The goal is to combat the stigmatization of people with autism, dyslexia, or Tourette Syndrome and to value their talents.
“Cold, distant, and negligent.” For decades, thousands of mothers were held responsible for their children interacting with the world or processing information differently. A culprit for childhood autism had to be found, so they were blamed. In the 1940s, psychiatrists called them “refrigerator mothers.”
The origin of this harmful label can be traced back to statements made by the first doctor to define autism, Austrian Leo Kanner.
In a 1943 article entitled Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact, this psychiatrist described the parents of 11 children with autism: “In the whole group, there are very few really warm-hearted fathers and mothers.” Kanner said that despite being highly educated and intelligent, they were distant with their children.
In the 1950s and 1960s, another Viennese psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, expanded on these claims and consolidated the “refrigerator mother theory.” In his book, The Empty Fortress (1967), the researcher from the Orthogenic School in Chicago stated that autism was a result of the environment and, in particular, absent mothers.
Without conducting studies to support these beliefs, Bettelheim postulated that, “infantile autism is a state of mind that develops in reaction to feeling oneself in an extreme situation, entirely without hope.”
He even compared autistic children to prisoners in concentration camps and their parents to guards from Adolf Hitler’s protection squad.
These unfounded accusations had a corrosive effect. Every time mothers sought help for their children, they were judged. In other cases, these ideas were internalized. Many blamed themselves for causing such “disorders.”
Over time, these theories ended up being discredited, and the “refrigerator mother” stereotype fell out of favor and was then forgotten.
However, the same cannot be said for people living with autism spectrum disorders, with Asperger Syndrome, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, or attention deficit disorder, among others.
Many of them continue to be discriminated against on a daily basis. They’re targets of prejudice at school, work, in shopping centers, restaurants, parks, stadiums, cinemas, and churches.
It’s a long list. Since the 18th century, many of them have been segregated or confined to large public institutions.
Gaining more and more followers, this cultural and political movement promotes inclusion and combats the stigmatization of people who, in the past, were branded “sick” or “disabled.”
That’s what neurodiversity is. It not only accepts these people as different, but also recognizes their talents.
“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,” says journalist Steve Silberman, in his book NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity.
This is a complex developmental condition that involves challenges in social interaction, communication, and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior. The effects and symptoms are different for each person, which is why we talk about a spectrum. The most obvious signs are detected between two and three years of age.
This is a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties when conveying emotions with body language and tone of voice or because people find it difficult to adapt to different situations. It was first described in the 1940s. There are still those who consider it a less severe form of autism.
A learning disorder characterized by difficulty in identifying a specific sound with a letter. Also called “reading disability,” it affects the areas of the brain that process language. Most children with dyslexia can be successful at school with tutoring or a specialized educational program.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) defines it as a learning disorder that affects the ability to understand and work with numbers and mathematical concepts. It’s estimated that it probably occurs in 3 to 6% of the population.
A chronic neurological disorder characterized by unpredictable seizures that may be related to a brain injury or family history, but the cause is often unknown. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, some 65 million people in the world live with it. Some people require lifelong treatment.
This is a neurological disorder that affects physical coordination (problems with movement, coordination, and poor balance), but also sometimes influences processing, memory, and other cognitive skills. Specialists believe it’s around three to four times more common in boys than in girls.
Neurodiversity is a new way of recognizing and celebrating neurological diversity. For those who promote this concept, it’s a biological fact, not a perspective or a belief.
The key tenet of the movement is that no two human brains are alike.
We are all different. The idea that there is such a thing as a “normal” brain is a fiction.
As Nick Walker, activist and co-author of the book Diverse Bodies, Diverse Practices: Toward an Inclusive Somatics, points out, “Neurodiversity is a biological characteristic of the human species, of which autism is just one manifestation,” explains the academic.
“Individuals whose neurology differs substantially from dominant norms are neurodivergent.”
(Federico Kukso, originally published in the 30th issue of the digital magazine Tec Review)