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Neurodiversity Gifts: Your Canaries in the Coal Mines

“Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it’ll live its whole life believing it’s stupid.” - Attributed to Albert Einstein

What better place to start than where we are. Can we start from anywhere else? The Mad Hatter and March Hare said, “Start at the beginning, and when you get to the end, stop.”

First, in the West we are linguistic beings. Since we’re communicating from and to a world profoundly influenced by left-brain categories, let’s start by defining Neurodiversity.

“Neuro” comes from the Greek “Neuron," relating to the nervous system. A “sinew or string (of a bow or musical instrument.)” We are a network that communicates in energetic currents and frequencies. We are “wired” but these currents transcend the wire. The communication happens in the synaptic gap between the neurons.

And the nervous system extends far beyond the brain. Frequencies transcend gaps. If we each had a guitar and one of us plucked the E string, the E string on the other guitar would vibrate too. Separateness doesn’t mean we’re disconnected. We are wired for connection.

So that’s “neuro.” And then “diversity” comes from the Latin word “diversus,” meaning turned different ways, variety, and oddness. I loves me some oddness! While white light is beautiful in itself, much more radiant beauty comes when it is turned different ways and dispersed through a prism, revealing the inherent colors of the rainbow and more. And when we all come together with our variety, we each bring a different shade of perspective to the round table. It’s through the combination of our hues, our different perspectives, that are able to transmute our individual understanding back into the pure light of illumination. So combine the two words “Neuro” and “diversity” together and we have: Neurodiversity, meaning “appreciation for being wired slightly differently.”

Judy’s Powerful Seed of Insight

Judy was an Australian girl who was wired slightly differently. Initially this was hard. She said, “As for the adults around me, I was crushed more than once when I heard their opinions: ‘The child is too sensitive and thinks too much.’” Being on the Autism Spectrum, as Judy grew older she came to see that so much of the suffering that conditions of Neurodiversity can cause are because of barriers imposed by societal norms, causing inequality and exclusion. She began to see that Neurodiversity could function as an analytical tool for examining social issues.

And more than that, she came to appreciate Neurodiversity as a subset of biodiversity, a state of nature to be respected. The Intelligence that created and undergirds the cosmic order made us different intentionally! An idea was born, and Judy Singer was a pioneer in coining the term “Neurodiversity” in her 1998 thesis paper, and wrote the book Neurodiversity: The Birth of an Idea.” The movement burgeoning around this term aims to replace deficit-based and derogatory stereotypes with a richer perspective on the gifts of the Neurodiverse. And what might some of these gifts be?

The Gift of Canaries

In the early 1900’s, before we had sophisticated instrumentation, miners used to take little birds, Canaries, down into the coal mines with them. Now Canaries are perceptive and sensitive creatures. They pick up on the unseen ecosystem in ways that the miners can’t. When the Canaries would pick up poisonous gases like Carbon Monoxide, they would pass out. The miners would know how to interpret the Canary’s downfall and they would bail from the mine. “The Canary has passed out, let’s get out of here before the same thing happens to us!” For the bird lovers, there is some peace in knowing that many miners would attach little oxygen canisters to the Canary’s cage to revive them afterwards.

When the Neurodiverse are passing out around us, are we paying attention to the cues that the same situation is likely coming for society broadly? When the unseen ecosystem is toxic, the perceptive and sensitive ones are amongst the first to feel it and to need revival through life-giving oxygen. And what is this life-giving oxygen?

The element that can be so scarce in our reductionist materialist society is the life-giving oxygen of meaning, purpose, and interconnection. On the one end of this spectrum, when this oxygen is missing from our societal rat race, the Neurodiverse pass out from depression. And on the other end of the spectrum, when there is an abundance of meaning, purpose, and interconnection in so-called psychosis…and yet no maps or wise community to help the Neurodiverse navigate it, they are taken out of society…often forcefully.

Neurodiversity is a gift. And we all have it in various degrees, like standard deviations on the bell-shaped curve in statistics. On the fringes of the spectrum of consciousness is where we can step outside of the narrow bandwidth that society recognizes, and look back at it for the first time and see what it truly is, like a fish outside the water seeing for the first time that what it’s been swimming in its whole life is just one mode of being, one medium, and there are sophisticated forms of life and communication in others.

You’ve got the gift. You’re Neurodiverse, whether you have a mental health diagnosis or not. Congratulations!

And framing our experiences of consciousness within everyday reality in these ways can open up a whole new world of color that reflects the prism of your own vibrant mind!


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