Neurostandardisation: considering the oppression of neurodivergent individuals

For quite some time now, the neurodiversity movement has spoken about the harmfulness of behavioural techniques. These techniques are used to prevent the outward indications of the Autistic neurotype. They are generally aimed at children, and almost always lead to significant harm being done.

The use of such techniques belongs to a wider issue with the way that society views neurodivergence.

What seems most obvious to me, is that the existence of words such as “neurotypical” already imply that there is a typical standard that we diverge from. Words like “typical” and “standard” can be considered the descendants of the pathology paradigm, and the ableism that came from that worldview.

Under the pathology paradigm, anything that sits outside of the box of “typical”, is broken and in need of fixing. In the case of autism, this has led to research into deficits, resulting in the direct oppression of Autistic people through the use of harmful cure culture.

This cure culture attempts to standardise the mind, hence “neurostandardisation”. It is an attempt to bring the neurodivergent individual into line with a neurocognitive standard of existence. It’s not always medical and behavioural interventions either, often it is the societal culture that forces neurotypical people to camouflage their neruodivergent traits.

The question then remains as to why society forces neurostandardisation onto people.

I am firmly of the opinion that society at large has three reasons for clinging on to the pathology paradigm, and using it to oppress and “standardise” others.

1. Those with privilege in this society are afraid that by giving others more, they will have less.

2. Keeping minority groups in an oppressed state, requiring them to “fit in” means that the privileged do not have to consider the failings of their own culture and society.

3. Those who thrive in the dominant culture are unwilling to put the effort into learning how to live equitably with minority cultures and groups.

When you consider the origins of bigotry, I start to feel like the pathology paradigm has played a huge role. Mel Baggs wrote of how most (if not all) forms of bigotry are rooted in ableism. Nick Walker writes extensively of the privilege of neurotypical autism professionals in her book Neuroqueer Heresies. One might consider that having privileged member of a dominant culture in a position of authority over a minority is a blatant conflict of interest.

Neurostandardisation can then be recognised as the forced assimilation of neurodivergent people into the dominant culture, while keeping them in a position of disadvantage. It is a tool of oppression that takes many forms, but is ultimately the goal of the pathology paradigm. A paradigm that seeks to invalidate the existence anything outside of it’s limited, reductive, and quite frankly incorrect view that such a thing as “normal” exists.

This is why the existence of advocacy is so important. Where oppression exists, we need voices that can shout loudly, and expunge the false beliefs of the current sociocultural paradigms.

Until those beliefs have been dismantled, neurodivergent people will always be lower on the ladder.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

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