxers, you have people so desperate to eradicate autism that they're willing to kill other peoples' children, based on bad science.

Back in the bad old days, there was a thing called gay conversion therapy, where patients were subjected to Clockwork Orange style conditioning in an attempt to "cure" their homosexuality. It didn't work. In fact, this form of therapy is increasingly becoming illegal. And Clockwork Orange style conditioning wasn't even that effective, in the novel or the movie.

These days, a therapist is more likely to help you come to terms with who you are than try to change you to something more statistically average, and treaters are exploring the concept of being patient-centered, treating "people with [condition]" as opposed to "[condition] victims."  Ironically, this approach may be the one that actually does lead to a cure, as people began exploring organic diagnostics such as brain scans, rather than spinning wheels trying to browbeat people out of having OCD, ADHD or autism.  And maybe it won't be a "cure" as much as a lifestyle adaptation focused on enhancing the strengths, ignoring the deficits and buffing out the rough edges with meds.

Sometimes I feel bad about not liking the Ancillary series. A lot of people whom I respect and admire really seem to enjoy it. Ann Leckie tends to hang out in the File 770 comments threads, where I've enjoyed her insights and posts, and she seems like a darling person.  I was a little brusque in my dismissal of the series while writing about Best Novel, and today I found a perfect article to illustrate my point.

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