Understanding Neurodiversity: Pros and Cons of Self-Identification

As we learn more about neuroscience and the best practices for learning and producing, it's becoming increasingly obvious that our systems are too big, cumbersome, and configured to effect substantial changes in a reasonable period of time. This has led to the need for reactionary solutions, but with every solution comes a new problem. One of the most important has been our trust in forcing people to identify themselves in order to receive accommodations. Analyzing the pros and cons of this approach is essential for understanding how to best support neurodivergent individuals.

On the one hand, it is the responsibility of schools and workplaces to ensure that children with learning problems are evaluated and identified, regardless of each student's willingness to remain confidential. On the other hand, forcing people to self-identify can lead to a number of issues. More than 94% of high school students with learning disabilities receive assistance; universities will see that less than 17% will access the same services. In addition, college students who identify themselves often don't show up until it's too late.

Just before exam time, there is a huge influx, when students' grades and mental health have already been severely affected. And misinformation surrounding neurodevelopmental disabilities is so pervasive that people feel more comfortable suffering from stigma than if they are allowed to be accommodated. Later in life, the fear of losing your job means you can't get the help you need, but not getting the accommodations means not being able to do the job as best you can. You can't fully access your skills if you're constantly worried about being “discovered”.

The time has come to modify the systems. But how do we do that without causing chaos to the masses? The answer is simple: we should look for common ground rather than differences. At the university level, the two most common accommodations requested, regardless of the diagnosis, are longer times for tests and a quiet place during tests. These are adaptations that are not only inexpensive (basically, they cost nothing), but can be easily applied in a larger classroom environment, meaning that many students would not need to identify themselves.

Workplaces can do the same by using anonymous surveys to gather information about common difficulties that employees have in work environments. In this way, adaptations are considered a reference point for determining how well the system works, and we begin to rely on the feedback of our divergent thinkers instead of being afraid or making them afraid to tell the truth. Neurodiversity is a recognition that not all brains think or feel the same way, and that these differences are natural variations of the human genome. A group of people is neurodiverse, an individual is not.

It is essential that we understand both sides of this issue in order to create an environment where neurodivergent individuals can thrive without fear or stigma. We must recognize that forcing people to self-identify may not be the best solution for everyone and look for ways to provide accommodations without requiring disclosure.

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