Neurodiversity Not So Funny

potatoI started talking when I was three.  My first memory is potato-on-the-spoon relay races in nursery school.  I felt humiliated and appalled at my lack of spoon/potato acumen.

Grown-up humor I remember as being beyond me.  No clue what made people laugh.  Adults felt terrifyingly foreign.  I stuck with kids.  Not that kids felt particularly safe.  They just felt more familiar.

Next door I had my own personal bully.  Mostly it was verbal abuse and a little pushing.  Kevin grew up to be a sensitive poet.  Perhaps I encouraged memories that inspired metaphors for his poet’s inner shame.  Regardless, that house that I grew up in has now been torn down.  Kevin’s house still stands.

My sister once asked me if I felt sad that the house we had grown up in had been replaced.  I looked at her, astonished.  “Sad? I feel relieved.  With the house gone, childhood feels more finished, buried and far away.”

They kept me in nursery school an extra year so my speech would catch up a bit.  Finally, I started kindergarten, but evidently I was still difficult to understand.  For the next few years, I would be taken out of class each week for “speech,” where I practiced my Sammy snakes and other rare and evidently difficult to pronounce creatures of the wild.

All my childhood, while in story, story felt real.  When someone told me something that sounded true but was not true, I could not tell the difference.  Gullible was how I was described.  Kids took delight in searching for the boundaries of what I would believe.  Like little scientists, they probed that envelope, seeking to stay just within the line of what Andy could tolerate as real.  Clearly, my contemporaries enjoyed relating to me in this fashion.

I matured slowly.  In the junior high locker room after gym class, I would note no hair where hair sprung, then hung, on the bodies of boys around me.  Felt like I was losing the potato-on-the-spoon race yet again.

At the age of 16, I was sent to a speech therapist, a legless ballerina.  Mrs. Blinstrub told me the story that she’d lost them in a car accident while starting a career in ballet.  I was speechless.

With time, I discovered that Mrs. Blinstrub was a Rogerian psychotherapist, not another speech therapist.  The occasional question suggested she thought I’d been traumatized in a past that had been buried.  Sixteen years of therapy later (two therapists and many moves), answers to her questions would emerge.

Last night, I dreamt of the world coming to an end, and I was unable to communicate to the members of my family the importance that they follow me to safety.  I awoke nauseated.  This writing is punctuated by bowl-embracing visits to the bathroom.  No insights this morning.  I’m going back to bed.

OK.  I’m back from bed and feeling better.  Nothing tastes more like childhood than bile.

Here’s my point.  Clearly, I grew up delayed in maturation.  Four generations of my family were seeded liberally with left-handers and the ambidextrous.  That kind of delay is often a feature of the left-handed.

I have several friends with Asperger’s (mild autism) or at least left-spectrum temperaments.  I had family members with such signs.  The point is I felt and feel comfortable in this world where story and reality are confused, communication is a struggle and the motivations of others are a mystery.

At the same time, I was traumatized as an infant, resulting in a number of personality characteristics that signaled an unnatural progression of developmental stages.

In many ways, genetic maturational delay and developmental delay induced by trauma look and behave similarly.  In my own history, I have trouble separating where the two have been engaged in a lifelong conversation I’m only beginning to understand.  For example, many left-handers are left-handed as a result of early brain trauma that forced a switch in hemispheres, simulating features of naturally maturation-delayed, genetic left-handers.  Emotional trauma produces gaps in development.  Autism produces two groups with different etiological origins.  One group is naturally slow, sometimes encouraged by environmental changes to slow even more.  In the other group, an environmental impact forced development to go awry, often unrelated to genetic based maturational rates and timing.

Traumatize a society and a similar thing occurs.  Naomi Klein goes into detail with her book, Shock Doctrine.  Severely abused humans and societies regress.

There are benefits to growing slowly.  You become sensitized to the journey.  Even walking the seemingly arbitrary potato-on-spoon path holds hidden promise.

Proceed to author’s FREE book download on this subject (The book is called Evolution, Autism and Social Change). 10 minute introductory video here.

on 09/21/09 in Language | 2 Comments | Read More

Comments (2)


  1. Heresiarch says:

    You’re not the first to find correlations between a person’s spacetime coordinates at birth and the person’s subsequent temperamental predilections. That’s astrology in a nutshell.

    I have scoped out your project, somewhat, and am appreciative. I have no direct connection to autism (aside from claiming it when I need to excuse a social gaff), but it’s a topic that comes up often. My wife is a former public school special-ed teacher, and she continues to teach at a religious school. She has worked with kids who bring all kinds of temperaments to class.

    As we compare notes about the people in our lives, we’ve noticed for some time that there is an uninterrupted spectrum from statistical social normalcy to extreme autistic reclusiveness. There are no clear demarcations, but a gaydar-like perceptiveness can pick up subtle vibes when people are slightly off. (We’ve not talked much, as I think about it, about the other end of the spectrum. That path I guess culminates in its own social extreme of chronic in-your-face gregariousness and a space-invading compulsion to touch. Evidently, those people travel in their own circles.).

    Maybe autism is a label for a particular clumping of tendencies within the broader sweep of the pandemic of psychological syndromes and disorders. No doubt the pharmaceutical industry plays a role in the coining of new mental and behavioral maladies, but on the face of it there seems to be an explosion of neurodiversity in the current generation of children. OCD, ADHD, bipolar, autism/Aspergers (how about peanut allergies?) and other clumps significantly shape the psychographic profile of this generation. Maybe these tendencies were always present in the population at their current levels, but, for sociocultural or medical-diagnostic reasons, did not attain much visibility. Now, there are no secrets.

    You position autism as the, or an, evolutionary avant-garde. I’m not sure it stands out from the pack so conspicuously. The whole gamut of neurodiversities might represent the leading edge.

    You promote accommodation rather than invasive therapy when it comes to autism/Asperger, and I suppose the same consideration should be extended to the whole gamut (Down with Neurophopes!). In practical terms, I can’t fathom how the gamut is to be accommodated. We, or the next generation, might observe whether the current explosion of neurodiversity is adaptive (timely) or maladaptive (premature).

    Or, moving from the practical to the theoretical, have you considered the postmodern neurodiversity explosion as a psychological version of the Cambrian explosion of biodiversity? All kinds of critters arrived suddenly on the scene about 530 million years ago, giving natural selection a trove of resource material to work with. Needless to say, countless of the new species remained extant only briefly. The fittest begat phyla still with us.

    This is probably redundant with material you’ve posted, but it might be that evolution will cull most of the new neurological phenotypes, and, though all might have neotenous roots, natural selection will favor relatively few, and those few will set the stage for a shift in humankind’s evolutionary trajectory. See, Founder Effect:

  2. Andrew Lehman says:

    This link to an article about estogen being 450 million years old, predating testoterone,, suggests that the precambrian explosion may have had something to do with their being few steroids to inhibit the directions that evolution takes.

    With the reemergence of estrogen as a player, neoteny allowing the exercise of estrogen inclinations, perhaps we’ll see the kind of explosion of possibility your are suggesting.

    Just found your piece at Thank you!


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