Archive for category neurodiversity

Meet-a-Member: Dr. Jennifer Sarrett

Jenn-headshot (1)Dr. Jennifer Sarrett is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Human Health, where she teaches courses in Health Humanities, Bioethics and Disability, and Mental Illness and Culture. Her work focuses on intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) as they relate to culture, disability rights, and ethics. She began working in the field of autism and developmental 15 years ago as a special education instructor and consultant in the U.S. and abroad. With the objective of studying the role of culture in the identification, understanding, and treatment of autistic children, she obtained her PhD from Emory’s Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts (ILA), a unique interdisciplinary program. Her dissertation compared parental and professional experiences of autism in Atlanta, GA and Kerala, India. Along the way she became interested in neuroethical issues related to I/DD, including international research ethics, human rights and I/DD, and the implications of emerging technologies for early identification and diagnosis. Her work is strongly influenced by the concept of neurodiversity, a scholarly and advocacy position that works to encourage acceptance of neurological differences, including autism, rather than seeking cures and strategies to normalize autistic behavior. Dr. Sarrett has published a range of articles, including the development of a more inclusive model of human rights centered on a consideration of autistic difference; the ways images of autism depict and promote damaging tropes about autism; cultural influences on the ways parents explain their child’s autism (Spring, 2015); and ethical issues related to international research on I/DD. Read the rest of this entry »

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Appreciating Neurodiversity: Learning from Synesthesia

By Guest Contributor Katherine BryantUnknown
Katherine Bryant is a PhD candidate in Neuroscience at Emory University, where her research interests include network models of cortical connectivity, multi-modal association cortex, and human evolution. Her dissertation focuses on identifying human-unique specializations of the temporal lobe by comparing the white matter connectivity of cortex in humans, chimpanzees, and macaques. She is also receiving training in interdisciplinary graduate studies as part of a certificate in Mind, Brain, and Culture.

* This post was originally featured on The Neuroethics Blog.

Who are synesthetes?

[Describing the experiences of subject MMo] Eights are yellow, for example, a square feels like mashed potatoes, and the name Steve is somehow like poached eggs. (Cytowic p. 26)

“…I [asked the vendor] what kind of ice cream she had.  ‘Fruit ice cream,’ she said.  But she answered in such a tone that a whole pile of coals, of black cinders, came bursting out of her mouth, and I couldn’t bring myself to buy any ice cream after she’d answered that way…” (Record of patient “S”, Luria p. 82)

Colored alphabet,via Wikipedia Commons

The unexpected sensory pairings described above are the experiences of a minority of people, perhaps 4% of the population (Simner et al., 2006), known as synesthetes. Synesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon in which unusual linkages occur between sensory modalities – sounds may evoke colors, tastes may evoke shapes, or numbers may evoke spatial patterns – in all, over 40 unique pairings have been documented.  Synesthesia creates problems – it defies normal categories of clinical pathology, and yet is clearly different from what we might call “normal” or neurotypical perception. But examining the phenomenon can help us gain a greater understanding of how synesthetes perceive the world, how others perceive them, and in what ways neuroscience can help us better understand unusual neurological phenotypes – what we might call neurodiversity.

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