Neurodiversity: An Autistic Author’s Point of View

Twenty-two years ago, a doctor told my parents that I had Pervasive Developmental Disorder, or if they wanted, they could call it Autism. It does not matter what term someone uses; whether it is Pervasive Developmental Disorder or Autism, it still sucks. According to 2018 CDC statistics, about 1 in 59 children in the United States have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Autism, as I call it, affects every aspect of my being. It prevents me from speaking out loud, and it interferes with my ability to socially interact with individuals, especially my peers. The disorder will often have accompanying epilepsy about 50 percent of the time, and unfortunately, I too am the recipient of this dastardly combination.

More recently, there is a new term on the horizon: Neurodiversity. Some refer to it as a movement grouping together many dissimilar neurological conditions. Frankly, I had not paid much attention to this movement until recently when I was asked by the staff of the Goldman Disabilities Office of my alma mater, Tulane University, if I wanted to meet Dr. Jane Brown, an Assistant Clinical Professor at Yale Child Study, Yale Medical School, Director of College Autism Spectrum and former Director of Student Services at the Connecticut School of Law. She gave a lecture on the Tulane campus that was titled “Creating A Climate That Embraces Neurodiversity.” I was thrilled that I was asked to meet with her as it would be my first return visit to Tulane since graduating just a few months earlier.

Not knowing a lot about Neurodiversity, I researched as much as I could about the subject. Never in my wildest dreams would I have considered myself “Neurodiverse.” I am Autistic and not because of any fault of my own. A definition of Neurodiversity, according to a Syracuse University conference, states that Neurodiversity is a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labeled with Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, and others.

Personally, I do not consider myself a variant of anything other than an Autistic person; however, while Dr. Brown prefers not to use the term disorder, she considers autism a variant.

Dr. Brown began her lecture by reading a quote from Silverman’s Neurotribe:

“Viewed as a form of disability that is relatively common rather than as a baffling enigma, autism is not so baffling after all. Designing appropriate forms of support and accommodations is not beyond our capabilities as a society, as the history of the disability rights movement proves. But first we have to learn to think more intelligently about people who think differently.” (Silverman, page 470)

Reflecting on Dr Brown’s opening remarks allowed me to think that maybe this Neurodiversity theory is not so bad. After all, I was the recipient of accommodations throughout my formal years of education. From grammar school to university, I was given the opportunity to learn with neurotypical students; however, I was allowed to do the work with specific accommodations. The Neurodiversity movement encourages educational support and accommodations for those of us on the autism spectrum, which I am wholeheartedly in agreement.

The increasing numbers of those of us who are on the autism spectrum have created a quagmire for our educational system. Dr. Brown presented 2012 data from Paul Shattock who stated that only 34 percent of children with autism advance past high school to obtain a college degree. In a story that I wrote titled Autism Awareness in College that was published in 2015 by ViaNolaVie.org, I cited a Harvard Medical School study that finds only 20 percent of high schoolers from 2003 to 2009 were going to attend college. With the ever-increasing numbers of autistic students seeking a higher education, universities and colleges must allow autistic students accommodations ensuring success without compromising academic standards.

The next part of her lecture highlighted topics and interpretations of the Neurodiversity movement that I strongly disagree with. Her description of Neurodiversity sounds Darwinian to me. Her philosophy of Darwinian adaptation to society for those of us on the autism spectrum infers that we will survive as a variant of the norm. This may be great for autistic people who can interact with others,  but it will not work for nonverbal autistics like me. Why would I want to remain like I am and be left out in the cold, as this would certainly be consistent with a Darwinian selection of the species.

Dr Brown quoted Harvey Blume in a 1998 article in The Atlantic with the passage below:

“Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any moment?” (Blume)

Her response to Blume’s statement suggested that those who were different, or “Neurodiverse,” were going to be the ones who would make the difference in our world. My probing into the Blume article revealed the sarcastic stereotypic image of us Autistic types. We are described as geniuses in technology and that one day the neurotypical, or NT as Blume calls it, will be cured.

Frankly, I find this thought to be insulting. Are you kidding me? I would give anything to be NT.

On Now This Opinions, there was a blog on Human Neurodiversity Should Be Celebrated for Its Strengths, Not Treated as a Disorder, which had a variety of comments regarding Neurodiversity as a normal variation. Many of these opinions came from those affected by autism or family members of affected persons. While there were responses on both sides with those wanting to embrace their autism, I found more who had a similar opinion as myself.

“I have Aspergers. It’s a disability and it sucks. I don’t want anyone else speaking for me on that!”  This is exactly the way I feel even though I don’t have Asperger’s. A similar feeling to mine comes from another autistic person from this blog. She says, “Hi, I’m a high functioning autistic and that god forsaken disorder has ruined my life. It caused me to be relentlessly bullied all through elementary and middle school. It’s a disability. It’s not fun or quirky.”

Another comment I read came from a parent who really shoots down the neurodiverse interpretation of us autistics as a variant of normal. “Severe mood swings in a large autistic man aren’t “neurodiversity,” it’s neurological damage. Figure out how to prevent it and fix it or it’ll only take a couple decades to destroy humanity with this burden.” I can certainly relate to this as I have episodic rage that is violent enough to place me in solitary confinement so as to keep others and myself safe.  The neurodiverse world has no place for an out-of-control autistic person like me.


For my entire life, I have wanted to be NT. Normal! What the hell is normal? I may have attended neurotypical schools, but I was far from NT. I was the freak who stood out with the aid.

I was the one who was left out of groups as I just didn’t know what to do. “Oh, yeah, that is Ben,” the NT’s would say. “He is a freaking genius. He always knows the answer.” I heard this from my schoolmates time after time. Oh, how I would have loved to be a dummy if I could have been normal. I have found that this is the most frustrating part of being Autistic. Sure, I can communicate by typing, but my body will not allow me to interact so that I can be just one of the guys.

This component of Neurodiversity, which supports the differences among students and not just those on the autism spectrum, is vital for persons like myself to have any chance to obtain a college degree and be assimilated into society.

My success in the classroom was largely dependent on my work, of course, but I was very fortunate that Tulane University provided the support for me to succeed. In my 2015 Autism Awareness In College article, I quoted Shawna Foose of the Goldman Office of Disability Services in which she states, “The mission of their office is to reduce barriers in our campus environment and provide equal access to all who come to Tulane. We do that by working with students on an individualized basis to determine what barriers they might encounter and, if necessary, adjusting the academic or physical environment at Tulane.”

Each semester, I would meet every professor for every class so that the professor would understand who I am and what accommodations were needed. Not surprising, most instructors at the college level have not been exposed to a student like myself, a nonverbal person with autism who communicates via typing on a computer. Colleges and universities are not required by law to provide accommodations for those like me as opposed to public schools that must follow the Individual Education Plan. Each professor had to agree to the requested accommodations such as extra time for exams and assignments, and preferred seating.

Throughout my Tulane experience, most of my professors were very open to have me in their classes and were excited to learn from me as well. At the end of a music class, Professor James Markway expressed his thankful thoughts to me. which offered encouragement and hope following my first semester.

“You have fully proven that autism need not be a barrier to a college education — that applies to you, and to anyone else who has autism and desires a college education.” (Alexander, Autism Awareness in College)

Professor Markway was not my only instructor who benefited from having a person with autism, or a “Neurodiverse” student. Doctor Anne-Marie Womack taught an intense freshman writing class, which I found to be very difficult at first, with the many assignments that were due every day. I thought my innate writing skills would prevail, but unfortunately my work was not up to par according to Dr. Womack. Besides, I did not take advantage of all of my accommodations because I wanted to be like all of the other first year Tulane University students. Eventually, I figured things out as I wrote about a subject that I am all too familiar: autism. My essay using metaphors describing Autism met all of the requirements set forth by Dr. Womack. Two years later during my junior year at Tulane University, Dr. Womack sent an email to me apologizing for not following all of my accommodations. She said the following:

“Thank you also for working with me during our class. It was not your responsibility to teach me about disability, but you did, and I am grateful for it. After much research and revelation, disability studies has become my scholarly specialization. I have an article coming out this year on broadening accommodations in writing classrooms.”

Of course, I did not expect this response from Dr. Womack as all I ever wanted was to fit in and not stand out like a sore thumb. This is my big disagreement with the Neurodiversity movement, as I want to be cured.

My entire life has been a struggle as I battle autism, a disorder which deprives me of a voice and affects my ability to interact with others. For twenty-two grueling years of no spoken language and an additive disease of epilepsy, I grow increasingly frustrated with the systemic effects that autism has on my being. How dare some people say that my world of verbal aphasia and the explosive nature of epilepsy are a variant of normal!

No one knows what is the trigger that turned me, an appropriately developing child into one that sits in the corner, flapping his hands, and screaming at the top of my lungs. You can not tell me that these features are just a variant of normal and not a disease state. With that in mine, my interpretation of Neurodiversity does not apply to autism. However, I do agree that educational support and accommodations are a necessity for those on the autism spectrum to achieve our goals and dreams.



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Neurodiversity: An Autistic Author’s Point of View

Twenty-two years ago, a doctor told my parents that I had Pervasive Developmental Disorder, or if they wanted, they could call it Autism. It does not matter what term someone uses; whether it is Pervasive Developmental Disorder or Autism, it still sucks. According to 2018 CDC statistics, about 1 in 59 children in the United States have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Autism, as I call it, affects every aspect of my being. It prevents me from speaking out loud, and it interferes with my ability to socially interact with individuals, especially my peers. The disorder will often have accompanying epilepsy about 50 percent of the time, and unfortunately, I too am the recipient of this dastardly combination.

More recently, there is a new term on the horizon: Neurodiversity. Some refer to it as a movement grouping together many dissimilar neurological conditions. Frankly, I had not paid much attention to this movement until recently when I was asked by the staff of the Goldman Disabilities Office of my alma mater, Tulane University, if I wanted to meet Dr. Jane Brown, an Assistant Clinical Professor at Yale Child Study, Yale Medical School, Director of College Autism Spectrum and former Director of Student Services at the Connecticut School of Law. She gave a lecture on the Tulane campus that was titled “Creating A Climate That Embraces Neurodiversity.” I was thrilled that I was asked to meet with her as it would be my first return visit to Tulane since graduating just a few months earlier.

Not knowing a lot about Neurodiversity, I researched as much as I could about the subject. Never in my wildest dreams would I have considered myself “Neurodiverse.” I am Autistic and not because of any fault of my own. A definition of Neurodiversity, according to a Syracuse University conference, states that Neurodiversity is a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labeled with Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, and others.

Personally, I do not consider myself a variant of anything other than an Autistic person; however, while Dr. Brown prefers not to use the term disorder, she considers autism a variant.

Dr. Brown began her lecture by reading a quote from Silverman’s Neurotribe:

“Viewed as a form of disability that is relatively common rather than as a baffling enigma, autism is not so baffling after all. Designing appropriate forms of support and accommodations is not beyond our capabilities as a society, as the history of the disability rights movement proves. But first we have to learn to think more intelligently about people who think differently.” (Silverman, page 470)

Reflecting on Dr Brown’s opening remarks allowed me to think that maybe this Neurodiversity theory is not so bad. After all, I was the recipient of accommodations throughout my formal years of education. From grammar school to university, I was given the opportunity to learn with neurotypical students; however, I was allowed to do the work with specific accommodations. The Neurodiversity movement encourages educational support and accommodations for those of us on the autism spectrum, which I am wholeheartedly in agreement.

The increasing numbers of those of us who are on the autism spectrum have created a quagmire for our educational system. Dr. Brown presented 2012 data from Paul Shattock who stated that only 34 percent of children with autism advance past high school to obtain a college degree. In a story that I wrote titled Autism Awareness in College that was published in 2015 by ViaNolaVie.org, I cited a Harvard Medical School study that finds only 20 percent of high schoolers from 2003 to 2009 were going to attend college. With the ever-increasing numbers of autistic students seeking a higher education, universities and colleges must allow autistic students accommodations ensuring success without compromising academic standards.

The next part of her lecture highlighted topics and interpretations of the Neurodiversity movement that I strongly disagree with. Her description of Neurodiversity sounds Darwinian to me. Her philosophy of Darwinian adaptation to society for those of us on the autism spectrum infers that we will survive as a variant of the norm. This may be great for autistic people who can interact with others,  but it will not work for nonverbal autistics like me. Why would I want to remain like I am and be left out in the cold, as this would certainly be consistent with a Darwinian selection of the species.

Dr Brown quoted Harvey Blume in a 1998 article in The Atlantic with the passage below:

“Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any moment?” (Blume)

Her response to Blume’s statement suggested that those who were different, or “Neurodiverse,” were going to be the ones who would make the difference in our world. My probing into the Blume article revealed the sarcastic stereotypic image of us Autistic types. We are described as geniuses in technology and that one day the neurotypical, or NT as Blume calls it, will be cured.

Frankly, I find this thought to be insulting. Are you kidding me? I would give anything to be NT.

On Now This Opinions, there was a blog on Human Neurodiversity Should Be Celebrated for Its Strengths, Not Treated as a Disorder, which had a variety of comments regarding Neurodiversity as a normal variation. Many of these opinions came from those affected by autism or family members of affected persons. While there were responses on both sides with those wanting to embrace their autism, I found more who had a similar opinion as myself.

“I have Aspergers. It’s a disability and it sucks. I don’t want anyone else speaking for me on that!”  This is exactly the way I feel even though I don’t have Asperger’s. A similar feeling to mine comes from another autistic person from this blog. She says, “Hi, I’m a high functioning autistic and that god forsaken disorder has ruined my life. It caused me to be relentlessly bullied all through elementary and middle school. It’s a disability. It’s not fun or quirky.”

Another comment I read came from a parent who really shoots down the neurodiverse interpretation of us autistics as a variant of normal. “Severe mood swings in a large autistic man aren’t “neurodiversity,” it’s neurological damage. Figure out how to prevent it and fix it or it’ll only take a couple decades to destroy humanity with this burden.” I can certainly relate to this as I have episodic rage that is violent enough to place me in solitary confinement so as to keep others and myself safe.  The neurodiverse world has no place for an out-of-control autistic person like me.


For my entire life, I have wanted to be NT. Normal! What the hell is normal? I may have attended neurotypical schools, but I was far from NT. I was the freak who stood out with the aid.

I was the one who was left out of groups as I just didn’t know what to do. “Oh, yeah, that is Ben,” the NT’s would say. “He is a freaking genius. He always knows the answer.” I heard this from my schoolmates time after time. Oh, how I would have loved to be a dummy if I could have been normal. I have found that this is the most frustrating part of being Autistic. Sure, I can communicate by typing, but my body will not allow me to interact so that I can be just one of the guys.

This component of Neurodiversity, which supports the differences among students and not just those on the autism spectrum, is vital for persons like myself to have any chance to obtain a college degree and be assimilated into society.

My success in the classroom was largely dependent on my work, of course, but I was very fortunate that Tulane University provided the support for me to succeed. In my 2015 Autism Awareness In College article, I quoted Shawna Foose of the Goldman Office of Disability Services in which she states, “The mission of their office is to reduce barriers in our campus environment and provide equal access to all who come to Tulane. We do that by working with students on an individualized basis to determine what barriers they might encounter and, if necessary, adjusting the academic or physical environment at Tulane.”

Each semester, I would meet every professor for every class so that the professor would understand who I am and what accommodations were needed. Not surprising, most instructors at the college level have not been exposed to a student like myself, a nonverbal person with autism who communicates via typing on a computer. Colleges and universities are not required by law to provide accommodations for those like me as opposed to public schools that must follow the Individual Education Plan. Each professor had to agree to the requested accommodations such as extra time for exams and assignments, and preferred seating.

Throughout my Tulane experience, most of my professors were very open to have me in their classes and were excited to learn from me as well. At the end of a music class, Professor James Markway expressed his thankful thoughts to me. which offered encouragement and hope following my first semester.

“You have fully proven that autism need not be a barrier to a college education — that applies to you, and to anyone else who has autism and desires a college education.” (Alexander, Autism Awareness in College)

Professor Markway was not my only instructor who benefited from having a person with autism, or a “Neurodiverse” student. Doctor Anne-Marie Womack taught an intense freshman writing class, which I found to be very difficult at first, with the many assignments that were due every day. I thought my innate writing skills would prevail, but unfortunately my work was not up to par according to Dr. Womack. Besides, I did not take advantage of all of my accommodations because I wanted to be like all of the other first year Tulane University students. Eventually, I figured things out as I wrote about a subject that I am all too familiar: autism. My essay using metaphors describing Autism met all of the requirements set forth by Dr. Womack. Two years later during my junior year at Tulane University, Dr. Womack sent an email to me apologizing for not following all of my accommodations. She said the following:

“Thank you also for working with me during our class. It was not your responsibility to teach me about disability, but you did, and I am grateful for it. After much research and revelation, disability studies has become my scholarly specialization. I have an article coming out this year on broadening accommodations in writing classrooms.”

Of course, I did not expect this response from Dr. Womack as all I ever wanted was to fit in and not stand out like a sore thumb. This is my big disagreement with the Neurodiversity movement, as I want to be cured.

My entire life has been a struggle as I battle autism, a disorder which deprives me of a voice and affects my ability to interact with others. For twenty-two grueling years of no spoken language and an additive disease of epilepsy, I grow increasingly frustrated with the systemic effects that autism has on my being. How dare some people say that my world of verbal aphasia and the explosive nature of epilepsy are a variant of normal!

No one knows what is the trigger that turned me, an appropriately developing child into one that sits in the corner, flapping his hands, and screaming at the top of my lungs. You can not tell me that these features are just a variant of normal and not a disease state. With that in mine, my interpretation of Neurodiversity does not apply to autism. However, I do agree that educational support and accommodations are a necessity for those on the autism spectrum to achieve our goals and dreams.



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