Tag Archives: neurodiversity

Should neurodiversity be extended to animals?

In this blog post I consider whether the neurodiversity movement should be extended to animals. Neurodiversity is defined in many different ways but as a general characterisation I shall use this definition which is drawn from interviews with autistic adults. It “encompass[es] both human biological differences in cognition, brains, and genes while also serving as an activist tool for change toward acceptance and inclusion of autistic and other neurodivergent people” (Kapp 2020, p.viii, Autistic Community and the Neurodiversity Movement). So the question is whether this general notion should be restricted to humans or extended to some or all non-human animals.

A neurodiversity movement advocate could argue that all diversity is good. This seems to then entail that, given that they also have diverse brains, animals are also part of neurodiversity. We would have to extend our ethics to them. It seems this admittedly basic notion of neurodiversity seems to incorporate animals. I now consider if more developed notions of neurodiversity would exclude animals.

A neurodiversity movement advocate could argue that only forms of human diversity matter, therefore neurodiversity does not cover animals. There are two problems with this. Firstly, it seems arbitrary. What motivates that position compared to, say, neurodiversity should cover all humans except autistic people, or except schizophrenic people? What specifically makes humans important rather than any other grouping? Secondly, it is not clear that all human diversity is good. For example, it is unclear that sexual desires towards children has any positives. This approach to neurodiversity would exclude animals but it looks like a flawed approach.

A neurodiversity movement advocate might argue that only good forms of diversity matter and that only humans have good forms of diversity. Perhaps we might consider intelligence or ability to communicate as good types of diversity which animals lack. However, arguably some animals have higher intelligence and higher ability to communicate compared to some humans, so on this position we should extend the good type of diversity to those animals and not to some humans. So this also seems to not exclude animals from neurodiversity.

Some neurodiversity activists argue that diversity is a good thing in itself because it produces alternative ways of living, alternative characteristics and alternative views. Neurodiversity is consequently socially useful. Now, humans can generally get involved in society whereas it is not clear that animals are capable of getting involved in our society in any sort of analogous way. We can form a sort of friendship with animals but they cannot tell us about their unique opinion which we as non-human animals are unlikely to form. However, it is not clear that diversity is always a good thing given that some ways humans exist involve vast levels of harm (such as climate change and supporting economic systems which treat foreign labourers terribly). Also, it seems that we can learn from animals. Arguably, the most pressing issue we face today is climate change. It seems to me that we could learn from how animals interact with the environment and support sustainable ecosystems.

Perhaps there is a good reason to exclude animals from neurodiversity but this initial overview does not give any obvious reason to do so. As such, I think it should be a live option. I think that a neurodiversity advocate needs either give reason to restrict neurodiveristy to humans or should extend it to animals.

Extending neurodiversity to animals would mean we need radically rethink our relationship with animals. This means paying immense amounts of attention to the conditions animals live in when used for animal produce or meat. Put the words factory farm uk into youtube and you will see animals being treated in ways that seem to me as being incompatible with extending neurodiversity to them. Admittedly, I think there are immensely good ethical reasons to go vegan which have nothing to do with neurodiversity, namely animals being in pain in factory farms and the impact upon climate change caused from meat production, so I will hold these views reguardless of what follows from neurodiversity.