Neurodiversity and the Naturalistic Fallacy

I’m pretty much one of the biggest fans of the ideas of the neurodiversity movement out there. Brains are different and we can deal with that? Great! All people deserve accommodations and human rights? Awesome!

For some reason this is something that gets peoples’ goats. I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly it is that pisses people off about the neurodiversity movement, and I think I’ve figured out at least some of it. One of the basic tenets of neurodiversity that a lot of people get hung up on is the sentence “Autism/ADHD/learning disabilities/mental illness is a natural human variation.”

There’s no question that autism or mental illness or ADHD or learning disabilities are human variations. That’s pretty damn obvious. Are they natural? Well most likely. Mental illnesses have existed for as far back as we have records, and few people want to argue that they’ve just been created by some sort of unnatural means. Some people will say that autism is unnatural because of vaccines, but honestly fuck those people. They have no evidence. Some people seem to think that in order to be “natural” something has to be caused by genes with no influence from the world, but that actually makes no sense at all. For the most part I also haven’t seen very many people argue these things either. They recognize that a mix of genes and environment cause variations in human brains.

The problem is that a lot of people buy into naturalistic fallacy, or the idea that if something is natural, then that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Some people within the neurodiversity movement believe this, and that’s why they think neurodivergent people deserve rights. That’s not really the majority view of the movement though, and it’s not the one I’ve seen articulated by most organizations. But there are also people outside the movement who buy into the fallacy, and those people are causing a lot of confusion.

See here’s the thing: if you buy into the naturalistic fallacy, then the fact that autism or mental illness come with negative elements means that they can’t be natural. I’ve seen people argue against neurodiversity by saying “I’m autistic and sometimes my autism makes my life hard in x, y, and z ways.” Oddly enough that doesn’t actually address the claims of neurodiversity, but if you believe “it’s bad” means “it can’t be natural” then you think it does. For some reason when advocates say “autism is a natural human variation” people hear “that means that it’s great, requires no treatment, and comes with no downsides!”

There are actual arguments that happen between neurodiversity advocates and those who advocate a more medical conception of neurodivergence. These are good arguments to have. There is a wide variety of quality of life for those who are neurodivergent, and we need to talk about whether embracing neurodiversity will really improve life for the whole spectrum of people. We need to talk about specifics of which therapies and treatments are a problem and why, versus which really do provide an individual with more tools to live the life they want. But what we really can be done with please, is the debate about whether there are downsides to neurodivergence.

We all know there are. It’s all anyone talks about. When we say that neurodiversity is natural, we’re not arguing against that. When we bring up the benefits of variations, we’re trying to balance out a conversation previously dominated by the inabilities of neurodiverse people. I’m so sick of arguments that fundamentally misunderstand and straw man the arguments of the neurodiversity movement. I have never actually seen an argument against neurodiversity that disputes that basic tenet, even when people are saying they are. So please: look up the naturalistic fallacy and come back when you have an actual criticism of neurodiversity.

Asking for Accommodations Doesn’t Mean I’m Delicate

There’s this thing that I’ve noticed from people who are generally very nice and reasonable people when I tell them about the ways that my neurodivergent brain affects my life. I might say something simple like “I really can’t handle socializing for extended periods of time,” and ask for an accommodation.

Then comes the special tone of voice, one of mixed surprise and condescension. Especially when my accommodations are for something that seems small to me, like asking that people text instead of call, or when I say that I prefer to be in a small group to a large group, I often get the sense that people are astounded that I’m so broken.

Some people have even gone so far as to say things like “Well YOUR life sounds so much more stressful than mine. I can call people on the phone just fine.” There’s an assumption that because my brain prevents me from doing certain things, I live in some kind of hellscape or that I’m severely limited in what I’m capable of doing, sitting alone in my house wishing I could pick up the phone or go out and party.

It’s weird, because when I say things like “I have lots of anxiety about talking on the phone. I really hate it and would prefer not to do it,” I am not looking for sympathy, nor am I trying to tell people that I’m unhappy with my life. I’m not trying to make myself out to be fragile or delicate or in need of protection. I am asking for accommodations. I’m letting people know that I’d like to do things slightly differently from other people. Often I’ll include the full extent of why I’m asking for the accommodation because otherwise people think I’m being a diva or won’t respect my request.

There’s a really challenging kind of circle that you get stuck in when you’re disabled or mentally ill or asking for accommodations: explaining to people how hard things are means they start to discount your competence, but not explaining means that they will assume you don’t need the accommodations.

More often than not I’m likely to let people in on just how hard things can be because we need more honesty in that discussion, and because often people don’t really get what it means to be chronically mentally ill. But I’m getting incredibly sick of people thinking that this means I’m fragile, or acting as if they’re better than I am in some way because they can do “basic” tasks. Bully for you. Sometimes I can’t eat food without breaking down. But you know what I can do? I can write a mean blog post, take over a social media page without blinking, and alphabetize the shit out of anything. I can see patterns in things, I can make connections between things, and I can hold down some awesome conversations about everything from living forever to the intricacies of disability activism.

But you know what? Even if I COULDN’T do all those things, I still wouldn’t deserve your pity or your condescension. Because there’s nothing about talking on the phone or hanging out in crowded places that makes me less or more human. I am not a worse person because I am uncomfortable with times when I can’t quite catch the social cues for when to start and end sentences. My life isn’t WORSE because I can’t do or feel uncomfortable doing certain things. It is made worse by people who won’t accommodate my need to not do those things and by people who accommodate with a side helping of judgment, but there’s nothing about talking on the phone that would leave me fulfilled in a way that I’m not right now (in fact I maintain that my life is way better now than it was when I was trying to do a lot of things that set off my anxiety).

Asking for help doesn’t make me weak. It is not an invitation to comment on the value or fulfillment of my life. It isn’t something that puts you above me. In fact it’s probably a lot harder than most things most people do. It is self advocacy. But more than that, it isn’t an admission of limitations. When I say that I have trouble with something I’m not saying that I’m giving up on my life or giving up on interacting with people. I’m asking for help to find another way. It’s just like someone who can’t reach a shelf asking for a stool: it’s not a judgment about their abilities. It’s a recognition that they need to do it differently than someone taller.

I see too many people acting as if a statement like “I can’t talk on the phone without getting anxious” is the end of the conversation. It’s not. It’s the beginning. It’s the point at which you say “can I text you instead?” or I ask for another accommodation. It’s a statement of fact but not a recognition of failure. There are things in this world that I will never do. Run a marathon, quantum physics, and also feel comfortable in group settings. No one gets all uppity if I say I’m never going to understand the intricacies of the theory of relativity, so why do they make faces like they’re sucking lemons when I say I’m never going to feel comfortable in certain social situations? None of those things diminish my ability to live a good life that I enjoy and that contributes something to the world around me.

And I suppose that’s the point isn’t it? When I say there are certain things I can’t do, some people think that those things are a prerequisite for being a functional, happy human. They think that I’m diminishing myself by recognizing there are some things I can’t do. They seem to think that I’m fragile, or I need protection, or I can’t be independent because I can’t or won’t do certain tasks that they see as basic or necessary.

There are certain activities that enough people do that they have become synonymous with “human.” Of course these standards of “basic human tasks” have changed greatly over time and in different places, so no, there’s nothing inherently human about eating three meals a day, or being able to strike up a conversation at a coffee shop, or making small talk. When people hear that I can’t do some things they take for granted, they don’t understand that there’s nothing all that great about the things they take for granted.

The more I can question the idea that I need to do certain things in a certain way in order to be ok, the better I feel. I can’t do some things. So what I need from the people around me is just a little bit of adjustment. There are some things all of you can’t do that I can do. It doesn’t make you less than me. I make adjustments for people around me all the time without giving them any side eye. Can we make it mutual?

Neurodiversity is Not An Autism First Movement And Cannot Be Autism Exclusive

Disclaimer: this post is about my personal experiences with the neurodiversity movement. If others have more positive experiences, please point me in the direction of those communities. I would love to find them.

The concept of neurodiversity originated in the autism movement, and was created by an autistic person (from the research I have done, it was created by Kassiane, although as an internet term it’s a little bit difficult to know who was the first person to ever use it). Most everything I’ve ever read about neurodiversity is written by an autistic person or is focused on autism acceptance. Few mention other neurodivergences by name.

Ableism is unfortunately incredibly common, but for some reason I see a disproportionate number of conversations about ableism circulating around autism, and when people are accused of not understanding or being comfortable with neurodiversity, it’s nearly always that they have not respected autistics or their needs well enough. This first came drastically to my attention a year or so back when an autistic writer got into it with Rebecca Watson over using the phrase “too stupid to breathe,” (and apparently additional comments, although no one has been clear to me about what those comments were). It ended with Rebecca asking that writer to leave the site.

Many people have criticized Skepchick of being ableist since then, but for some reason no one brings up the fact that nearly every writer on the network has some combination of depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, ADHD, dyslexia, or a personality disorder. There are many writers who write openly and often about those issues on Skepchick (including yours truly). IT is of course possible for a place to include many neurodivergent individuals and still be ableist, but it seems odd to not address those neurodivergent individuals when asking if the place is welcoming to them or not.

Note: none of this is to speak one way or the other on how that incident went down. It is to say that many other writers who are neurodivergent were blatantly ignored in the conversation. I find it telling that none of them have autism but do have mental illnesses or learning disabilities.

I’m incredibly grateful to autism advocates for starting this movement. What I’m not ok with is the way that any form of neurodivergence other than autism seems to disappear in discussions of the movement. Sometimes learning disabilities or ADHD get a shout out, but despite the fact that I am deeply enmeshed in the movement, I still find myself unsure if mental illnesses “technically” count as neurodivergences. But if anything is a sign of your brain working a little differently, chronic anxiety, depression, or a personality disorder has to be it. And if the neurodiversity movement wants to be serious about accepting and supporting all diversity, they have to be willing to accept those whose brains changed over time, not just those who were born that way.

I am multiply neurodivergent. I only found out this month that I am autistic, and still have not talked publicly about it very much. I have never felt welcome in the neurodiversity movement. I often find that my experiences are talked over by folks with autism because mental illnesses occupy a hazy status in the movement. Some people don’t want to be associated with them because they are more clearly “broken” or “disordered” than autism. That is not ok.

If someone doesn’t understand autism or isn’t willing to make certain adjustments for autistic individuals, it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not they have been strong supporters of folks with other neurodivergences. And I understand that doing well many times doesn’t fix messing up. But why aren’t we even talking about it?

The latest incident happened over at The Mighty. They posted something fairly shitty, people called them out on it, they took it down and apologized. I feel like it should have been an open and shut case, because they took full responsibility for a lapse in judgment and did what they had been asked to do. But instead, people started jumping on the ‘fuck you Mighty’ bandwagon. Now there have been a number of criticisms, some of which seem really legit (way too much inspiration porn, not enough people getting paid) and some of which I have issues with. Namely that many criticizers say that the Mighty is prioritizing parental voices over the voices of people who are autistic and disabled, and that they don’t post from people who actually are disabled.

Which is, to be honest, bullshit. The post that fucked up in the first place was written by an autistic. I write for The Mighty and I am clearly, openly, someone with not an NT brain. The one place on the Mighty that does seem to be parent dominated is autism articles, but if you look at the mental health writing it is primarily by people who have mental illnesses. For some reason that all gets ignored and talked over by the people who say that we need to have platforms for people with disabilities.

You don’t get to ignore the voices of people who don’t agree with you and act as if their identities don’t exist because they aren’t how you express your identity. There are autistic people on The Mighty who are parents and post those Mommy Blogs you hate so much. And those people are still autistic and they still have a place in the autism community. There are people on The Mighty who post useful, interesting information about how they deal with their mental illness or disability. They count as part of the neurodiverse community that we’re aiming for, even if they aren’t autistic.

And that’s true of a lot of sites that are criticized for being ableist. Other disabilities, especially things like depression, anxiety, personality disorders, or eating disorders, get ignored. Sites are criticized for not listening to disabled voices when the people being criticized ARE THEMSELVES DISABLED. This is mind boggling to me, as the neurodiversity movement purports to be helping all people who aren’t neurotypical.

If you want to have a conversation about the right and wrong ways to talk about and approach disability that’s fine. But when your criticism is “you’re not listening to disabled people and you’re silencing disabled voices” you better make damn sure that you’re not talking to any disabled people because you have just erased their identity. And I see that happening over and over in incidents when neurodiversity advocates are calling out ableism.

There are important criticisms to be made of a variety of sites that host parents of people with disabilities or even people with disabilities themselves. There is such a thing as internalized ableism, and it’s important to call out things like inspiration porn or sites that host more parents than individuals actually affected or parents sharing personal information without a child’s consent. We should talk about these things. But those sins are not the same as silencing disabled voices. They are about balance and how all people (including neurodivergent individuals) tell stories about disability. And more often than not, an organization is not all good or all bad. It is more and more common for a site to be hosting mentally ill individuals writing about their own experiences but focusing on parents instead of developmentally disabled folks. That’s a dynamic we should be talking about.

But I do not feel welcome in the neurodiversity movement when the (very real) criticisms about autism parents are allowed to eclipse any writing that I may do or the fact that there are boatloads of neurodivergent people speaking up about their (not autistic) experiences. Those experiences just don’t always match up with what neurodiversity advocates think they should be, and they often aren’t about autism. There needs to be space in neurodiversity advocates for all kinds of neurodivergence. The movement cannot prioritize the needs of autistics over anyone else. I recognize that the focus on autism comes from a history of abuse, but autistics aren’t the only ones who have lived that history. Neurodiversity movements need to do more work to accept and support the diversity part of  neurodiversity.

I want to love the neurodiversity movement. I just don’t see it loving me back.

Using My Anxiety: A Neurodiversity Tale

I’m a pretty big sucker for neurodiversity. I love the idea that my differences don’t make me worse, and I especially like the mindset that I should be looking for the ways in which my brain makes my life better and easier for me so that I can rely on it in those ways.

But while some neurodiversities are more commonly talked about in terms of strength (autism and its tendency to allow for strong focus and pattern seeing is common), depression, anxiety, and eating disorders can be a little bit harder to reframe. Particularly when it comes to my eating disorder I have a hard time seeing how I can use the relevant traits to my benefit.

So today I’m going to try something that is mostly for my personal benefit, but hopefully will be a helpful roadmap for others who want to try to reframe how they see their own neurodiversities. I’m going to look at a concrete example of using my weird brain in a way that is positive.

I’ve been really anxious lately. My energy levels have been up thanks to some medication changes, and I’ve got some big changes coming down the pipeline at work. I’m taking on way more responsibility, and I’m feeling a lot of pressure to perform at a high level because my bosses have expressed that they’re happy with me and want me to grow. Of course in my mind that means I have to live up to high expectations, and so I want to push myself much harder. Any mistake begins to feel like the end of the world. I imagine I’ll be fired because of that typo I made.

But I have also been highly productive recently. I make myself a detailed to do list each morning, and rarely hit the evening without having finished nearly everything on it. I just produced my first professional brochure, which I’m quite proud of. I’ve been writing like crazy. Despite the fact that sometimes the anxiety gets in the way because I will focus on my fears instead of on what needs to be done, it also motivates me in a major way. I haven’t worked this hard in a long time.

And sometimes it gets me to a place of control and calm. I see what needs to be done and I do it, with no worry about whether I feel like it or whether it’s fun. It needs to be done and so I do it. More often than not, a tinge of anxiety is what pushes me to enjoy my work.

That might seem odd, but I don’t feel anxious about work that is meaningless to me. If I don’t care about the job or the consequences, then I don’t have any anxiety about getting it finished quickly and done well. So my anxiety is a good indicator to me that this is something important. That means I’ll double check things, do better work, and overall feel more accomplished than I do when I get something done that I don’t care about. People who don’t have strong anxiety might not have such an obvious an easy way to tell what they want to be doing and what’s important to them.

 

I felt this today. It had been ages since I had felt properly accomplished, truly in “flow” or whatever it is the kids are calling it these days. And while I don’t love how anxious I’ve been lately, it is the bump that tends to get me to a really content place. So thanks anxious brain for pushing me to work harder and feel motivated. You make me a motivated and quality worker who takes criticism seriously and is constantly working to improve myself.

 

You Can’t Turn Off An Eating Disordered Brain

Massive trigger warning for eating disorders

For about the past nine months I’ve been feeling pretty good when it comes to my body and my food intake. I still have a few hangups, mostly surrounding times when I should eat, but overall I was getting a decent number of calories and feeling fairly energized. I had stopped thinking about what my body looked like every day, and I had even stopped adding up the totals of what I had eaten each day to try to decide if I was allowed another item (or if I needed to go work out).

It was a massive relief to not have those scripts playing in my head anymore. But recently, somewhat out of nowhere, they’ve started to play again.

I have a lot more tools available to me now. I have more friends to ask for help, a better idea of what I want out of my life and why an eating disorder isn’t compatible with that, a fuzzy kitten to distract me, and a variety of strategies about what makes me feel good in the moment, but none of these things have managed to turn off the voices or the accompanying anxiety. They are enormously helpful when I need to choose a better behavior than restriction, purging, or overexercise, but no matter how often I try to ignore the bad suggestions my brain keeps giving me, it comes back louder.

This is what a lot of people refer to when they say that you never really recover from an eating disorder. The disordered brain will linger on and on and on. And while outsiders might suggest distracting yourself or challenging the thoughts, what they don’t understand is how incessant it is. When you wake up in the morning you wonder about what you’ll eat that day and think about whether yesterday was a “good” day (ran a calorie deficit). You go to put on clothes and are left with the quandary of what fits and what doesn’t, what you can convince your brain is acceptable. You go outside and now it’s the comparison game, who’s smaller than you are, who will see you as acceptable, does everyone see how big you are or do they care?

It goes on endlessly. You cannot turn it off (or at least no one has figured out the magic switch yet except constantly choosing a different behavior and working to focus on something else).

What no one tells you about jerkbrains, whether they’re eating disordered or OCD or depressed or anxious is that they will exhaust you. They don’t tell you that the worst part isn’t the full on meltdowns, but the normal days where you thought you were ok but instead have to spend half of your energy fighting with yourself.

It’s discouraging. While it is realistic to know that someone with a disorder that is highly linked to genetics will probably always have to be on the lookout against a recurrence of symptoms, it makes life feel like a neverending Sisyphean endeavor, even moreso than it might for someone who just has to get out of bed and drag themselves to the office each morning.

Even writing this feels like a repeat of things that I’ve said far too many times. It certainly puts more importance into the question of whether genetics are destiny. But pushing against all of the woe and angst and “determinism means it just doesn’t matter!” is the fact that I know I have changed. The eating disordered brain remains, but there is something in there or in me that can adjust. I make different choices, and the lows come further and further apart. I hate inspiration porn, especially when it comes to mental health, so I have to admit that I have no idea if there’s a relapse in my future or what it means for the quality of my life that self hatred is an essential ingredient of every day. But I am also done with wallowing in the unhappiness, so I also have to say that I have hope. There is the possibility of joy.

Is “Functioning” A Useful Mental Health Framework?

One of the sets of terms that gets thrown around a lot in therapy and psychology circles is high functioning vs. low functioning. I’ve seen it most often when referring to people with autism, but it gets used in many contexts. High functioning individuals with mental illness are usually considered those who can hold down relationships, a job, look presentable, and live independently. Low functioning individuals are defined as those who need help with basic tasks.

There are a lot of problems with this terminology, many of which Leah Harris identifies at Mad in America. It tends to divide people into absolute groups rather than recognizing that people have strengths and weaknesses, it doesn’t allow for change, it can easily set apart high functioning (and not worthy of treatment) from low functioning (and not competent to advocate for themselves or have voices that we hear). More often than not the definition of functioning is related to capitalism: can you work and contribute to a capitalistic society?

“Functioning” terminology does a lot of disservices to people with mental illnesses and leaves a lot of people who have mental illnesses stuck on the outside of conversations about treatment and policy. But it has a pretty strong pull for a lot of people. It makes an intuitive kind of sense. Some people seem to be getting through life better than other people in terms of their relationships, their distress, their overall levels of happiness. Shouldn’t we be able to talk about that? Shouldn’t we be able to talk about the fact that some people need more support than other people?

Yes and no. Functioning can mean a lot of things depending upon what it is the aim is. If the aim is functioning within typical societal structures and capitalistic expectations, then the functioning model is deeply unhelpful. But what might be helpful is understanding that mental illness can deeply impact an individual’s ability to function as they would like. It can keep them from reaching their own goals, or pull them into behaviors that violate their values. One of the framings that DBT provides is the idea of effectiveness: will your action be effective at helping you reach your goals and bringing your life more in line with what you imagine you’d like it to be?

Functioning can run parallel to that in many ways. And this points to a larger problem with how our society conceives of the purpose of people. Society tends to see people as cogs in the larger machine rather than individuals who have different goals and wants. There is no singular good life, which means that there is no single way to function correctly. Even more than that, people are considered to be functional or non functional rather than societies. Individuals are not the only ones who can and should make adjustments to reach a better level of functioning.

Neurodiversity has been positioned as an alternative to the model of functioning by some people, but I don’t think that the two have to be diametrically opposed if we reframe what it is that an individual is functional at. Neurodiversity allows for a variety of paths and goals, and measuring functionality within that framework allows us to talk about how much support an individual might need or how far along a road to recovery they might be without silencing anyone.

I’d like for us to reconsider our aims when it comes to treatment of mental illness. Is it to create people who can fit into the society that we already have without rocking the boat, or is it to help individuals be satisfied with their lives and live in ways that are fulfilling to them? I vote for the latter.

 

For The Last Time That’s Not What a Trigger Warning Is

I really love Brittany Cooper over at Salon. She’s challenged me to think about race and gender politics in new ways, and I almost always find myself informed in new ways when reading her work. So I was extremely disappointed to find this (admittedly slightly outdated) article in which she argues against the use of trigger warnings in the classroom.

Cooper says of difficult topics like violence and race “But learning about these topics are all necessary forms of education. And trigger warnings won’t solve or ameliorate the problems that open, frank, guided discussion by well-trained, competent instructors can.” But just a few paragraphs before she mentions “Those of us who teach about traumatic material – say, war, or the history of lynching, or rape and sexual assault, or domestic violence – usually alert students if they are going to encounter violent material.”

Perhaps I have drastically misunderstood what trigger warnings are (which seems weird because I spend a lot of time reading about them, thinking about them, and also getting triggered by stuff that doesn’t have a warning), but it sounds to me as if Cooper actually does give verbal trigger warnings to her students but is simply against labeling them “trigger warnings”. As I’ve said before (many, many times), a trigger warning is simply a heads up to a reader to let them know that there is potentially triggering content. By triggering, I don’t mean upsetting, new, uncomfortable, or difficult content. I mean content that causes someone to have an intense and uncontrollable emotional reaction, often with flashbacks, physical symptoms (sometimes exclusively physical such as a seizure for someone whose epilepsy is triggered), or impairment of their functioning. It usually involves a mental illness and the symptoms and difficulties associated with that mental illness taking center stage for the individual who is triggered.

A trigger warning is NOT censorship. It is not saying that the content is bad. It is very similar to a content note in that it alerts readers to what’s coming up. Generally it does so to allow someone who might be triggered to take care of themselves. Online that might mean choosing not to read the piece. But I know of almost no teachers who believe that trigger warnings exist to allow students to opt out of certain conversations. Instead, it’s there to allow the student to choose how they’re going to read the piece. Maybe they won’t do this piece of homework in a coffee shop, maybe they’ll give themselves extra time so they can engage in self care, maybe they’ll ask a friend to be around while they read it. If a particular trigger is especially bad, it opens the door for them to discuss with their teacher if there is another way for them to cover the same material. But in no way does telling someone “hey, take care of yourself” mean the same thing as “you don’t have to grapple with this issue.”

Cooper suggests that the way to handle these sensitive topics is to have a well trained teacher who can help students deal openly with their feelings. Hear hear! I absolutely agree that educators should be well schooled in how to address topics that might provoke intense emotions from students. But what that doesn’t deal with is the fact that students generally do the reading that contains these topics on their own, outside of class with no one to support them or walk them through a nuanced discussion.

I have yet to see a clear articulation of how a trigger warning impedes honest discussion and engagement with a variety of ideas. I have yet to see anyone point out how a trigger warning might keep a student from being exposed to new viewpoints or from dealing with difficult subjects and new concepts. Some have suggested that a trigger warning will give a student a preconceived notion of what the text will be like, or will label the content as “bad”, but again, this seems to fundamentally misunderstand what it means to be triggered. Yes, I suppose giving someone a heads up on the content in material will give them some preconceived ideas of what will be in the text because someone has just told them what will be in the text. This seems no different from a teacher giving a short overview of what to look for or guided reading or discussion questions. And if the wording of “trigger warning” seems to imply something negative about the reading, a content notice would perform the same function nicely without any baggage.

I’m worried that the vitriol against trigger warnings is just another case of neurotypical needs being prioritized over those of people with different brains. Students should be given accommodations that facilitate their ability to learn, whether that means presenting material in a variety of different forms, getting extra time on tests, or helping them engage with material without sending them into a panic attack or flashback. If teachers really want to facilitate strong engagement with new ideas, having students who are absolutely flooded with emotions is not conducive to that goal. Speaking from experience, those are the times I am least likely to be able to process new information or calmly test out new ideas and viewpoints. While Cooper says that without trigger warnings she has been able to take her class through a variety of difficult pieces of media, I do wonder how many students felt they had to stay quiet or simply weren’t capable of speaking up because they were overwhelmed with emotions.

Again, from personal experience, when a triggering topic comes up unexpectedly, I am not able to speak up or participate in discussion. Ignoring the realities of triggers actively bars students from being able to participate in class when they are suddenly exposed to things that send them spiraling. It does a disservice to the vulnerable students in class.

So again, probably not for the last time: trigger warnings are not the same as censorship. They do not require anyone to change what they’re saying. They do not give students a free pass to opt out of difficult discussions. They simply let students take care of themselves while engaging with difficult material. And sometimes knowing that a topic is coming up is enough to keep it from causing serious distress and setbacks in someone’s recovery.