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Learning from "From the Inside":
A Neurodiverse World

Paul Grobstein
August 2009

Excerpts from and comments on A Mind Apart: Travels in a Neurodiverse World by Susanne Antonetta (Tarcher/Penguin, 2007)

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"I am asked, What is this book?  ... I have manic-depressive disorder ... Of the people I'm closest to ... one has the forum of autism known as Asperger's syndrome.  One has multiple personalities ... My husband, Bruce, reads this and says , Tell them its a bipolar book.  Hey, out there.  Its a bipolar book.  Though I, too, have to ask him what that means.  He says, alinear, associational: I always have many things happening in my mind at once."

Yep, she does.  And yep, the book is "alinear, associational."  And yep, the book is about Susanne Antonetta and her friends, but its about much more than that.  Its also about, among other things, whales, and Neanderthals, and children, and ADHD, and a teenager who killed a little boy.  And about how minds/brains work.  Most of all, its about Susanne Antonetta's fascination with

"the lusciousness of others' minds, moving around us, with us, all the time, like a gallery of veiled art." 

Its a celebration of the diversity of minds/brains, those of both humans and non-humans, and, bravely and importantly, of the richness of Susanne's own mind/brain.  

"When I first came across the concept of neurodiversity, I felt a thrill of recognition: I found the term in a quote from autistic Temple Grandin, used to mean people hardwired to think differently from the norm ...  In a recent back issue of the Atlantic, I found an article titled "Neurodiversity"

"Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general"

I first began tracking what felt to me like the difference of my own thoughts around the age of eleven.  At the time, as I recorded my conscious experiences, I did so with shame and terror.  Therefore my astonishment at the world I've grown into .... It is a brave new world ... It's a world that offers enough wonder, in itself and in the discussions it creates - of gifts and challenges, of all that comes with neurodiversity, to make me want to sit down with it, and consider it from as many places as possible ... I write for myself and for those who do find a value, even a rich existence, in their mind ways, modified perhaps by treatment, but resonant still of what they are."

Yes, A Mind Apart, is a manifesto, a calling to a brave new world.   But its a gentle and rich one, filled with day to day existence, with all of its charms and pains, its possibilites and its problems.  And it is a manifesto for all of us, not only those needing "treatment" or those trying to better understand those who do.  We all have something to learn from Antonetta and others of the emerging neurodiverse community (Grandin, Robison, and Feingold, among others).     

"the mind hovers and darts among many, many things, never entirely planting itself"

That, I suspect, is much more a characteristic of most of us than many of us would prefer to admit to others, and even too ourselves.  Perhaps we would all feel more comfortable with other people and ourselves as well if we were able to not only acknowledge but take pride in our own membership in the neurodiverse community, to enjoy "the lusciousness of other minds" and of our own as well?

For more along these lines ....


Web resources from Antonetta

Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical

Web resources from Serendip

Exploring disability: images and thoughts

Being on the spectrum

Mental health "from the inside"

Culture as disability

Models of mental health: a critique and prospectus

The significance of story in brain and mental health

Diversity and deviance: a biological perspective

Making sense of diversity

The Slippery Brain Sodality


Your thoughts, suggestions for additional resources ... (click on "Add new comment")



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From Susanne A

Just got your note through my website & thanks so much for these kind words & getting in touch--I have found it a book people either love or hate, so it's nice to find people in the positive camp.

Just wanted to let you all know that Seneca Review is doing an issue on Disability & the Lyric Body (not sure what that tag means!) & they are including "sanism" as a part of "ableism" so there are pieces by those with autism/Aspergers; I have a piece in there as well. I think we need to continuously insist we be included in this discussion, of ableism & social norming . . . I guess these are my thoughts for now. Thanks again!