Chances are, you or somebody you know is left-handed. Most people see this as a normal and everyday occurrence. It’s just a fact. Most people are right-handed, but some are left-handed. End of story. Unfortunately, this wasn’t always the case. Up until as early as the mid 1900s, left-handed folks were often forced to only use their right hands. Being left-handed was seen as a sign of a mental disability or even the work of evil spirits. Today, this seems absurd. We know there isn’t anything wrong with being left-handed. In fact, it can actually be an advantage for some athletes. People who are left-handed aren’t broken. They’re just different.
One of the most beautiful things about humanity is that we’re all so different from each other. No two people are exactly alike and everyone has a unique perspective to bring to the table. We call this diversity. Lots of things make people diverse: skin color, gender, culture, being left or right handed. In recent decades, we’ve learned and are beginning to recognize that there’s another difference between humans: our brains.
If you’re reading this, chances are you or somebody you know has been diagnosed with (or is suspected of having) something like ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). To put it simply, these conditions are caused by a person’s brain being physically wired differently than what was once considered “normal.” Many believe that conditions like these are something to be cured or fixed. However, there is a growing movement of people who believe that these brain differences are just another natural difference between humans. We call this neurodiversity.
Neurodiversity is the idea that different brain types are as normal and natural as somebody being left-handed. The word was coined by sociologist, Judy Singer, in the late 90s. It gained popularity in 1998, when journalist and autism rights activist, Harvey Blume, wrote an article about it in the Atlantic. The term was mostly used by autism rights activists like Blume, but has since come to include those with other neurological conditions like ADHD or Dyslexia. Many who have been diagnosed with these conditions will refer to themselves as being neurodivergent.
Often when talking about neurodivergent people, it can be easy to focus on their “deficits” or weaknesses. Our friends on the autism spectrum may struggle with social situations. Folks with ADHD may have trouble paying attention. However, there are a lot of strengths that come with these conditions as well, like the ability to hyperfocus on certain tasks or seeing details in things that others might miss. Supporting these strengths and realizing the value of them can help people with their self-confidence and finding their place in the world. It also makes coping with their weaknesses much easier.
This isn’t to say that we should ignore the struggles of neurodivergent folks. There’s a reason why ASD and ADHD are considered disabilities. However, this says more about the world around us, and how we handle our differences, than it does about the conditions themselves. Folks with ASD and ADHD aren’t going away any time soon. Even when we tried to force people to use their right hands, there were and still are left-handed people.
Today, we don’t force left-handed people to give themselves carpal tunnel using right-handed scissors. Instead, we invented left-handed scissors. Instead of forcing a child with ADHD to sit still, why not make classrooms and lesson plans suited for movement? Instead of assuming somebody who is non-verbal (unable to speak out loud) has nothing to say, why not find another way for them to communicate, like typing it out on an iPad? At Comprehensive Therapy Center, we strive to give these sorts of accommodations. We also recognize and uplift the strengths and talents of the kids we work with. By doing this, we’ve found that they are more confident and are able to reach their goals more easily.
As stated earlier in this article, no two people are exactly the same. Some of us have trouble focusing, and are olympic gold medalists. Some of us have difficulties speaking, and are masters on the piano. Some of us are right-handed and some of us are left-handed. If we work with these differences, combine our strengths and support each other, who knows what the world could accomplish?