Is ADHD (like addiction) a disorder, a disease, or a pocketful of neurodiversity?

In a recent post I brought up the age-old debate as to whether addiction is a disease or not. In response, Alese raised the bigger issue of neurodiversity. Many scientists believe that a certain amount of individual diversity is built into human behaviour, because it provides an evolutionary advantage for all of us. It may be that our social groupings work best when a small percentage of us are highly detail oriented (autism spectrum), a small percentage are fearlessly aggressive, some tend toward extreme caution. And perhaps some are born with the tendency to seek immediate rewards over long-term gains – those most at-risk for addiction.

This built-in diversity in psychological styles would have to be based on diversity in brain plans. And this neurodiversity would then be considered a survival benefit for the species. That would mean that the psychological syndromes we like to classify as disorders or diseases don’t fit those categories. Not at all. (Even if they don’t make life pleasant for those who “have” them.) Instead, they may be outcomes of adapative variations in the human genome.

When I was in Toronto last month, Jim Kennedy (a highly-renowned research psychiatrist at CAMH) told me an amazing story over dinner. It concerned some research in which he’d participated, examining ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), genetics, and migration. I’ll make that long story short:

ADHD is a disorder, if not a disease. Right? Not right? It depends on your perspective. According to Dr. Kennedy, the study of genetically pure (no intermarriage) native populations in the Americas reveals a fascinating pattern of geographically distributed genetics. A gene variant related to ADHD (a certain number of repeats in the part of the DNA linked to dopamine metabolism) shows up at a very low rate in native groups living in northern Canada: 2-3%. The incidence of this variant increases, to something like 10-20% in native groups living in the southern U.S. In Central America, incidence of this variant increases up to 50%, and it exceeds 50% in parts of South America.

What could this possibly mean? Does sunburn cause a genetic predisposition to ADHD?!

According to accepted theory, the Americas were first settled by migration waves from Asia, across a land bridge connecting Siberia with Alaska, at least 12,000 years ago and possibly much earlier. That bridge has since disappeared. This model implies a gateway for migration, starting in northwestern North America and moving south, over many thousands of years.

But why would there be a greater hereditary risk for ADHD as the original settlers of America moved south? ADHD describes a syndrome in which people are more distractible, their attention wanders off target (which means it goes to new targets), and they are more attracted to novelty than to routine. In North American and European classrooms, this is bad news. You’re supposed to be facing the board, listening to the teacher, and doing your assigned work. If a certain proportion of people don’t do this, if they have a “problem” with their attention, and if this problem is related to distinct neural mechanisms AND to genetic predispositions, then the problem gets classed as a mental disorder or disease.

But if this “problem” only arises in certain social contexts – if it can be an advantage in other contexts – then the disease label starts to peel off. Imagine that you are a North American native, it’s 10-15,000 years ago, you live somewhere in northern Canada, and there is nowhere nearby to buy a Gortex jacket or even long underwear. It’s awfully cold for many months of the year. But you happen to have a predispositon to wander off into the woods, peak over the next hill, and to lose attention to the normal duties of hunting and trapping. One fine day, while on your explorations, you look over the crest of a hill and find a long valley extending off to the south. The lands north of you are already settled, so they’re not very interesting to explore. But this valley to the south is completely uninhabited. You let the elders know, and within a generation half your tribe is living there. Your children have a greater likelihood of having the same attraction to novelty, the same low tolerance for routine. After all, they carry many of your genes. When they grow up, they are also more likely to discover greener pastures, and  your descendants  will continue to migrate southward.

By this process, the genetic makeup that confers an attraction to novelty and a disdain for routine will become correlated with geography. Tribes — or groups within tribes — who have a higher proportion of that genetic variant will be more likely to migrate, and will show up further and further south. Thus, a certain genetic pattern is linked to a certain pattern of migration. In fact, it is the adaptiveness of this pattern that EXPLAINS the migration.

Today, in North America and Europe, we associate that genetic pattern with ADHD – a “disorder”. But for those aboriginal people, it facilitated adaptive waves of migration, moving them further and further away from the frozen North and opening up new possibilities for hunting, farming, and building civilizations.

Conclusion: the psychological qualities of a genetic distinction can’t be defined or labeled in a vacuum. The advantages or disadvantages of that distinction can only be described in context.

Research points to genetic patterns that are correlated with addiction. I’ll get into that topic next post. For now, I want to leave you with the thought that addiction may arise from a predisposition that’s not unhealthy or bad in itself. Its goodness or badness may depend entirely on what our society values and on where and how it fits in.

 

 

 

22 thoughts on “Is ADHD (like addiction) a disorder, a disease, or a pocketful of neurodiversity?

  1. Jaliya May 5, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

    Neurodiversity makes perfect sense, given all our other unique traits within our common humanity. Marc, are you familiar with Thom Hartmann’s thinking re: ADD/ADHD? Here’s a link … http://bit.ly/IWLsIF … His approach to this pattern of brain function was a saving grace to me when I received a Dx of ADD in the mid-90s (It’s not a label that I’ve stuck myself with).

    Cultural diversity, I think, matters too … a lot. We ‘Westerners’ live in a culture that considers anything out of the current norm to be a disorder of some kind … and for every ‘disorder’, there’s a drug … Interesting that our culture is so drug-laden — extremely prohibitive on the one hand, and excessively ‘dispensive’ on the other. As you write, ‘It depends on your perspective.’

    I was known as a ‘snoop’ when I was a kid … I have always been naturally curious; my mind tends to pattern-making rather than linearity. ‘Attraction to novelty’, you call it here … Yes! I suppose this attraction can indicate a disorder if it (as in addiction?) subsumes all other possiblities (such as the practice of patience; the ability to contain and moderate a constant desire for the new) …

    • Marc May 16, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

      Interesting tale. And if I may be so bold, your contributions to this blog indicate that your brand of neurodiversity gave rise to a phenotype (i.e., you) that is incredibly good at pattern-making, expressing, synthesizing, and connecting. So if you had a hard time concentrating on your history lessons, I think we can agree that you’ve made up for it.

      The correlation between the genetic variant I described and full-blown ADHD is really quite low. I was just reminded of that by a colleague who studies ADHD. In fact, the variant itself (a 7-repeat allele of the DRD4 gene, if you want to get technical) is so weakly related to ADHD across studies, that some even doubt there is a correlation. To quote my colleague: “the associations between any genes and ADHD are very, very small. It may be more accurate to link behaviors such as novelty-seeking to this gene, rather than ADHD.”

      So there you have it: novelty seeking! Sounds like something you could easily be accused of.

      • Jaliya May 19, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

        Here’s a quote I’ve just found that might describe the phenotype we’re conversing about …

        ‘Pattern recognition is the new form of work which combines into one the roles of hunter, engineer, programmer, researcher, and aesthete.’ ~ Marshall McLuhan.

        😉

  2. Dinesh Moylan May 6, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Hi Marc,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply to my post a month ago, I’ve been away and unable to respond.

    I wanted to add to this conversation that from a very young age I was fascinated with substances that altered my consciousness, long before I had a psychological compulsion to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to try and seek relief from the sadness and numbness that was a big part of my life as a teenager.
    As a 10 year old I would sneak alcohol and try to smoke cigarettes purely to experience the effects these drugs had on my brain. I went on to try many different kinds of drugs, but it wasn’t the drugs I was interested in, it was what they did.
    I am an artist, a writer and musician, and like many artists, I am driven to look at things from unusual and original angles, to see them in new light. To try to gain perspective, an overview.

    As a teenager (a long time ago), I was fascinated with hallucinogens, and several times at the end of intense trips my mind became exhausted and I experienced floating in silence, just thoughtless awareness.
    These glimpses later inspired me to really persist with meditation: knowing that it was possible to slow down or even cease the relentless thinking of my worrying sick mind that could make life almost unbearable. The effects of the drugs always wore off, but having a meditation practice over many years; witnessing, watching the thoughts, gives me a way to distance myself from my mind, to see, smell, touch, taste with full attention, a way of experiencing the full input of my senses without taking drugs.

    I am very sceptical and suspicious of the increasing tendency to ‘diagnose’ a ‘disorder’ – to label kids and adults who don’t conform, who are easily bored and like to do things differently. Maybe work things out on their own.
    It’s far easier to label someone, put them in a box and prescribe a medication than it is to help them look into their life, to try and find out what is troubling them and give them the tools to help themselves. (Also far more profitable for drug manufacturers.)
    I am sure many many of the great creative minds now celebrated would have been diagnosed with disorders if they were children now.

    I think that certainly as a society we have many kinds of people, with so many tendencies whose usefulness is not always obvious, but it would be perilous to decide on a ‘normal’ template; medicating or genetically modifying those who don’t meet the grade. The end of evolution in fact, and I think we still have a long long way to go…

    Thanks for the chance to talk about these important subjects.

    • Marc May 17, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

      Thanks for this thoughtful and compassionate comment, somewhere between an essay and a poem. At least so it seems to me, sleep-deprived in Australia, where not only space but also time is upside down. In fact, your fascination with/attraction to/and can I say abhorrence of? your thought processes feels like I was just feeling, lying in bed unable to sleep for hours. My thoughts were sometimes comfortable, sometimes irritating, sometimes comical to watch. I wondered why I could not feel more comfortable and drift off to sleep, and wondered at the wondering, and so forth. I guess I’m continuing that inner monologue now… But, like you, I find peace in meditation, when I have the time and discipline to do it first thing in the day.

      Not a whole lot to add. The end of your comment brought to mind a “fact” that someone told me. I think it was Isabel, my wife. Einstein, Newton, and now Bill Gates have all been classified (in retrospect) as autistic spectrum…i.e., Asperger Syndrome. So indeed the labelling does nothing but obscure the incredible individuality of these people and the creative gift that was uniquely theirs to give. In my next post, which I think I’ll start now (I think that’s why I finally got up), I’m going to do some genetics-bashing…..which gets to the labelling issue, the determinism issue, in another way. Stay tuned.

      • Jaliya May 19, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

        Ah … the naming of variants on the human condition. We discover, wonder, speculate, corelate this with that … Eventually, we name, label, diagnose … Beyond all this naming, there’s always wonder, paradox, second-guessing, refining … and we can aspire to understanding — which uses a label to apprehend, but not to close off other possibilities.

        One of my mentors said, ‘We begin and end with principles. In between there are techniques, mechanics, practices … but principles enfold them all.’

        There are certain diagnostic names that have been applied to my own variants on the human condition … Some I agree with, some I don’t. It’s interesting to speculate on what other diagnoses might have been applied over the years; Asperger syndrome may have been one.

        It’s also interesting to consider which Dx’s, once applied, matter the most. Which run deepest in a human being … which are singular and most evident?

        I once had a psychology prof who blew lots of minds. During his first lecture in an ‘Abnormal Psych’ class, he hefted the text (which at the time, the early 1980s, probably weighed 15 pounds … How heavy would it be now?!), riffled the pages, and said, ‘We’re all in here somewhere.’ YOWZA! ;-D

  3. Roger G. Albert May 6, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    Marc,
    For years now, teaching sociology to first and second year university students, I’ve specialized in deviance and social control. I’ve always taught that ADHD is an especially interesting form of social control. Dr. Jim Kennedy is a psychiatrist who is getting dangerously close to rejecting the DSM, at least as far as ADHD is concerned, and the control it represents. His research on the genetics of ADHD supports the kinds of things I’ve been saying about ADHD for decades but with no ‘proof.’ The way we set up teaching and classrooms leaves little room for individuality. Classrooms are by their very nature collective. If a child expresses greater activity or curiosity than the ‘average’ student then that child must be dragged closer to the mean by medication or punishment. ADHD is about us and our inability to deal with diversity in the population. Individual children pay the price for our lack of understanding of human genetic diversity and its relationship to behaviour. The evidentiary cloud may be dissipating around ADHD, but evidence amounts to very little against a strong ideological commitment to social control. What do you think the clinical or practical ramifications are of Kennedy’s work?

    • Marc May 7, 2012 at 6:27 am #

      Hi Roger. I’m not sure. The next reader provides a pretty strong rebuttal of your general position, but also see the comment I left following his. I guess I’d tend to take a middle road.

      ADHD, like many other “syndromes” is actually a range of dispositions and severities. Many of them change or peter out by adulthood, but some do not. And some can be seen as adaptive, even in our society! Or to put it more carefully, the impulsivity that is one aspect of ADHD can be a benefit to leaders in certain fields, including business and finance. In a similar way, there has been much recent debate that Steve Jobs and other scientific/technological pioneers would score somewhere on the Asperger’s scale. So let’s not try to “cure” all these variants of the human norm, as you say. And let’s keep the “possibly adaptive” argument open.

      On the other hand, there are real individuals with real problems (including end-stage addicts) that chase the thought of “adaptiveness” right out of one’s mind. Whether these embody distinct typologies or just very unfortunate combinations, well, we just don’t know yet.

  4. DaveB May 6, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

    Reading the above posts is reminiscent of my thinking… before I started teaching special education.

    My first classroom was the Kindergarten Intervention Program, a class for up to five children who were considered too aggressive/defiant for a regular kindergarten program. Of course, I intuitively understood that The System had decided to marginalize any non-conformity and, by labelling these youngsters hyper or aggressive or ‘out of control’, they had only ‘reified’ the problem worse. My neat logic assumed that diversity is a threat to the Educational Establishment, and that these children need space to allow themselves to express themselves. As I explained this to my assistant, who had been at this for two decades, she nodded her head and smiled sweetly. I decreed that these children needed to run the classroom, and that – using some emergent curricula – we should simply support them in expressing themselves.

    It was an absolute disaster – tantrums, fights, explosions – and after a month we went with a structured approach which worked much better for the kids and the staff. Once I realized that these kids actually did have issues that were mal
    adaptive in almost any social environment, that their issues were not simply hegemonic social constructions of difference, and that Michel Foucault never taught kindergarten, I could create a classroom in which these children were happy(ier) and learning.

    When I tell progressives what I do, I get the feeling that they think I’m an implicit fascist who obviously hasn’t read R.D. Lang (I haven’t). But after almost a decade of working with special needs kids, I’ve learned a few of things:

    i) most discussions of childhood issues – autism, ADHD – are not informed by first hand experience of working with kids. And this includes many psychologists who spend two – four hours administering a battery of tests before making a diagnosis. For many parents, the reality of a demanding (hyper, noncompliant, aggressive) is incredibly stressful.

    ii) in some children, ADHD is exceptionally maladaptive and puts an incredible stress on even the most supportive families. Some kids benefit immensely from concerta or ritalin.

    iii) we’re a successful species because we learn explicitly from one another. Not even chimps and orca do this. If Johnny can’t learn because he’s too hyper, and makes it to grade 8 at a grade 2 reading level, Johnny’s going to have really, really, really big issues later. And since Johnny is, in my experience, often poor and marginalized, this compounds the severity of the consequences. I don’t have the reference with me, but I recall that most inmates have really low literacy, so their options are far fewer.

    iv) there are psychiatrists who hand out ritalin like candy. I’ve seen it on several occassions – it makes the kid docile and compliant, but doesn’t address the issue. It’s a form of social control – as Roger Albert mentioned, and it is unethical.

    v) Schools actually support an incredible array of diverse learners, and there’s a lot of pressure to make sure ALL kids learn. I know lots of spec ed teachers that build incredible programs around the needs of their students, and it’s incredibly redeeming to see your students grow and their family situations improve because they’re happier.

    Marc, it may be that I’m working with the more intense end of the ADHD spectrum, but I think your anthropological argument may be more corelation than causation.

    But that’s just me.

    • Roger G. Albert May 7, 2012 at 11:04 am #

      I really appreciate your measured yet passionate response. I’ve never taught children (only adults with sometimes child-like characteristics, if you know what I mean). I have nothing but respect for people on the ‘front lines.’ My daughter has worked for years with autistic children children in a theatre program. Working with one of my former students, I’m about to undertake a study of the needs of autism affected families in the Northern half of Vancouver Island (rural areas tend to get left behind in support for autism affected families). As Marc notes autism is a ‘syndrome,’ and in that sense there are many variations on the theme.
      My argument is that, despite the best intentions of very dedicated people who care deeply about the children in their charge, there is a systemic need to have people conform to a particular pre-defined learning trajectory. Those teachers and care-givers who must confront that trajectory are caught in the middle between the needs of society for a standardized product coming out of high school (see John Goodlad’s A Place Called School) and the needs of individuals who in some cases will be disenfranchised because of a genetic predisposition. I have a student who has an autistic son. He didn’t speak for years. He is very intelligent but he doesn’t, at this stage in his life at least, behave well in social situations. What I mean by ‘behave well’ here is that he defies our expectations about how a child his ages should behave. He knows nothing about being polite, for instance. But politeness is socially-constructed expectation. Some cultures in the past had no such expectations. I’m not suggesting that we allow all kids to just run wild. In my mind kids need individualized approaches. I think that you and your colleagues intuitively understand that and you walk a tightrope between the needs of society for children who ‘behave properly’ and the needs of the children themselves, whose individual ‘good’ qualities need to be identified and built upon in practice instead of punishing them for not conforming, something that happened a lot in years gone by. Ritalin ‘works’ very well. It ‘calms’ children down so that they can be in a classroom with other children, but what is lost in that ‘calming down’ process may be highly adaptive in other situations. We really don’t know.
      By the way, I love adjectives too. You write very eloquently, adjectives and all.

      • DaveB May 7, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

        I think there is a pretty general level of agreement here. For starters, Roger, I think that my suspicion of established medical/educational practice has served me and my kids well. High expectations are essential for all kids, but that goes double for special ed students.

        As you mention, the issue is the results oriented framework that has narrowed the curriculum, but it also demands that we don’t give up on kids (at least not as easily). Again, the outcomes for a child with low literacy are really pronounced, especially for poor kids who don’t have the social connections to land on their feet. This is a real dilemma, one that an appreciation of difference (in the social theory sense) does not easily resolve. Those kids need the tools to make it, but this logic has probably guided some of the darkest educational decisions (I’ve always wondered about the sustaining rationale for residential schools).

        Unfortunately, very few teachers that I’ve met are wary of psychological diagnoses and labels, so I recognize the importance of aggressively challenging the conventional wisdom. Discussions like this should be held in a broader audience, although I’m not sure pre-service instructors at OISE would agree. Incidentally, this tendency towards ‘institutional behaviour’ and professional conformity is my research interest.

  5. DaveB May 6, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    Please let me apologize for my prolific, abundant, and obstreperous use of adjectives in the preceding post.

    • Marc May 7, 2012 at 6:15 am #

      No problem about the adjectives, Dave. You had something to say and you said it with vitality and passion. My first thought is, Touche! You presented the other side of the argument beautifully, and you made my account seem hopelessly abstract or “experience-distant” — that is, without relevance to real people with real problems.

      My second thought is: Wait a minute, are the kids you describe really typical of a particular “type”…or are they a group that fell together out of the worst possible combination of types of problems, including both unfortunate heredity and harsh or abusive (or excessively lax) environments? We know from Steven Suomi (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFACM5gcJYY) that particular interactions between genetics and parenting can be pretty deadly. Aggression/defiance sounds like a losing combination in almost any social order, as you suggest. But we can’t say that of the general syndrome of ADHD, nor of addiction-proneness.

      My third thought is: even if what you say makes sense (and it does), I don’t think it argues against my main point. You are talking about a poor fit between an emotional/behavioural syndrome and a particular society (albeit ours). It’s possible that a few highly aggressive, defiant individuals might have made good watch-dogs, or perhaps likely members of the alpha male’s personal militia, if not the alpha male himself, either in early human or ape societies. But I’ll qualify that by saying, if the characteristics are so rotten that the individual is roundly rejected by the whole tribe/troup, and/or sent away by the parents and family (this has happened throughout human and pre-human history), then there would be nothing adaptive about it, since the individual simply wouldn’t survive.

      And one more minor thought: the genetic variant I discussed is only moderately correlated to the ADHD outcome/phenotype. There appear to be many roads to Rome. Maybe this mutation corresponds to a mild subset of the range of symptoms associated with ADHD. I’ll try to find out.

      But thanks for a very thoughtful argument.

  6. DaveB May 7, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    Marc, I would agree that ADHD and aggression/definace don’t always go together, but the impulsivity does make for serious social and learning issues. On the issue of GxE, I would refer to Adele Diamond questioning whether ADHD and Executive Function Disorders are the same. The argument is that in some difficult environments (eg. young single mother with no support), a child with a difficult temperament will be so challenging that his needs won’t be met. As a result, the child doesn’t learn that the world is a safe place and is constantly on fight or flight mode, scanning for threats. As a result, they have a harder time engaging in learning and playing tasks, and can’t inhibit their impulses. Again, it’s a gross overgeneralization, but difficult boys with young, single moms who lack support are often overrepresented in behavioural classrooms. So I would agree with your point, Marc, that it’s a mixture of temperament and environment, and that ADHD with aggression/defiance is a difficult mix for an social structure.

    I wonder about the evolutionary trend towards longer plasticity after birth and greater explicit learning of culture. The two seem to reinforce each other (more to learn, more capacity to learn). In this case, the ability to inhibit more would lead to more learning and culture. But cultures can become maladaptive, so perhaps some degree of impulsivity is a good check on the propensity towards slavish adherence to outdated norms.

    • DaveB May 7, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

      Sorry, that is not necessarily Adele Diamond’s argument. I read it somewhere else. I don’t want to misattribute something to her. Whether she agrees with it or not I do not know.

    • Marc May 8, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

      The capacity to inhibit impulses is one of the most crucial cognitive tools I can think of. Any sort of planning or decision making requires us to inhibit, put on hold, one potential plan while weighing the other. Sometimes this has to happen fast. The decision of whether to climb a tree or run like hell has to come quickly when you or your ancestors are chased by something big and mean.

      A neural clue as to the importance of inhibition is the number of areas that subserve it. There are ventral prefrontal regions, lateral prefrontal regions, and dorsal regions like the dorsal ACC, all of which “do” inhibition, but in different ways. Ventral areas do rapid “blind” inhibition, while lateral and dorsal areas inhibit impulses deliberately, even consciously, as alternatives are being weighed.

      So what’s the point of impulsivity? Impulsivity can almost be defined as negative values on the inhibition scale. Dave, you’ve listed many of the negatives, which include learning difficulties and social ostracism. I’d also add addiction-proneness! But impulsivity does have value, as you explore in your last paragraph. For example, the impulsivity that is “normal” in adolescence gets young male apes to leave the home territory. They go off and explore new lands, just like the aboriginal Americans I described. But according to the experts, the main point of that is to pick up chicks — chick-apes, of course. So the guys back then, just like the loud, unpredictable, smelly, motorcycle-riding guys of today, were out hunting for female admiration, which led to mating, which led to procreation. Without that impulsivity, they’d remain at home, within their own troupe, which would lead to passivity (bad for procreation), or else competition with higher-status males within that troupe (deadly for the individual), or else to procreation with blood relatives (i.e., incest…deadly for the genome).

      That’s just one example, and it’s more or less normative. But it suggests how a “negative” trait can easily become a “positive” trait when looked at in a new context or from a new perspective.

      • DaveB May 8, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

        Absolutely. A colleague and I were commenting on a young boy who was unable to stay quiet through his class’ dance lesson: “He never thinks the rules apply to him.” Maybe. It means you have to repeat instructions six times, which is exasperating. But maybe he was the guy who broke with the convention to head south? I guess women dig rebels after all…

        • Marc May 17, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

          P.S. I just read Agassi’s memoir. Fascinating stuff. Here’s a guy who spent his whole professional life (from childhood on) slavishly obeying his father’s dictum: you will play tennis, like it or not, and you will be the best in the world. He could never give up his passive acceptance of that stricture, and so he inhibited his frustration, even his rage, he hated tennis throughout his career, so he says, even as he became the best in the world…in other words, he conformed.

          And yet! He defied authority in all kinds of ways, wearing bizarre clothing on the court, dying his hair pink, while he still had hair, defying the rules as Wimbledon, etc.

          Maybe it’s this precious, highly unique compromise between inhibition and impulsivity that makes us who we are, and that sometimes makes us great.

  7. John Becker May 9, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    A word here caught my attention: neurodiversity. On this subject I recently read a book which I think would be quite interesting to participants in Marc’s blog: Antonetta, Susanne. A Mind Apart: Travels in a Neurodiverse World. New York, Tarcher/Penguin, 2005. Page 136. Here is a a person with “mental health issues,” a poet and scholarly non-fiction writer, rhapsodizing in prose on the richness of neuro-diversity. Why not? If we turn to sociologists and restaurant critics for insights and information about our ethnic diversity, why not learn more about ourselves by listening to a wise bi-polar woman. Even one who feels attacked seeing the word “stimulate” and fights back by repeating “foam” and “cream” until she can go on reading. You can try this at home, I did and found that it helps. A Mind Apart informs but it also inspires; we are all of different minds and our worlds collide; we’re all of a mind apart, just as we are all of an ethnic origin. The author’s eclectic, electric, style is itself informative (say foam three times and breathe slowly). The content is also deeply felt, considered, and well-researched. She interviews an orang-utan who is fluent in sign language, she talks about whales and their music, about the trial of a child murderer in her neighbourhood, she refers constantly to her family, including her cat, and her crazy friends, and the crazy selves in her head; all to the purpose of learning to love being homo sapiens sapiens.
    The best recoveries from addictions might be characterized by when we find a gift in what was formerly a threat.

    • Marc May 17, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

      F…ing poetry, John. I mean you, not Antonetta. I am intrigued enough to buy the book, and I happen to be at an authors’ festival (they even get the apostrophe right) in Sydney, Australia, pitching my own book among 85,000 ! literate Aussies. So I’ll look for that book today.

      Where was I? Sleep deprived for sure. Learning to love homo sapiens sapiens…learning to see a gift in what was formerly a threat. You said it beautifully. I was walking around in an ecstatic daze yesterday, on an extended pier outside the festival building, and I smiled at almost every person I walked by, and every one of them smiled back. One was a tall, gorgeous woman with a perfect figure, ruby red lipstick and heels, carrying a newborn swaddled in blankets. One was a shy, neurotic looking academic, thin and anemic looking with glasses, sitting at the edge of the water surrounded by seagulls. (we’re right on the harbour here) And I talked to a German woman for over an hour about how she might publish her memoir. You have to say what’s unique about your story, I told her. Not just that you quit your job and went travelling in South America, not just that your car and your grandmother died on the same day, not just that you were searching for trust after your boyfriend betrayed you, but what about all of that is uniquely you, different from anybody else, different even from what anybody else could have imagined.

      Maybe that’s what I mean to say in this reply. Viva la difference that lets us see our fundamental core — which is so very universal after all.

      Oh by the way, I tried foam-foam-foam…..it works great! Almost got me back to sleep.

  8. Conor May 15, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    In light of this discussion, I’m very curious about the role(s) addictions vaccines may play in the emergent neurodiversity debate. Very interesting conversation.

    • Marc May 17, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

      Oh my. Another can of worms perhaps! Buponephrine apparently works quite well, but you know what? It’s prescribed in place of methadone because it doesn’t make you feel nice. Seems to me there’s something perverse in that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *