What Is Neurodivergence?

On this blog, I deal with questions and challenges “on writing, neurodivergence, and the creative process.” Lots of folks have heard of the first and third, but fewer have heard of the second.

What Is Neurodivergence_

What Is Neurodivergence?

From “neuro-,” meaning “pertaining to the nervous system,” and “divergence,” meaning “the process or state of things becoming different,” neurodivergence refers to the state of having a brain, nervous system, or both that operates different from the typical. The word neurotypical is often used to describe the “typical” from which one diverges.

Neurodivergence overlaps with, but is broader than, the world of existing diagnoses for neurological or psychological conditions. Autism, ADHD, multiplicity, and schizophrenia are forms of neurodivergence; so are epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis. Acquired or developed neurodivergences exist in the form of traumatic brain injuries, white matter lesions from chronic migraines, dementia, Alzheimer’s, PTSD, and alterations from substance use (legal or otherwise). And there are almost certainly forms of neurodivergence that we can’t see on scans and haven’t created diagnostic criteria for. (Folks with more than one neurodivergence are often called “multiply neurodivergent.”)

Does neurodivergence’s “opposite,” neurotypicality, exist? It’s tough to say. No two human nervous systems are identical, so choosing any one nervous system from the several billion currently existing on the planet and calling that The Neurotypical Brain(TM) would be tough to do, at best.

Neurotypicality does, however, exist as a social and cultural norm, with profound implications for medicine, education, employment, and everyday life. If you were ever taunted on the playground by kids calling you “weird,” “crazy,” “stupid,” “cuckoo,” “spaz,” “retard,” or “messed up,” congratulations: your classmates were telling you that “normal” is a thing and you weren’t it.

Neurodivergence and Creativity

Everyone “knows” there’s a link between neurodivergence and creativity, or innovation, or genius…but no one knows quite what it is, or what fosters it, or why.

My interest in the relationship between neurodivergence and creativity is more practical, because my experience of creativity is more practical. Having ADHD has taught me that a thousand ideas a second are useless if you can’t see even one of them through to its final form.

That’s why, here, I write about the practical side: how to channel various neurodivergences in the directions you want to go in order to get work done.

It’s why I’ve written a three-part series on how I drafted my first novel in 10 months with undiagnosed, untreated ADHD.

It’s why I’m keenly interested in questions of emotional labor, particularly the emotional labor that autistic and other neurodivergent people are pressured to do on a daily basis in the name of keeping neurotypicality firmly rooted in the center of “normal” – and how this burden disproportionately falls on women and on people perceived as women.

It’s why I write a lot – both here and in my published works – about finding and maintaining the sort of inner and outer structures that allow neurodivergent creatives to find their “even keel,” which may or may not look like what the rest of the world calls “mental health” but which allows the individual to manage their life and dial down the distress that can otherwise tank creativity. Lowering the mental and emotional cost of being neurodivergent matters, to our creativity and to our well-being.

It’s why I’m adamant that creatives need to be paid, and not in “exposure.” Creatives of all neurotypes often struggle to pay the bills while still creating, and the fight can be even tougher for neurodivergent creatives, who need to pay the bills and create while also navigating a world that often actively opposes their neurotype…or worse, exploits it.

When exposure is what you’re paid in, it’s also what you die of.

Writing on Neurodivergence: The State of the Conversation

Googling “neurodiversity” nets millions of results, ranging from academic works to badly-spelled anonymous forum posts. Googling “neurodivergence” turns up considerably less work.

The term “neurodivergence” (and its adjective form, “neurodivergent”) was coined by Kassiane Asasumasu to address a problem with the word neurodiversity: namely, that while “neurodiversity” describes groups very well, it doesn’t describe particular individuals within those groups.

A group that has neurodiversity, or a neurodiverse group, will contain at least one person who is neurodivergent, but that person as an individual is not “neurodiverse” (unless they are a multiple system whose members have a variety of neurotypes, which is more common than you’d think!).

And when you Google “neurodiversity,” things get even more fraught, because that word gets used to mean multiple things: a basic biological fact, a subset of the disability rights movement, a way of speaking about neurodivergence that doesn’t put our ideas about neurotypicality on a pedestal, …and so on.

Confused? Nick Walker wrote the seminal piece on the subject, which has been translated into several languages. For an even more 101 version, see my 2016 article at Un-Boxed Brain. Michelle Swan has an excellent piece for those who diverge in directions that psychiatric science hasn’t yet put a label on. And for a short but devastating list of ways in which we build boundaries around the “normal” by pushing the neurodivergent out of it, check out this piece by Gillian Giles.

As part of my research on autism and rhetoric, I’ve been writing about neurodivergence, and the ways we talk about it, for several years. Two of my publicly-available academic articles on it are available:

I’ve also been cited in Melanie Yergeau’s Authoring Autism and Julia Miele Rodas’s Autistic Disturbances, both of which deal with rhetoric and neurodivergence.

Do Shelter Cats Really Find Good Homes? Three Cats Weigh In

I recently received this answer request on Quora:

Are the homes that cats find in shelters really good ones?

In the interest of mitigating my obvious human bias, I asked my three cats this question.

Their answer? Definitely not.

The human who adopted us from the shelter is a total garbage nightmare. Get this: She only gives us canned food twice a day. The rest of the day, we have to survive on kibble. Kibble!

The torture doesn’t stop there. Just this morning, the horrible human brushed us. That wasn’t so bad, but then she also trimmed our nails. How dare she!

Every night, the oldest cat gets wrapped in a towel and given a pill. What is the purpose of this pill?

Trick question: It has no purpose, other than to torment the cat by keeping her alive so that the human can pill her again tomorrow.

You’d think even a human would find other things to do now and then, but no. The agony continues day and night.

For example, we cats aren’t even allowed to run back and forth across the bed at five in the morning! We have to do that in the rest of the house instead!

What is the point of existence if you can’t trample someone in their sleep every night?!

It’s not just the human, either. The local wildlife is in on the cruelty, as well.

For instance, there’s a local squirrel who sits on the fence and stares at the cats. Does this squirrel come inside and get eaten like a good prey animal? Of course it doesn’t! How rude!

And don’t even get us started on the birds. Those feathered jerks sit on the feeder all day long, just on the other side of the glass that separates them from the cat tree (which, by the way, the human vacuums once a week with that awful monster that lives in the closet).

Even our toys are in on the torment. Yesterday, the kitten knocked a stuffed mousie down an air vent, and the mousie didn’t even come back when called.

The audacity!

Worst of all: Once or twice a year, for absolutely no reason at all, the human puts all three cats into boxes and drives us TO THE VET.

And if a cat gets sick? There’s an even bigger chance they’ll have to go TO THE VET.

The human clearly preys upon feline weakness.

“But it can’t be all bad!” I hear you cry. “Surely you get petted every now and then? Treats? Catnip?”

Oh, you sweet summer child.

The human, delighted by feline misery, frequently pets the cats with only one hand. Worse, sometimes the human will do this while using the other hand to cruelly thwart the cat’s attempts to snatch human food off the human’s plate.

What did kitty ever do to deserve this?

Does the human tell us we are good cats and pretty cats? Of course she does. Do we understand English? No, we do not.

As for catnip, let’s just say this: The human hoards it in the backyard and in a little jar in the pantry, and she can’t even get high off it.


Help end feline suffering: donate to the Gracie, Melody and Pippa Toy and Treat Fund.

Christmas Carols Nobody Asked for, Vol. 8: The Christmas Heart Song

(For an explanation of this project and links to previous volumes, see the master list.)

In Volume 6, I complained about how Boomer-era carols have dominated the airwaves for my entire remembered life, the start of which postdates the 1960s by over a decade.

Fortunately, here in The Year of Our Billboard Artists Two Thousand and Ten and Nine, the dominance of the 1940s-1960s era carols is wavering. Pop artists have been unleashing original Christmas tunes in droves over the past several years. None of them have come even close to catching up to Mariah Carey, and many of them are terrible in their own genre-specific ways. But I applaud the effort nonetheless.

To encourage the creation of new popular Christmas songs, I thought I’d contribute to the genre. I imagined myself as a peppy 19 year old, sitting in my dorm room with a laptop and a guitar, convinced at my own ability to become the next pop star by combining instruments in ways that surely have never been done before*, over one of the most well-known chord progressions in pop music.**

The result is poised to be the new “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” In keeping with my irrepressible guitar-toting persona, I named this tune “The Christmas Heart Song.” I fully expect, however, that it will become better known by its most recognizable line, “In Christmas, hot damn.”

The Christmas Heart Song (In Christmas, Hot Damn)

Every heart sang soft tonight,
as another wish came true for me.
Every breath, baby, gave to me
A wonderful life where nothing

Seems to be nice,
With a toy on his beard,
Oh hey Santa,
Bathing suit special,
Reason for my own guitar.

Everyone would have a family,
In Christmas, hot damn, we all share,
Happiness everyone.

In Christmas hot damn,
Happiness everyone,
Throughout the year we have love.

Here is the score (pdf).

Here is the audio file (mp3).

*: It’s been done before.
**: I-V-vi-IV, if you’re wondering.

Christmas Carols Nobody Asked For, Vol. 7: Emily's Christmas Blues

(For an explanation of this nonsense and links to the rest of the volumes, see the Master List.)

The blues have had a decent run in Christmas music, even if they’re not the number-one musical holiday genre. I loved the time I spent as a teen learning to improv over 12-bar blues, so I thought I’d give Botnik the same opportunity.

Lyrics, as always, are produced by Botnik’s predictive-text keyboard and based on a large text file of Christmas carol lyrics. I added the music.

Emily’s Christmas Blues

Blues like fireworks and a pumpkin pie,
Christmas keeps on waiting.
Blues like those that came to us with pudding and a reggae feeling,
That blue Christmas never strays.
Emily, Emily,
Christmas blues they just believe in you.

The score is here [pdf].

The audio file is here [mp3].

Musicians are overworked and underpaid, especially during the winter holidays. You can help by sharing this post or dropping me a tip.

#VerityLTstheBible: Judges and Ruth

Parts 7 and 8 of 66 of a project I started in the summer of 2019: To reread the Bible publicly, evaluating the oft-repeated notion that the text is inerrant, self-contained, and a bearer of clear, self-evident truths.

(Looking for another book of the Bible? Click this link for a master list of threads, sorted by book.)

Judges 1-7: 10 Israel does evil in the eyes of the Lord 20 GOTO 10

Judges 8-12: Gideon does some murder, but it’s the righteous kind. Various other leaders judge Israel, do some murder, and then die (of old age, not smiting).

Judges 13-21: Samson is born, in a story that sounds suspiciously familiar. He does a lot of killing, most of it while dying. The tribes of Israel turn on Benjamin for having botched a reenactment of Genesis 19.

Ruth: Get you a husband who knows his barley harvest.

#VerityLTstheBible is a labor of love, but it’s also a lot of work. Show your support by buying me a coffee or checking out one or more of my books.

Christmas Carols Nobody Asked For, Vol. 5: By Candlelight Swans Three

(For an explanation – of sorts – see Vol. 1. For more nonsense, see Vol. 2, Vol. 3 and Vol. 4.)

Many of our most well-known Christmas carols today originated in the Victorian era. It was an era of soaring vocals, vivid natural imagery, and swooning over “medieval” music, art and stories without actually understanding a single thing about the medieval era.

Anyway, I thought it was time to create a faux-Victorian predictive-text carol.

Lyrics, as always, are by Botnik. I composed the score in Noteflight.

By Candlelight Swans Three

Joy and cheer, that’s a pear
For you I’ll be happy
Memories watching me
By candlelight swans three
Oh, behold their swimming flight!
Hardly down around this night!
Sky shout birds, blazing see!
By candlelight swans three

Here’s the score [pdf].

Here’s the audio file [mp3].

Musicians are overworked and underpaid, especially during the holidays. Help by sharing this post or leaving a tip.

Culture Test: Nirala

In The Planet Construction Kit, Mark Rosenfelder recommends creating a “culture test” for concultures, in order to get a clearer view of what it’s like to be an average member of one’s invented society.

Rosenfelder’s version for the average American was sufficiently instructive (as in “dude, just @ me next time”) to encourage me to create one for the average Niralan.

Per culture test rules, the following describes 90 percent of the species – it’s an overview of what it’s like being Niralan on Nirala. The La’Isshai, who may or may not actually exist, live a dramatically different version of Niralan life; I’ll give them their own culture test in coming months.

In honor of yet another round of edits on the Nahara manuscript, here’s life as an average Niralan.

If You’re Niralan….

  • You’re convinced of the rightness of rule by your elders. They have the experience, after all; not only from their own lives, but from your collective ancestors as well.
  • You value cooperation above all else. You see the role of your elders as maintaining cooperation, by any means necessary.
  • Age is less important than your status among the various major life stages: birth, puberty (amaron), motherhood, eldership, and death. That said, you’d find it odd to meet anyone under the age of 3 (about 12 in Earth years) who could talk or anyone under the age of 26 (about 100 in Earth years) who had a child.
  • Children are seen and not heard, by definition: a “child” cannot talk.
  • Everything is something you can communicate emotions with by touching it (inaya) or that you can’t (ilikpa). The former are “people,” the latter are “things.” (Think of the difference in your approach to “my sister” versus “my hat.”)
  • You speak at least two languages: Niralanes, and the chord-based song-language of the hamaya. Depending on where you live, you may speak up to six Niralan languages; depending on your job, you may speak several offworld languages as well.
  • You think of yourself as your kiiste (family), not as an individual member or part of your kiiste.
  • You think of the kiiste as individual members or parts of Nirala.

In Your Household…

  • You live with your oldest living ancestor and every one of her direct descendants. If her line was a small one, you might live with every one of the direct descendants of a deceased great-grandmother or great-great-grandmother. Households are typically three to twelve people; larger households are preferred.
  • Your house is partly or entirely underground. It has a large central room, probably circular, which is where you spend most of your time and also where you sleep (along with everyone else).
  • You don’t have your own room, but you do have your own cupboard or trunk in which to keep personal items like clothing, books and grooming tools. You don’t collect sentimental objects.
  • You eat at a low table, sitting on a cushion or low stool. Most of your food can be eaten by hand, although it’s typical to use utensils when people who aren’t members of your kiiste are present, so that you avoid touching one another’s food by accident.
  • Your diet is primarily meat-based, though you don’t typically kill your own food. Food comes from protein resequencers or is shipped in from planets with larger animal populations.
  • The toilet is separate from the rest of the house, in its own heated building. Washing is typically done in the main house; many houses have added a separate room to contain the water. Privacy is not a concern, since nudity doesn’t phase you.
  • Relationships across kiiste lines are primarily made on the basis of usefulness, and even the longest-lasting of these doesn’t come before your obligations to your own family.

Socially Speaking….

  • You’ve never been off Nirala.
  • Political and social decisions are made by a council of six Niralan elders, called the senarie. You find this natural and sensible.
  • The senarie also serves as the court system, but hearing any case is a once-in-a-decade event. Most disputes are settled by seniority: the elder disputant wins.
  • Your mother and grandmother took care of your education. They may have worked to acquire advanced materials for your study once you reached the age of amaron.
  • You probably haven’t been sent off-world to university, but you have heard about Niralans who were. These are generally cautionary tales.
  • You work at least one-third of each year in direct public service, without pay, during which your family supports your food and medical needs. The rest of the time may be devoted to activities that support your family, help others or make money, though the latter is looked at somewhat askance.
  • Utilities, transportation, healthcare are all public goods, administered by the senarie. Arrangements may be made for offworlders to provide these, but without offworlders coming into direct contact with Niralans.
  • Nirala has exactly one ambassador. You’ve never met her, nor do you know anyone who has ever met any Niralan ambassador, ever.
  • It has never occurred to you to do any job other than the one your mother and/or grandmother chose for you.

You Spend Your Time….

  • You know Lili Amarones backwards and forwards, even if you otherwise hate reading.
  • You mastered ice skating, sledding and building things out of snow before you could talk.
  • “Games” are cooperative, not competitive. They’re typically based on one or more songs, which you would have learned as a young child. The song might be accompanied by a dance or other form of ritual movement, or it might be a more sedate activity involving strategic manipulation of complex geometric shapes.
  • You don’t remember at what age you began playing games, and there’s no age at which it’s considered unseemly to keep playing, although elders tend to prefer games that allow them to sit.
  • You’re always studying something. Games and relaxation are fun and all, but life is tedious unless you’re learning something new.

Everyone Knows That….

  • Days are 102 hours long (in base-6).
  • Numbers are counted in base-6: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21….
  • There’s no reason to know or care on what day you were born.
  • Texts are written top to bottom and right to left.
  • Niralanes is written and read with reference to a central vertical axis, but only children actually draw this axis to “center” their writing. Adults can write in a straight line without a guide.
  • You can get most things you need to live without money. If you need money, you probably don’t need the thing you’re exchanging it for in order to live.
  • Showing up more than five minutes late to an appointment is not only inexcusable, but a symptom of a serious illness.
  • The length of meetings, appointments, etc. is dictated by the whims of the eldest participant. If participants are closely matched in age and the topic requires significant discussion in order to reach consensus, meetings may last for days or even weeks.
  • Barring mishap, you can reasonably expect to live to about 48 years old (or about 180 in Earth years). 53 years old (about 200 in Earth years) is unusual but not impossible.
  • Viidans can’t be trusted. The Second Empire in particular was unusually cruel, nearly eradicating Niralans entirely.
  • Devori are the least untrustworthy offworlders, even though they aren’t people.
  • Every kiiste has its own quirks. Nahara can’t be trusted, but is great for finding out the answers to questions you can’t ask directly for whatever reason. Nantais can be relied on to take the lead on projects no one else wants to do. Nesenda won’t ever say no to a request, and is in fact a bit of a doormat. And so on.

My first novel, Nantais, introduced Nirala to the world; its upcoming sequel, Nahara, expands on the language and culture. Check them out, or support this and future writing efforts by buying me a coffee.