I think I may have spotted a tiny glimpse of the neurodiversity camel's nose poking into society's tent when I read the Newsweek article, The Trouble with Boys. The article's premise is that many students are having problems in today's schools, and a disproportionate number of them are boys, because the schools have failed to recognize the fact that children naturally have different rates of brain maturation and different learning styles. Boys, on average, tend to mature more slowly than girls and are more likely to be kinesthetic learners with good spatial skills. Today's classrooms, which are geared toward auditory learning and require children to sit quietly and listen for long periods, reward typically female cognitive patterns. The article laments, "Boys are treated like defective girls."
Although I'm not a big fan of Simon Baron-Cohen's extreme male brain theory, which asserts that autism is caused by large amounts of prenatal testosterone, I was struck by the similarity between Newsweek's comments on educating boys and Baron-Cohen's recommendations for educating autistic students. Baron-Cohen has suggested that autism is not necessarily a disability but, rather, a different cognitive style that should be accepted and given opportunities to flourish in the classroom and the workplace.
Newsweek's rather simplistic suggestion for improving the education of boys is to separate children into single-gender classrooms. I'm not persuaded that this would be much of an improvement over the present cookie-cutter educational system. One harsh, inflexible set of classroom expectations would just be replaced by two equally rigid sets of rules, and children would still be treated as defective if their natural learning styles did not happen to match the expectations in their assigned classrooms.
What we should do instead: All children should be tested, as a routine matter, to determine their learning style and temperament. Individual education plans (IEPs) should be prepared for all students, not just a stigmatized few. Instead of the adversarial, medicalized, bureaucratic special-education regimes that now afflict our schools, the preparation of IEPs ought to be a simple, streamlined process handled mainly by experienced guidance counselors, with occasional input from therapists as needed. Educational authorities need to understand that divergent ways of thinking and learning are not medical problems or mental health issues but, rather, are natural and healthy aspects of human diversity.
Boys are not defective girls. Neither are autistics.