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.