Neurodiversity: In Praise of Dappled Things

I once talked about religion with a man who had spent his life working in factories.  His concept of God was something very much like a celestial quality-control inspector, stamping heaven's seal of approval on all the souls who met specifications as they came off the assembly line, while tossing the rejects into the incinerator.  No tolerance for imperfection, no chance for improvement, no appreciation for difference.

All too often, our society takes the same approach when it plays God with our children.  We are told that our young ones must meet the expectations set forth in developmental checklists, that their behavior must not deviate from the experts' pronouncements on normality, and that their genetic makeup must be socially acceptable.

Every year there are more diagnostic categories branding behavioral and cognitive differences as catastrophic disorders, more drugs and therapies purporting to cure or suppress our children's inconvenient diversity, and more prenatal tests offered to expectant mothers for easy identification and disposal of any child who falls outside the ever-narrowing boundaries of "normal."

Our society has lost its moral center.  It has become so obsessed with efficiency, standardization, and mass marketing that it has forgotten the simple fact that human beings are not consumer products.  We should not act as if we want our children to come shrink-wrapped from the factory and to be indistinguishable from one another.  Our children do not exist to meet society's expectations, but those of their Maker.

The neurodiversity movement seeks to challenge society's prejudices against our most excluded and devalued minorities.

It asserts that neurological differences should not merely be tolerated, but appreciated and celebrated, in much the same way that we acknowledge the beauty and dignity and inherent value of other forms of diversity.  What does a glacier, or a desert, or a mountain, or a waterfall contribute to society?  Why do we need a sunset, or an eagle, or a rainbow?  What can we learn from the lilies of the field, which, as Matthew 6:28 reminds us, do not toil?  What makes a person's life meaningful?  Can we answer any of these questions in the language of industrial efficiency?

The following poem, written by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), describes the author's appreciation of natural differences for their own sake and as a part of God's creation.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things --
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced -- fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.