This is the last in a three-part discussion of Jenara Nerenberg’s newly published book, Divergent Mind: Thriving in a World That Wasn’t Designed For You. Nerenberg argues that prevailing views of what is normal often obscure, and frequently pathologize, the way women communicate, interact, and create change in the world. It is an astute look at what it means to be a woman who experiences the world differently. Nerenberg’s insights lend support and encouragement to those who experience both the nuances and complexities of a “divergent” mind.
Defining What is Normal
Something New, the third section of Divergent Mind, stresses the importance of wellbeing, at home and in the workplace, with particular emphasis on the unique challenges of neurodivergent women. Although Nerenberg’s spells out what women with Autism Spectrum Disorder typically face in their intimate relationships and their careers, and what it takes to be successful in both areas, she makes a larger point about what it means to be different and how acceptance of being different is the bedrock of happiness.
Nerenberg argues that the idea of neurodiversity does not require women to eliminate or even change those aspects that society deems unhelpful or negative. Instead, it requires all of us to reconsider the totality of the human experience, particularly our ideas of “disorders.”
Rather than trying to be “normal,” those who support neurodiversity look to how society’s labeling of what is different creates the challenges experienced by many people whose lives do not conform to what is considered normal. As Lisa Quadt, a researcher of neurodiversity and bodily perceptions noted, “I don’t see autism as a disorder at all. It’s a difference in perception, emotion, cognition, and action, but it’s just different, not lesser in any sense.” (p. 131)
This is a theme echoed by many of those in the neurodiverse community and articulated by Nerenberg who states, “Humans come in so many flavors that the categories we’ve defined potentially fall away,” She calls for a concerted effort to apply neurodivergent thinking to people with differences so that “our needs are better understood, accommodated, and most importantly integrated into the fabric of life.” (p. 193)
Acceptance: The Key to Wellbeing
I came away from reading Divergent Mind with an indelible insight — that acceptance of who one is creates the conditions for a life of well-being and success. Nerenberg describes this point of view eloquently, “Perhaps the most important thing I learned from researching and writing this book is the value of acceptance. Acceptance is at the core of what then enables people who feel marginalized to take risks, expand their sense of belonging, apply themselves in work and relationships, and thrive.” (p. 211)
This is not a trite or feel-good idea, intended to smooth over rough edges or sooth one’s unease. It is a way of thinking that once accepted and internalized, creates happiness, comfort and freedom from doubt and fear. Without the oppressive idea of abnormality, neurodivergent women, indeed all people, can be free to appreciate their differences, value their unique gifts, and find their rightful place in the tapestry of human life.
As the great psychologist Dr. Seuss put it, “Be yourself, because the people who mind don’t matter and the people who matter don’t mind.”
Please consider posting your thoughts, reactions, additions, criticisms, etc. to this blog when it is published. I welcome all comments. Thanks to those who followed this series and who have taken the opportunity to respond to it. Your contributions have enlarged my perspectives and enriched my understanding of neurodiversity.