Letter to the Editor: MSU must recognize neurodiversity and apologize for perpetuating systemic neuralism

As a Graduate Assistant in the Department of Sociology, I strive to stimulate the “quality of mind” that C. Wright Mills termed “the sociological imagination,” that is, “the capacity to shift from one perspective to another.” And as founding president of the Neurodiversity Activists and Senator of Graduate Studies in Student Government, my mission is, in the words of queer Autistic scholar Nick Walker, “to shift the prevailing culture and discourse away from the pathology paradigm and toward the neurodiversity paradigm.” Basically, I guide the university community to recognize that neurological diversity is, to quote Walker, “a natural form of human diversity, subject to the same societal dynamics as other forms of diversity.”

Indeed, just as BIPOC students, in attempting to cope with institutional racism, acquire racial battle fatigue, neurodivergent students, in attempting to cope with institutional neuralism, acquire neurological battle fatigue. If you have never heard of these italicized words, I do not blame you; for I invented them in the spring of 2021 after personally observing (and enduring) the phenomena. Unfortunately, in the year and-a-half since the terms’ coinage, this university has only made things worse for neurominorities on campus, namely by continuing to support the presence of Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, which many of my neurokin have nicknamed “Autistic conversion therapy,” and for good reason.

As I wrote in my first Letter to the Editor (LTE) of the MSU Reporter on April 26th, ABA was pioneered by UCLA psychologist O. Ivar Lovaas in the early 1960s to make Autistic kids “indistinguishable from their peers.” Like a vast majority of today’s so-called “experts” on Autism, Lovaas and his autistiphobic colleagues operated under the assumption that there is one “normal” neurology, which is just as bigoted as believing that there is one “normal” sexuality. It is only fitting that Lovaas later co-founded the government-funded Feminine Boy Project, which sought to convert queer kids into straight kids.

So you see, conversion therapy for LGBTQIA+ people is just ABA imposed on gender, sexual, and romantic minorities. And conversion therapy for Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people is just ABA imposed on neurominorities. Indeed, the queer movement and the Neurodiversity Movement are both fighting for the abolition of the same thing; they just don’t know it yet.

Over the last six months, I have worked tirelessly to organize, unify, and mobilize the queer and neurodivergent communities to flip the Minnesota Senate and pressure the Legislature to pass a comprehensive ban on all forms of conversion therapy in Minnesota. Hence my organization’s partnership with the Jim Chalgren LGBT Center to co-host Nick Walker herself this past April, my MoveOn petition entitled “Ban Autistic Conversion Therapy in Minnesota,” my LTE of the Mankato Free Press, my guest appearances on the Triple Falls Podcast and Radio Mankato, the online panel discussion I organized with Jorn Bettin of AutCollab to commemorate the 5th International Day of Protest Against ABA, and my plea to MSU to prohibit Caravel Autism Health, an ABA-based business, from exhibiting at the 2022 Career & Internship EXPO on October 19th.

On October 18th, Walker will return to MSU via Zoom from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm to discuss the need to ban ABA, among other things. Proponents of ABA have already given me, an actually Autistic graduate students who’s more than familiar with the topic, quite a bit of grief over my opposition to ABA, going so far as to falsely claim that my protests are racially motivated. To clarify, there are innumerable neurodivergent people of color around the world who are also anti-ABA due, in part, to the fact that they view the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) as yet another manifestation of colonialism, which aligns with Indigenous Autistic author Jules Edwards’ assertion that ABA “is forced assimilation, reminiscent of the boarding school era.”

There are many other things that can be said about ABA, including the fact that there are now several studies and reports to the government proving the practice causes post-traumatic stress and, contrary to pro-ABA rhetoric, lacks the credible evidence to justify its existence. Ultimately, this issue boils down to just one question: “Who gets to decide what behaviors are healthy or unhealthy?” Gay behaviors were pathologized by the World Health Organization (WHO) until May 17th, 1990.

Medical homophobia may have persisted for 150 years, but my people cannot wait that long for the university to officially recognize neurodiversity and publicly apologize for perpetuating systemic neuralism; for we live roughly 25 years less than the neuromajority and are about 10 times more likely to die by suicide due to being subjected to ABA abuse. Indeed, how can we fulfill our commitment to attend classes at a university that continuously fails to fulfill its institutional commitment to provide “a healthy and safe environment” for all of its students? Surely, Minnesota’s Best university can do better.

Bruce Wenzel

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.