Neurodivergence and Normality: The meaning of words

“I understand now that boundaries between noise and sound are conventions. All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention if only one can first conceive of doing so.”

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

The neurodiversity movement is predicated on three deceptively simple ideas:

  • There are as many variations of the human mind as there are humans.
  • Those who can not perform to neurotypical standards are neurodivergent.
  • Neurodivergent people deserve equity and inclusion in our shared environment.

Upon this premise, an entire collective culture of shared knowledge and community-connectedness has blossomed. Creating spaces where neurodivergent people have, for the first time, felt they belong. For many of us, including myself, it has been not just life-changing. It has saved us from an early demise.

But what is neurotypicality? What is it exactly that we diverge from?

Neurotypicality is a performance. It is a set of normative ideas that we have come to accept as “normal”. While those normative ideas my change based on the local environments culture, the truth remains that the word “normal” has been weilded as a weapon to justify the dehumanisation and oppression of all who can not, or will not, assimilate.

Normality is itself a social construct. It is an abstract entity. It is not measurable or tangible. While one could argue that normality is a word that represents that which most have on common, we could just as easily have given it the opposite meaning.

All words are essentially meaningless. The objective truth of a words meaning is something of a social contract between ourselves and those around us. For the context of this essay, let us take normality or “normal” to mean the most commonly found attributes of a given population.

In this sense, Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people are abnormal. We have diverged from normality, representing what is framed by wider society as an aberration in the status quo. On the basis of this, a global industrial complex has risen up in order to not only force our assimilation into normality but also turn that endeavour into a profitable business.

How does one move forward when the world is at odds with your existence?

Even in neurodivergent communities, we frame ourselves through our differences. Celebrating the idea that we are different to that which normativity requires. While their is beauty to be found in such an existence, I believe that we must transcend the limitations of normality. Not through our difference, but instead by our assertion that “normal” does not exist.

We are not different because of our lack of normality. We are different because we embrace individuality and diversity. The difference between normality and normativity is semantic in nature. Normality is the attractive package that is gifted to us to take into our home. We must challenge normativty at its core and not at its surface.

To move into a post-normal society, one must first be able to conceive of such a place. We must establish new boundaries that turn the sound of normality into background noise. Drowning out normative beliefs with the voices of those that refuse to assimilate.

This, of course, presents a problem for not just neurotypical society but also neurodivergent communities. Even in our own culture, there exists a kind of essentialism in the idea that you are either neurotypical or neurodivergent. In a post-normal world, words like “divergent” and “typical” become redundant. If we have no preconceived notions of normality, then there is no need for a counter-culture. There is nothing to assimilate into.

Such a world would allow for the emancipation of neurodivergent communities but fundamentally alter the meaning of what it means to be neurodivergent. We would not be connecting over our differences but rather our shared culture. Such culture is difficult to quantify at this stage because we still have a long way to travel.

For now, this kind of neurofuturism may sound naively utopian, perhaps even dystopian, depending on your outlook. If I can be sure of one thing, it’s that it’s time for us to conceive of a world beyond normality. It is the first step on a journey toward a world where the oppression of neurodivergent people is no longer possible.

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