Review | Neurodiversity

Barb has autism, and Lois is her therapist. Neurodiversity is their story. And it’s great.

Review Neurodiversity

It’s not a word I use often, but I think it’s fitting here. This book is a romp through the authors’ various neurodiverse experiences, both personal and professional. These include autism (this is the main focus of the book), ADHD, anxiety, dyslexia, and being gay.

It doesn’t sound like hilarious subject matter, and at times it was deeply moving, but it is also very funny. Their sense of humour is on display throughout the book. They have a lot of fun with tales of their experiences, anecdotes from therapy, brilliant success stories from Lois’s other clients, and just being generally amusing.

How is this book useful to adoptive parents?

First, a disclaimer. There’s nothing specifically about adoption in the book. But keep reading! Obviously if you or a family member have autism, ADHD, anxiety or dyslexia, there’s something here for you. It covers all these topics with both realism and wit. There’s also a pleasingly political bit about the fight for same-sex marriage legislation in the US.

The focus of the book is Barb’s autism – ‘the really bad kind’ – and the way she has overcome many people’s expectations of her to become a writer and podcaster despite being mute and only able to communicate using one finger to ‘peck’ at the keys of her laptop. She describes herself as ‘disguised as a poor thinker’ – a brilliant description of what it must be like to have her intellect and creativity stuck inside a brain and body that won’t cooperate in a typical manner.

Some days the words won’t come, because she doesn’t think in language.  Some days she bites her own arm until she draws blood. Sometimes she attacks others. But she refuses to let the autism win. It’s inspiring stuff. It’s encouraging to those of us with neurodiverse children. I’d say that it’s worth a few hours of your time to read it. And it’ll make you laugh.

Also, there’s some useful stuff about the therapeutic techniques that have worked for her. Things such as

‘I am not in the penitentiary today because I have a swing in my front yard and I know how to use it.’ 

See? Useful. Practical. Stuff we can work with.

Neurodiversity: what’s it about?

The book’s blurb describes it as follows:

A candid, practical, and defiantly funny guide to embracing neurological differences – from a bitingly witty autistic mute and her dyslexic, ADHD-wired, lesbian therapist.

Shattering the conventional notion of disability, Neurodiversity sheds light on autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit disorders (ADD/ADHD), dyslexia, and other neurological differences as natural human variations with their own challenges and strengths. While backed by brain science, the authors write from personal experience. Speechless (literally) due to severe autism, Barb Rentenbach communicates by typing one letter at a type. (Though “disguised as a poor thinker,” she’s imaginative, dedicated, and exceptionally patient.) Her therapist and friend, Lois Prislovsky, Ph.D., is an educational psychologist whose distinctive traits include dyslexia and ADHD. (She’s also married to a woman, a mom to a teenage son, and enjoys any new challenge – the wackier the better.) In alternating chapters, Barb and Lois share real-life stories, mind-opening insights, and down-to-earth advice to encourage everyone to see beyond labels, treat others with respect, and help each unique person become his or her highest self.

Written with honesty, compassion, and ribald humor, Neurodiversity offers reassurance and practical tips for parents, educators, employers, LGBT families, and anyone who loves someone who is different. Readers will discover:

  • The payoff of presuming competence and listening well (even to non-verbal people).
  • Do’s and don’ts for managing anxiety. (Do facilitate optimism. Don’t overprotect.)
  • Ways to help ADHD children excel, without medication. (Tips: Limit access to video games but don’t make unrealistic restrictions on movement.)
  • …and much more.

“Autism is my prism, not my prison,” Barb Rentenbach declares. A fun take on serious issues, Neurodiversity presents two wonderfully different perspectives on understanding how different brains think and maximizing our collective human potential.

Excerpts

These are some of my favourite parts of the book.

‘The truth is, aggressive outbursts have always been a part of my autism.

The frequency of my aggression has decreased significantly over the years, as I have become able to communicate more efficiently and REGULARLY. I don;t think I can report the severity of the attacks has waned. But to be fair, I bite my own self more than I do others. I find that makes me more popular.’

‘The brain automatically responds to threat. The limbic system can;t discern if danger is physically real. Despite orthodontic differences, a saber-toothed tiger and the cruellest popular girls in school heading your way may elicit the same physiological response. In The Fear Cure, Rankin classifies these as “True” and “False” fears. True fear is triggered when life and limb are threatened, and False fear is in your “imagination”. Both types of fear are bad for your health if sustained, as our bodies are not designed to be frightened often. Chronic reaction to stress is toxic if unrelenting. The good news is that both True and False fears can be beneficial, if you learn how to filter the messages.’

(The authors signpost readers to a lot of other useful and relevant books. I love this.)

For parents:

‘Children need to practice handling stress, fears, deadlines and mistakes. The acceptance of “not always getting it right” is a lesson we need to demonstrate and teach. It promotes brain growth and life-long learners.’

‘Persevere and remember to laugh. Laughter is like cross-fit for the brain. It engages and strengthens multiple regions across the whole brain and promotes flexibility.’

‘Don’t be too permissive. Letting children do whatever they want, whenever they want, does not “take the pressure off”. In fact, too much freedom may cause a child anxiety. Children become fearful and overwhelmed when given too many choices and denied limit setting. Set boundaries. Provide structure and clear, consistent rules so your children may concentrate on learning, growing, and exercising self-control, leaving the responsibilities of mature decision-making to you.’

Summary

Though not adoption-specific, there’s a lot here to encourage those of us parenting neurodiverse children who struggle with living in a neurotypical society and conforming to its rules and expectations. Those of us whose families are a little (or a lot) unconventional will find no condemnation here, just a useful collection of ideas to try, anecdotes to laugh and cry with, and the feeling of having connected with two authors who are immensely relatable and engaging. I recommend it.

The details
Professional Reader

Neurodiversity:: A Humorous and Practical Guide to Living with ADHD, Anxiety, Autism, Dyslexia, The Gays, and Everyone Else
Lois Prislovsky and Barb Rentenbach
Mule & Muse Productions with Sojourn Publishing
£20.33 (Kindle £7.62/FREE on KindleUnlimited) (Audiobook £14.60)
Published 1 June 2017

Disclaimer: I received this book free via NetGalley in return for my honest review.


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