why i’d follow neurodiversity on tour, if like that were a thing

If you’ve been around here for a while then you know about my celebrity crush. No, not George Clooney, my OTHER celebrity crush, Barb Rentenbach.

Barb is a nonspeaking autistic woman who, for lack of a more delicate phrase, kicks ass. Along with her therapist extraordinaire, Lois Prislovsky, Barb is an author, producer, and co-host of a radio show. Yes, really. Because with a little thought and creativity (and, in this case, the money to emply a voice for hire), pretty much nothing is impossible.

Anyway, Barb and Lois reached out to me a couple of weeks ago with a request. Since there’s pretty much nothing I wouldn’t do for them, I was glad to find that it was quite reasonable. To celebrate the launch of their latest book, Neurodiversity: A Humorous and Practical Guide to Living with ADHD, Anxiety, Autism, Dyslexia, The Gays and Everyone Else, Lois and Barb were asking some friends to tell them in one minute or less what we think are the benefits of neurodiversity.

First of all, it usually takes me about a minute just to say, “Hi, I’m Jess.” Secondly, I’m pretty sure I could talk about the benefits of honoring neurodiversity for days on end, so the only tough part of this was going to be the search for brevity. But no matter, I was in.

I made the call, awkwardly recorded my piece, and went on my merry way, pretty much forgetting about the whole thing because, let’s be honest, my brain is pretty much functioning on triage these days – if it ain’t bleeding, it aint’ staying put.

But then I got a note from Lois and Barb containing the presentation they’d made highlighting a few of the responses they’d gotten. And well, I’m sure that I don’t have to tell you that I was kind of a hot mess after watching it. Sooo, if you’ve got just a couple of minutes to spare, my friends, I humbly invite you to spend them with Lois, Barb, Temple, Jane, and me.

Because it’s about time that we made room for all kinds of beautiful minds.

Transcript

Lois:

What is Neurodiversity? Well Barb Rentenbach and I just wrote a book about it so we have some thoughts on the matter.

Our company is called Mule and Muse Productions – and we are NOT normal.

Barb will not be speaking in this video because she is a non-verbal autistic and this is YouTube not Lourdes.

Barb will share her thoughts on Neurodiversity at the close of this video by using excerpts from the audiobook version where her typed words are read ALOUD by voice actor Chad Dougatz whose neurodivergence helps him excel at SMOOOOOTH talking.

Neurodiversity is the fact that neurological differences like Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, etc. are natural human variations that have real benefits. Diversity brings strength and resiliency to all systems – eco, cognitive, biological, political, cultural, and educational systems.

Barb and I know from personal and clinical experience that understanding more about how different people think and why empowers us all to lean into our strengths which helps us all better utilize different brain styles to reduce underemployment, isolation and shame AND maximize our collective potential. *Plus – its fun (More the merrier!)

Our plan is as Barb types, “to make the benefits of Neurodiversity as common as juice stains in minivans!”

But here is the thing – we wrote this book a little differently. There is a shocker!

Warning = This book is Zany and NOT PC

Because Barb does not speak but types one letter at a time. Her last book took her 10 years to peck out…this one took about 4 years. (Yea, a dramatic increase in speed – so we are going to have her drug tested.)

Of course some of that slowness is because her co-writer has a dyslexic and ADHD brain style. I don’t think my gayness (my wife diagnosed me with that) slowed us down a bit.

Although listing “The Gays” in the subtitle of this book, it did get us…kicked out of several libraries and organizations who happily promoted our last book which did not mention “The Gays”. We chose that irreverent, old timey slang “The Gays” – not to offend the LGBT community (or G, BLT community if you are a hungry, fast talking easily distracted dyslexic trying to remember what to say on camera..)

We used the term “The Gays” to introduce a different TONE – more playful tone in discussing these differences.

Its driving our fancy NY City publicists CRAZY! She said “The Gays” WHO says that? it sounds like some bigoted older person – PRECIECLY! That is our point.

You see, In 1974 the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – the diagnostic bible for us psychologist and psychiatrists had homosexuality listed as a mental illness –and insurance agencies paid for REPAIRATIVE THERAPY. (Personally, I refused to have the straighten out therapy done because I did not want to start sucking at tennis and I LOVE comfortable shoes — and Jody Foster!)

It sounds ludicrous now to call homosexuality a PATHOLOGY. What changed? Major Scientific Break through? NOPE. “The Gays” kicked up a fuss.

We tried to make a funny book about serious topics to encourage people who would not normally read books written by Ph.D. types. The more of us who join the discussion – the more we disarm defensiveness, pity and “less than” perceptions and you – are – a pathology thinking.

Human excellence comes in all packages so we invite you to be yourself.

You are the most significant resource in being successful with your neurodivergence. Focus on your gifts – what we focus on grows. Spend more time developing areas were you excel.

As Barb types, “When enough of us embrace our purpose and being part of the solution – eventually justice prevails and discrimination bails.

We hope you enjoy these thoughts on Neurodiversity.

Temple:

Hi, this is Temple Grandin calling. I’m at the Denver airport. You asked me to make a comment about neurodiversity. You can use this comment. The world needs all kinds of minds and that’s why neurodiversity is important.

Jane:

This is Jane from the U.K.

My son Matt, who is a great thinker cleverly disguised in the body of the poor thinker, whilst he is easily overstimulated, the flip side of this hypersensorial state gives him the gift of being able to glance a page of text, process it, and comprehend it in a matter of seconds.

As I tell him frequently, how I would love that ability. His highly empathetic state means that he can sniff out out any hint of insincerity, no matter how well disguised. He knows if people truly believe in him. Those that do are rewarded with sharing a love of learning.

His current passion is political history, and this summer we have been studying Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, and the cold war. We have looked at his learning styles and a strong preference for listing to audio books and the like has emerged.

I love neurodiversity and Lois and Barb’s work celebrates and advocates for all. It is thought provoking, very funny, and refreshingly honest – no insincerity here.

Wishing you all the best to the launch with our love and best wishes Jane and Matt.

 

Jess:

So why am I neurodiversity’s greatest fan? How long do I have? A minute? Oh, jeez, we’d better get started.

Okay, so here’s the deal … when we stop insisting that there’s some gold standard way to think and experience and interact with the world, we free ourselves and our children from the constraints of conformity. And that’s huge, because while those constraints might be mildly uncomfortable for some, for others they are quite literally suffocating.

By embracing neurodiversity and respecting those whose neurology (or heck, anything fundamental about them, really) differs from the so-called norm, we not only provide access to them, but in so doing we RECEIVE access to their ideas and their innovation and their creativity and their passion. We get perspectives that are brilliantly different from our own.

People love to lament the so-called restricted interests of autistics, but God, do you know how much you learn about a single subject when that single subject is the only thing to which you devote your time for YEARS?

It’s really an incredible thing. While NTs are so often an inch deep and a mile wide in our knowledge of the world, some of our autistic friends are digging their hands deep into the fertile soil of a subject that sometimes no one else even noticed was worthy of pursuit. And yet, rather than celebrate and harness that incredible vehicle for individual expertise in a particular subject area, we pathologize it as yet another symptom of the condition.

But when we stop viewing people as sets of behaviors and rather as multi-faceted, three-dimensional human beings, we begin to make space for one another. And when we welcome everyone to the proverbial table, we allow for growth and evolution, both personally and communally.

And we create so many opportunities – so many different roads to success for EVERYONE!

When we stop insisting that our fellow humans meet some arbitrary set of requirements in order to be considered competent, we start TRULY presuming every human being worthy of whatever accommodations they may need to learn, to grow, to evolve, to reach their full potential.

When we truly embrace neurodiversity, no one gets left behind. Everyone is seen and supported and thus able to contribute in their own way, in their own language, using their own unique and beautiful operating systems.

So, yeah, that. That’s why I’d follow neurodiversity on tour if like, that were a thing. So there ya have it, friends, and I don’t want to brag here, but I think I might even have a few seconds left on the clock so I’m going to use them to wish my dears Barb and Lois nothing but the best with the new book. Keep setting hearts and minds afire, ladies.

Barb:

I have a lot of fears. I have a lot of stuff: Autism, Echolalia, Cellulite, Psoriasis, Good Hair (What? Folk should know), Ataxia, Apraxia, One-eyed-cave fish quality vision, and Purpose. That last one is key and I think is the Golden mean. When you remember your purpose, you are able to use your stuff to know and do, like the old joke, “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit: wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”

I leave autism on a work visa to know more of the grand design. I learned while struggling to peck out my last book that I am no longer content to spend my life conically in my autism, as symmetrically beautiful as it may be. I climb this inverted mountain not because it is there but because you are there and I reach out to know you and you me.

Although my mind has never been very popular, I intend to have the popular mind know our autistic perception – a world of detail that reveals the grand design. Autism is our prism, not our prison.

The danger in absorbing this book is that you may see everything differently. (Most see me as smarter and thinner already.) You risk the loss of your comfortable position, as noticing the tartan pattern of the universe, illuminates our undeniable clan connection.

My thoughts on differences are clear:

It is in our best interest to remember that we are all the same. People are flecks of God. Each God fragment dispersed through space/time has a slightly different shape. One shape is not superior to another. All are necessary to complete the perfect, infinite, God puzzle. To be proud that one “tolerates” diversity is ludicrous. The whole system is the sum of its parts. Be your part. Connect with other parts and the God puzzle is revealed.

11 thoughts on “why i’d follow neurodiversity on tour, if like that were a thing

  1. Considering the fact that today, I had come across an anti-vax parent who unfortunately was the president of a local autism organization and was unwilling to listen to me because I was a “high-functioning teenager who had no idea what ‘real’ autism is–” right after I told him that I do not believe in functioning labels and that there are nonverbal people who communicate through typing and other means and advocate for themselves– reading this again is more than refreshing. Reading through this said president’s Facebook page was even more disheartening than hearing him completely dismiss the whole autistic personhood of his own adult son and I by saying that “mercury poisoning” made us autistic and that we are all “vaccine-damaged” and “broken.”

    I was considering trying to fight my way into a leadership position in this organization, but now I am strongly considering against doing so. I sincerely hope that this president does not talk to his autistic son the same way he talked to me.

    We need more parents like you, Jess. We really, really do. This was my first time tussling with an anti-vax parent offline, and I can’t even explain how shocked and disgusted it made me.

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