Neurodiversity and Explanatory Style: Laughter never hurts

I've been thinking a lot this week on neurodiversity, the autistic community and all the hostility and misrepresentation of what neurodiversity is from people who want a cure now, dammit, for all that ails them and their kids. Here's one thing that never fails to amaze me: those who want a cure right now, who want to wash that autism right on out of their hair, argue that autism is an add on, something perpetrated on their kids, and mostly on them the parents. So, to them, autism is not their kid. Their kid exists separate, perhaps within the bubble of autism. And yet, absolutely anything wrong with their child is the autism. Does that make sense?

One autistic adult writes a blog where the tagline is "We don't need no stinkin' neurodiversity here." Now, most who know this blogger know that he appears to be deeply unhappy with himself and his life. Everything bad is the autism.  So, neurodiversity is antithetical to what he's selling: deep unhappiness with himself and the world. No autism, and apparently the world would be good. Autism and depression, autism and a "ruined" life do not go hand in hand. They may, but we know that a rather siginficant proportion of non-autistic people are going to have "ruined" lives and depression. You don't need any disadvantages to screw up your life or view it through the lense of having no value. You would, however, need a pessimistic explanatory style.

I think that the division between those who would accept themselves as valuable while working to be the best they can and to live good lives of subjective value and worth (the neurodiverse) are those whose explanatory style (attribution style) is significantly different from those who reject themselves and their lives as being of no value (anti-ND). I think that if one were to run a study, both on parents of autistic and other disabled/differently abled children and one on autistic adults, you'd find a skew that those who are neurodiverse are adaptive copers who have optimistic explanatory styles, have higher agreeableness, higher openness, and higher conscientiousness personality traits, and that subjective well-being scores would be higher, as well. This is a variant on my master's thesis that looked at chronic pain and these factors, among others. It  seems a reasonable hypothesis and perhaps someday, it can be run, so it can move beyond an untested hypothesis to a tested one. Well, there's the next degree after the nursing one is done. :-)

Why would knowing this matter? It turns out that you can do some things through cognitive behavioral therapy to alter that explanatory style. The person in question would want to change things, want to see the world differently, and yes, often those who have that pessimistic style do not want to. Here's the thing, though, maybe what can be done for the adults who don't want to change is limited, but explanatory style is not entirely innate. It is taught, it is reinforced, and therefore it is not an absolute that a child who starts off with a pessimistic explanatory style need keep it. The adults in his or her life, as well as the peers, are key in forming this style.

You can, as a parent, decide to make the world a better place for your child by teaching your child to not globalize one instance onto his or her entire existence. Failure in one area does not mean failure in all areas.

You can reinforce that failure in one area is not failure forever. It is an isolated event.

You can reinforce that failure is not the child's fault when it's not and that if it is the result of an error, that this can be fixed.

You can teach your child and yourself that the hassles we face in our daily life do not have to determine how we feel about ourselves or how our day went.  If you teach them that hassles are no biggies, they happen and pass, and the hassles don't get to decide to ruin our day, then the child and you are much more likely to let that hassle pass without a huge negative impact on mood. Teach your child resiliency. Teach them to bounce back. Teach them to laugh at their mistakes while working to correct them, to laugh at the hassles that put us in less than our best position. Teach them that every moment is a learning moment and that laughter changes the world.


Clay said...

There was a patient I'd spent years with, 8 hrs a day, everyday. Born in 1943, he'd been originally Dx'd as having cerebral palsy. He did have seizures, but so small you'd have to look closely to notice; he'd just go blank and unresponsive for short periods. He didn't speak, wouldn't look at his parents, and was sent off to Willoughby. He stayed there until he started to speak at age 7. Meanwhile, his parents had other children.

I've seen pictures of him as a teenager, standing next to his parents, already larger than his mother at 15. Soon after, his father died, and his "Lace-curtain Irish" mother feared that she wouldn't be able to handle him. She was of a diminutive stature, in at least two ways.

I've never seen him walk, that ability was taken away from him long ago, the long scars on the back of this thighs attest that he had been effectively hamstrung. I think it was tendons that were cut, and not nerves, as he had normal sensation of touch throughout his legs.

Though "right-handed", he was unable to use it. Apparently many bones had been broken, and his hand was locked into a tight fist. I'll leave it to your imagination to divine what purpose that mutilation was to serve.

I suspect there was one more such mutilation, but have no proof, as it was something that I just never saw. If he had one, it was an "innie". It wouldn't have been appropriate for me to go poking and prodding to see if it existed, so I just don't know, and I don't want to strain anyone's credulity about just how far a mother will go to impose her will, her needs, her sense of propriety on her own child.

The thing is, it isn't necessary to resort to surgery or cruelty to effectively "hamstring" a child, it can be accomplished mentally through a constant barrage of "hopelessness indoctrination". I'm afraid our friend will remain "deeply unhappy with himself and his life", because it was the first lesson taught him, and it seemed to be verified through his own experiences. I'm not sure which one is the worse off, my former patient, or him.

kathleen said...

kick ass kumbaya woman! There is so much we CAN do.. sadly, so much many WON'T do..We all have choices.making the correct one isn't as hard as many think..

Corina Becker said...

It's amazing what you can do when no one tells you that you can't do it.

lurker said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
KWombles said...

Clay, thank you for sharing your experiences. It means a lot.

Kathleen, Corina, absolutely.

KWombles said...


I'm going to admit to a fair amount of pleasure in deleting your comment. When you'd like to get a clue and apply it, you're welcome to comment. Until then any such bullshit as you wrote here will promptly and happily be deleted.

Chromesthesia said...

That's what I like about neurodiversity in the first place.
What good does it do to pine for a normality that doesn't really exist when people can embrace and respect themselves and each other for what and who they are?
Sounds better to me than the alternative...

Louise said...

I think a study would also find that neurodiverse parents of autistic kids may well have grown up being "different" themselves, and therefore have a good understanding of what it's like to be an outsider. And not all outsiders are unhappy! Some like being different, despite the hard knocks and tough times. Some feel there is no such thing as "normal." This type of person can have a totally different worldview from that of someone who expected their life or their child's life to be charmed.

davidbrown said...

I have never felt a strong desire to change myself, but have made a lot of pessimistic generalizations. In elementary school, I took it as a given that most people, if they paid attention to me at all, would intentionally abuse me. In jr. high and high school, I was ready to believe that if someone did something that caused me stress, it was probably on purpose. And I still tend to find it surprising and possibly non-repeatable when someone is kind to me.
To Clay: Your story sounds very much like the "Lupron protocol".
Finally, on a lighter note, here's a joke I came up with a while ago for an unwritten story about WWI tanks: "Sus-us-uspension-n? We-e do-on't nee-ee-eed no sti-inkin' suspens-sion."

KWombles said...

Louise, that'd be a good research question and one I'd expect to see replicated based on what scientists have found about the broad autism phenotype in family members of autistic individuals.


It sounds so much better than self-loathing, that's for certain!


I hope you'll find more kindness and certainly more repeat kindness. :-)

Love the joke!