Julie's Reviews > Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Brain Differences

Neurodiversity by Thomas Armstrong
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's review
Dec 30, 10

bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in December, 2010

I really liked most of the book, it has a good perspective and is very informative on some topics, but near the end he started to get a little extreme especially with his educational philosophies. He reviews several common mental states/conditions (including ADHD, dyslexia, depression, autism...) and discusses the typical strengths associated with each as well as the weaknesses. While it's true that many mental "conditions" can better be viewed as alternate ways of thinking rather than "disorders" or "deficiencies", that doesn't mean that there's suddenly a great moral good in refusing to make any distinction at all.

One of my mother's favorite sayings was "Normal is just the average of all the crazies" and she actually worked as an RN in a mental health facility. This author agrees, and so do I.

He taught special education for 5 years or so before leaving the field in frustration, so he knows a lot more than I do about education, and though I agree that the current system could use a lot of help I have to disagree with him on one point: he advocates teaching all students including the blind, deaf, nonverbal, gifted, "unlabled" and those with any other challenges including severe intellectual disabilities and emotional disturbances in a single classroom. Though I agree with many of his arguments, I doubt any teacher or even multiple teachers could actually effectively work in such a situation. (Though if it were possible or practical to make a classroom as "enriched" as he suggests without investing millions of dollars it might be possible to do with a team of teachers.) I also don't think in most cases you'd be doing the children a favor even if you could manage it, though he's probably correct that all learners would do better with an "enriched classroom".

One example: I've read a bit about deafness, and how many deaf children in the past suffered from permanent mental impairment because they weren't able to acquire language at a young age while their brains were still in a formative state. In some cases this was because the families wanted them to be "mainstreamed" and so tried to emphasize vocal speech and lipreading but the child never got fluent enough to truly learn a language, and sometimes the parents tried to teach some kind of sign or communicate in other ways but weren't entirely successful. Though there is currently a huge negative stigma associated with "institutionalizing" children with "disabilities", in many cases children who attended a school or boarding school for the deaf were much happier and more successful. To me, this makes sense. These children have the opportunity to be surrounded by people with whom they can communicate easily and directly, and have much in common with. Though those in a truly "inclusive classroom" may have some small chance of becoming so used to differences that they view something like deafness with tolerance, children in a good school for the deaf develop a strong and positive feeling of belonging and membership in the Deaf community, which remains meaningful later in life and they generally develop much stronger language and academic skills since communication by nature is clearer in an environment where everyone is fluent in compatible languages. Obviously in an ideal situation they would also have experience with the "mainstream", the family would learn sign, and they would have access to interpreters when needed, but severe harm has been done to many children by those who wanted to "mainstream" them at all costs. I believe all children are better served by personal evaluation of their situations and possible educational environments than by blind adherence to any on-size-fits-all educational solution, no matter how idealic. This especially applies to something like this "inclusive classroom", since though the concept seems great I would be greatly surprised if it was successfully implemented in real life, except possibly in an well-funded experimental situation.
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Stacy I love your Mom's comment - I hope she won't mind if I borrow it the next time someone uses the word "normal" to me!

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