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Remaining cognitive of our differences

The Remutaka Hill and I have become great mates over the past year.

Based in Wairarapa, but with many friends in Wellington, the hill road is verging on the back of my hand.

I even have a favourite corner. I’m sure many commuters can relate.

After the summit, on the Featherston side, you hit a high white fence, and beyond that, on a clear day, stretches an uninterrupted view of the Wairarapa plains sandwiched between two ridgelines.

It’s even more stunning when you’ve left behind a wet and windy Wellington.

More than the epic view, though, what I look forward to most is the uninterrupted podcast time.

And yesterday’s one was a real treat – RNZ’s Kim Hill with essayist Danyl McLauchlan.

Not only did McLauchlan deliver one of the best lines on radio – “I’m trying to will summer into existence via the power of heterosexual fashion” [apparently his shirt was very loud] but the pair teased apart a subject that regularly occupies me – typical and atypical brains or people who are diagnosed with, or self-identify as, neurodiverse.

The premise for the interview was a brilliant essay by McLauchlan published on The Spinoff, where he dissects in an interesting, and sometimes tangential way, cognitive difference.

It’s well worth the read, but his argument can be distilled, in an insultingly simplistic way to this: Neurodiversity is not binary, we all think differently, and maybe, if we’re aware of our atypical traits, we can work with, not against them.

Despite knowing neurodivergence is a spectrum, we tend to think of it as a dichotomy. She either is or is not autistic. They either have or do not have ADHD.

But this, McLauchlan argues, misses the complex “merging and mixing” contained within each unique brain.

After taking an autism test online, McLauchlan found he presents with some of the signs and symptoms that in a cluster constitute an autism diagnosis, but mostly not.

“I’m not really normal, though.”

McLauchlan goes on to reveal that he cannot digest verbal instructions, and neither can he tolerate loud, repetitive sounds without losing the plot.

What’s interesting is that until we know otherwise, we all believe the way we think, and react, is ‘the norm’.

My favourite part of McLauchlan’s piece is when he addresses the reader – do you hear these words, as you read them, in your head? And if so, are they in your own voice? Or do you hear them in the writer’s voice?

I always hear the character or author’s voice. Or at least what I imagine it to be.

It seems laughably ignorant now, but until that sentence, I never considered that others might experience that voice differently, or perhaps not at all.

I’m often tempted to pathologise bad habits – my inability to arrive anywhere on time because everything is ’10 minutes’ away, my exceptional levels of procrastination, and my seeming love of last-minute panic.

These examples can be symptomatic of a neurodiverse diagnosis, namely ADD/ADHD, and I’ve often wondered about the result of a test.

If I am to take McLauchlan’s argument, if it’s not debilitating, I might not matter that much. Perhaps it’s merely cognisance of these cognitive differences, in ourselves and others, that matters most.

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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