Social constructivism and the making of ethical decisions in Autistic lives

TRIGGER WARNING: Mention of Do Not Resuscitate directives and the pandemic

Autistic people are subject to countless rules that are seemingly arbitrary in nature while having a huge impact on our wellbeing. It has been a source of much contention in our relationships with the non-Autistic people in our lives; and our questioning of these rules is used to label us as disordered and defective in a neuronormative society. When it comes to ethical decision making, I believe that Autistic people have a unique insight into the current state of society thanks to the recognition of the arbitrary nature of normative morality.

In the Autistic community, ethics and morality are based on community consensus, rather than the word of an individual or limited group. While we have no laws to recognise, I should at this point acknowledge that there are unwritten rules (although increasingly they are being written down through self-exploration in the form of writing). The ethics of our current unwritten rules are a further conversation to be had.

What I find particularly interesting is that the Autistic community takes a social constructivist approach to ethics and morality. We acknowledge the existence of normative social rules, but write our own based on the knowledge generated within our community. This has pro’s and con’s; the discourse in the Autistic community is dominated by privilege, I should acknowledge that I am far from the only cis-gendered white male to be publishing his opinion in this community.

Despite this, Autistic people seem to be in a unique position to recognise that ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches to morality tend to fail marginalised groups. It could be argued that we recognise this due to our own marginalised status, but also because we have a strong sense of justice.

What is important about social constructivism is that it recognises that all ethics and morality is subjective. What is just and fair to one individual or group may infringe upon the rights of another. A good example of this was the implementation of ‘Do Not Attempt Resuscitation’ directives imposed upon the disabled during the pandemic. While it allowed for more resources to be freed up in medical settings, it was a direct middle finger to our communities right to life.

This is one of the biggest issues in socially constructed morality and ethics. Different people have different privileges, and we have been effectively taught that “more rights for the marginalised means less for the privileged”. This is abjectly incorrect; it is inconsequential to the privileged if the marginalised are treated equitably, they will still retain their rights.

Thus we have to recognise that morality in our own community is not an objective truth. There are many things that are considered morally right by consensus, that still fail to ensure the protection of marginalised rights. Many of us do not have Autistic as our only marginalised identity. The vast majority of us are in fact multiply marginalised.

We must identify how the subjectivity of our community ethics ignore the privileges that give rise to them. Until we do this, there will be imbalance in the ethics of the Autistic community.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an Autistic consultant and trainer, educating on the topics of Autistic experience, mental health, and drug and alcohol use. He has several years experience in this area as well as personal lived experience. You can find out more about his consultancy services at www.dghneurodivergentconsultancy.co.uk

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