Neurodivergence: An Evolutionary Advantage?

Okay, by now you’ve probably noticed that I spend a lot of time on how society deals with neurodivergence. And, you’ve probably also noticed that most of it hasn’t exactly been complimentary. I mean, I’ve talked about my fucked up childhood, my struggles with society’s bullshit rules, or the fucktards who work overtime coming up with ridiculous “causes” for neurodivergence. But, here’s the thing: ADHD and ASD aren’t nearly as awful as society makes out. Neurodivergent people like my son and I lead full, healthy, and happy lives. Hell, there’s even research that says neurodivergence may be an evolutionary advantage. And, that’s what I’m talking about today.

First, the Research

In an article for the AMA Journal of Ethics, titled “The Myth of the Normal Brain: Embracing Neurodiversity“, Thomas Armstrong writes about “the emergence over the past two decades of studies suggesting that many disorders of the brain or mind bring with them strengths as well as weaknesses.” These studies, bolstering the concept of neurodiversity, point out the different areas where people with things like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, etc. excel. Autistics have strong pattern recognition skills. People with ADHD are great creative thinkers. Dyslexics, meanwhile, have visual-spatial abilities that allow them to understand things like those weird-ass M. C. Escher figures. Dr. Temple Grandin summed up neurodivergent abilities best, saying “Some guy with high-functioning Asperger’s developed the first stone spear; it wasn’t developed by the social ones yakking around the campfire.”

Ways Neurodivergence Is an Evolutionary Advantage

So, let’s take a few minutes to look at how neurodivergence may be an evolutionary advantage. And, how society ignores that advantage and tries to force neurodivergent people into some bullshit cookie-cutter mold so we don’t make the neurotypicals uncomfortable. For example:

  • In the article, Armstrong writes, “the three-dimensional thinking seen in some people with dyslexia may have been highly adaptive in preliterate cultures for designing tools, plotting out hunting routes, and constructing shelters, and would not have been regarded as a barrier to learning.” And, let’s be honest here, that “barrier” only exists because of the way we force people to learn.
  • Writing about ADHD, he says, “The key symptoms of ADHD, including hyperactivity, distractibility, and impulsivity, would have been adaptive traits in hunting and gathering societies in which people who were peripatetic in their search for food, quick in their response to environmental stimuli, and deft in moving toward or away from potential prey would have thrived.” And, how do we deal with these traits? Suppress them with behavioral modification and medication.
  • When it comes to autism, Armstrong says, “The systemizing abilities of individuals with autism spectrum disorder might have been highly adaptive for the survival of prehistoric humans.” Yet again, society’s way of dealing with this is to suppress it. Often, with therapies that can be abusive.

If It’s an Evolutionary Advantage, Why Doesn’t Society Embrace Neurodivergence?

Basically, neurodivergent people are scary. I mean, we’re different and people, being the tribal fucking assholes that they are, do not like “different”. It terrifies them and their reaction to something that frightens them on that level is “KILL IT! KILL IT WITH FIRE!” If you think about it, we’re not that far removed from literally killing people who are different, sometimes with actual fire (can you say “witch trials”, boys and girls?”). And even after society stopped killing those of us who dared to be different, they locked us away so they didn’t have to deal with us. Eventually, they stopped tossing neurodivergent kids into fucking dungeons and decided to fuck with our heads in an effort to make us “normal”.

What Are the Takeaways, Here?

Okay, I’ll be honest here and admit that this post is as much me geeking out over new, super-cool information as it is telling y’all about how neurodivergence is beneficial. But, there are some takeaways from all this. First, there’s the concept that neurodivergence isn’t a disorder or a disease, it’s a difference. Or that, contrary to popular belief, different does not equal bad. But, the main takeaway should be that if you or your kid turns out to be neurodivergent, it is far from a bad thing.