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AuDHD and the politics of neurodivergent embodiment

When living life as an AuDHD (Autistic and ADHD) person, we often find ourselves falling prey to the propaganda of Western society’s neoliberalism. The enforced belief that one should be self-reliant and contribute to the capitalist machine is one that leads to the victimisation of most, if not all, of us. It’s easy to get caught in tackling the surface level ableism. However, we must dig deeper and fight the roots of our oppression in order to begin building a society we can thrive in.

The politicised existence of AuDHD people

When considering the nature of being AuDHD and/or otherwise neurodivergent, it is necessary to consider that we are not allowed to simply exist. As a marginalised community, most every aspect of our lives is a political matter.

Government welfare schemes decide if you can afford to feed yourself and your family, government health departments decide if you should have equal access to lifesaving treatments, and if so, how much you should pay. If you break the law, the government dictates your experience of the criminal justice system. If you are terminally ill, the government dictates the decisions you can make around the end of your life. When you are AuDHD, much of your autonomy in life is shaped by government legislation.

The weaponisation of our politicised existence

While your life is being dictated by those with no experience of it, we have the proverbial carrot dangled in front of us. Assimilate and be free. To some this might seem like an attractive option. If we were to just give in, less of our life would be dictated. Again, this is a mistruth.

The politics of the pathology paradigm are built upon neuronormativity. That unattainable summit of neurotypical performance that those in power ask us to achieve. Through the political control and oppression of neurodivergent embodiment, we are given the choice to deny ourselves; live inauthentically and be provided for, or be true to ourselves and relinquish our agency over our own lives.

To be neurodivergent in Western society is to accept that you are an afterthought, an anomaly to be corrected. As much as we threaten the status quo, the status quo threatens us. Thus, the spectre of legislative intrusion into our lives becomes a weapon to force us into the neurotypical box.

The paradoxical nature of being AuDHD

Politicised attitudes towards autism and ADHD are paradoxical in nature. The Autistic person should be less rigid and structured, while the ADHD person should stick to a routine. The Autistic person should socialise more naturally while the ADHD person should talk less.

No matter the contradictions we live with as AuDHD people, one thing is clear. Society wants us to silence our neurodivergence. To speak neurodivergently, be it with mouth or body, spoken or written, no matter the medium, society wishes for our silence.

Liberating AuDHD embodiment

One could be forgiven for thinking that to liberate AuDHD and neurodivergent people requires the removal of ableism from government. It’s more complex than that. Neurodivergent people are victims of complex systems of bigotry. Rarely are we only impacted by ableism. We face racism, homophobia and transphobia, ableism, sanism. This is not an exhaustive list.

To liberate AuDHD’ers living in a society built on colonialism and white supremacy, we must form new foundations to our society. We must build a place where all are accepted, rather than the privileged few in our culture whose existence is not seen as a disorder. We must embrace those seen as a pathology of humanity and empower each other to make something better than what we have currently.

It is not a disorder to be human. The world deserves better than that which the privileged few offer us.

The reason why explaining my neurodivergent experience will always be flawed

I have spoken widely about neurodivergent experiences. I have talked about my unique experience of addiction as an Autistic person, my psychosis as an AuDHD Schizophrenic. I have lamented over how society’s power structures have oppressed myself and people like me. I have spoken at length about how autism is a defining part of my core experience of reality.

One might think that on all of my years of writing, advocating, mentoring, training, and speaking, I have found somewhat of a recipe for communicating neurodivergent experiences. The truth of communicating those experiences, however, is more complex than that.

The Double Empathy Problem in Reverse

The double empathy problem has been effectively used to explain that communication differences between neurodivergent and neurotypical people essentially lay in a difference of cultural experience. We often think of this in terms of neurotypical people being unable to empathise with neurodivergent experience, but that same is true in reverse.

I can’t empathise fully with a neurotypical experience of the world.

How does this impact on the communication of neurodivergent experience

When communicating our neurodivergent experience, we have no point of reference within the neurotypical cultural world. It is a problem of solipsism, where one can only prove their own consciousness. One can only experience the world through our own mind.

Any part of that experience we communicate to others is filtered through their own subjective world. Their interpretation of our attempt to communicate our experiences is entirely dependent on a near infinite number of variables, the sum of which create a reality that may or may not be both identical or entirely different to our own.

Where one might communicate that they have a particular experience; that experience may have an entirely different meaning to another person. We are constructed by the infinite possible combinations of interactions within our environment, and therefore, we can not definitively communicate our experience of neurodivergence in an objective manner.

To put it another way, all objective truths become subjective when interpreted by human cognition.

Therefore, we must always be aware that when we communicate our neurodivergent experiences, no one other than ourselves can truly understand those experiences as felt by our own mind. We also can not explain neurodivergent experience to neurotypicals entirely accurately because we also lack that point of reference within their own reality.

This is why we need to embrace diversity of experience, even within our own neurodivergent communities. Others having a different experience to us actually increases the likelihood of a neurodivergent person successfully communicating our exact experiences.

Concluding with the infinite monkey theorem

The infinite monkey theorem states that if one gave an infinite number of monkeys, a type writer each, and allowed them to randomly hit keys for an infinite amount of time; eventually one of them would randomly type the entire collection of Shakespeare’s works.

With regards to the neurodivergent community at large, the more of us communicating our diverse experiences, the more likely that someone will eventually find a way of fully explaining neurodivergence to a neurotypical person. We need to embrace difference within individual experiences. Rather than ignore and exclude those ideas that don’t necessarily make sense to us, we need to integrate the knowledge they offer, and see if their augmentation can bridge the double empathy divide.

Autistic people and the cultural suppression of Autism

Autistic people have long talked of a world that is not designed for them. There are countless tales of the way that society is set up to be actively hostile to anyone who can not meet the neuronormative standards of their surrounding culture. This has led to a growth in online spaces of a separate culture which is broadly recognised as Autistic culture. These cultural spaces offer a vital reprieve from the hostility of the world, and yet we still find ourselves being penalised for existing as ourselves.

A colonial model of the cultural suppression of Autistic people

When I consider the cultural differences between Autistic and neurotypical people, I imagine it like a linguistic difference. Autistic and neurotypical people speak a different language. When we enter each other’s spaces we are perceived more as the obnoxious tourist than the valuable diversity of a given society. The issue is that through the proliferation of colonial ideals and subsequent neuronormativity, neurotypicals have invaded many of the spaces we may not have historically shared with them. Once they have entered our space, they place the burden to assimilate into their culture on us, rather than allowing us to respect our own cultural practices. Autistic culture is effectively colonised by neurotypical society.

Cultural suppression through autistiphobia and ableism

Ableism and autistiphobia have been growing exponentially alongside the rise of capitalism and neoliberalism. Autistic people may not have always been a recognised cultural group, but we have been recognised for a long time as “the other” that burdens society with its presence. Much of the rhetoric surrounding Autistic people can be attribute to autistiphobia, or to go further, autistimisia. Difference is detested in this world; and there is a special place in a hateful world for those of us whose difference precludes us from engaging in neuronormativity.

“No, there is no renaissance for ableism. It’s here, and it’s always been here.”

Gray-Hammond (2021)

Ableism and autistiphobia/autistimisia are not just the outcome of a society that does not understand. They are a weapon of those whose power relies on our cultural suppression. If those in power can suppress or even eliminate our culture they can then ignore our rights. The quickest way to do this is through the systematic dehumanisation of us. Culture is a uniquely human experience, and if Autistic people are disallowed from having a culture, part of our humanity can be denied.

The double empathy problem and cultural suppression of Autistic people

The double empathy problem explains the difficulty to empathise with people who have different cultural and life experiences us. For Autistic people, this represents a large portion of the world. The issue is that due to power imbalances between Autistic people and neurotypical society, we experience systemic oppression through the suppression of our culture. This leads to increased minority stress and the belief that Autistic people should meet neuronormative standards, rather than a give and take relationship where we meet somewhere in the middle.

Effective communication and co-existence is undermined by the forced assimilation of Autistic people into these neuronormative standards. While we may learn to operate within neurotypical culture, we have somewhat of a cultural accent that still declares us as different from the majority. To consider it another way, we are unable to win, no matter what we do.

Neurocosmopolitanism as the pinnacle of cultural thriving

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Such neurocultures as the Autistic community need a level playing field. While society continues to privilege one group over another, we will continue to see cultural suppression. We need to work towards building a world within which our culture has a place, rather than it’s current counter-cultural existence. We need our cultural spaces to be respected and protected rather than invaded and restructured into something that is antithetical to Autistic experience. We have a right to our existence, and it is time that the world caught up with that fact.

Reclaiming Neurofuturism: Understanding neuronormativity and the containment of Autistic experience

Much of western society is predicated on the idea that knowledge consists of a variety of objective truths. When we hear the word “disability” or “autism” we are guided to understand the word in a particular way. This unfortunately fails to capture the dynamic and highly contextual nature of human understanding. Neuronormativity, then, is an attempt to remove context from human neurological experience.

The creation of worlds

Knowledge is socially constructed. Each word we speak carries with it the effect of each interaction we have had with society. When I state that I am Disabled or Autistic, I inevitably will have a different understanding of what I mean than the meaning you will draw from it.

The space between the context of our understanding can be conceived of as the space between worlds. While our world may carry striking similarities, we can never objectively prove that they are the same. Rather than occupying a shared reality, we create contextual worlds that may cross boundaries with each other in places.

Neuronormativity and the elimination of context

When I consider normativity that is directed toward our embodiment and experience of the world, I see the death of context. Neuronormativity is that clandestine effort to label some contextual worlds as “wrong” and bolster some as “closer to the truth”. What is important here is that while neuronormativity claims an objective truth to one’s neurocognitive machinations, no human ever achieves the objective truth that it claims to hold.

Paradoxically, neuronormativity creates a world devoid of context, where one can never actually satisfy the truth of the matter. All humans fall below standard to some extent. Of course, some of us have more privilege than others, but importantly, we are guided to always strive to achieve an inaccessible truth. Regardless of our contextual world.

The contextual nature of Autistic experience

Perhaps one of the most pervasive and harmful applications of neuronormativity’s erasure is within the lives of Autistic people. Autistic experience is highly contextual, with an infinite number of ways that people can respond to and understand it. Neuronormativity seeks to erase any context within the Autistic experience that positions our existence as something other than a problematised one.

Each Autistic performance creates a contextual world of meaning. What we summarise as shared experience is actually the liminal spaces where one person’s contextual world crosses into another. In this sense, each Autistic person represents a point within a rhizomatic network, from which shared context can become community. Neuronormativity seeks to reset those liminal spaces, and enforce a generalised context. Neuronormativity is the death of our reality.

Neuronormativity is the death of community.

Neuroqueering education through rhizomatic community networks

This article exists, in part, thanks to the ongoing discussions in my Discord server. You can join by clicking here.

When considering the pervasiveness of neuronormativity, nowhere is it more visible and prevalent than in the education system. Educational institutions place a great deal of pressure on students to engage with behaviour policies, uniform policies, curriculums; more so, they define not only how one should learn, but how one should embody that learning and the ways we think about that learning.

Schools are, for the most part, completely ill-equipped for students who can’t conform to the restrictive ideals placed upon them by a school and institution that functions as a machine, creating apostles of our neoliberalist economy. Far too many children are traumatised and subsequently excluded from their human right to education because of the normatively violent approaches of the education system.

So how might we subvert and redesign education?

I have spoken recently of rhizomes. Vast networks of points that are connected while remaining independent of each other in terms of their survival. Such rhizomatic communities take a post-structural approach to the creation of community and the sharing of knowledge by ditching hierarchical notions of milestones and targets and instead allow us to take an interest-led approach.

Allowing communities to form around mutual interest creates different points within the rhizome. Through exploration and knowledge exchange, intrinsic connections form through the understanding that all knowledge is inherently connected. This is the basis of how one might queer the education system.

By allowing people to engage with interests and learn through that which they are intrinsically motivated to explore, the natural connections between points in the rhizome can be used to expand learning into other areas while maintaining and interest-led approach. Such a world would have no need for institutional education as knowledge creation and sharing would be a community endeavour.

Everyone would be the educator and the learner.

Some may worry about the standard of education that a person can achieve outside of the traditional institutional structure; truthfully, how much of the knowledge you hold now was attained within the walls of a school? Most learning is community based. School systems offer a very limited basis of knowledge that often seems pointless thanks to a lack of context.

Education should not be reliant on normative standards of teaching. We should be empowering each other to share the knowledge that we gain over a lifetime. Such a world would take us away from the self-reliance of our current society while allowing us to retain our individuality. Through a rhizomatic network of learning, we create a multiplicity in our individual existence that can not be achieved within the confines of the institution.

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Reclaiming Neurofuturism: Rhizomatic communities and the Chaotic Self

I have recently begun to explore the idea of the Autistic Rhizome as a futurist ideal of what the Autistic community could look like. In this concept, we explore communities that exist of networks with no single point of origin. They are interlinked but not dependent on one another for their existence.

You can read more about this here and here.

Co-existing with this idea is my concept of The Chaotic Self, which I first discussed in my book A Treatise on Chaos: Embracing the Chaotic Self and the art of neuroqueering. This idea position’s the Self as a fluid entity, constantly changing with each new interaction, making one’s identity as changeable as your hair colour.

What I would like to consider is the interplay between these two concepts.

If we consider the Autistic Rhizome, we are connected to one another either directly or indirectly. We are not independent of each other, but also do not rely on one another for our space in this rhizomatic network. What happens when we queer our neurology and alter our sense of Self?

As the Chaotic Self alters and grows, its relationship with the rest of the rhizome is altered. This affords it a different set of interactions and experiences, which in turn queers the Self further. Due to the interconnected nature of such a rhizomatic network, neuroqueer theory becomes farther reaching than ones own neurology. By queering ourselves, we are queering entire sections of humanity.

One could assume that at a certain degree of separation within the network, our reach is stifled, but as we queer ourselves, the relational change with our immediate environment transfers the process onwards to the rest of our community in somewhat of an u predictable manner.

Perhaps then, the argument could be made that if we want to alter society, we must first alter ourselves. When Walker (2021) tells us to “throw away the masters tools”, we must realise that we are the masters tools. Society has made us complicit in our own imprisonment. To throw away the tools means queering ourselves on a fundamental level. We must become different on an individual level and, in turn, alter the world around us.

As such, to embrace the Chaotic Self requires us to embrace the rhizome. We must recognise that any change to our own embodiment and subsequent relationship with the environment alters more than our inner world, it has knock on effects for the human collective, that itself is an ever-changing, amorphous entity.

Further Reading

Neuroqueer Heresies by Nick Walker

A Treatise on Chaos by David Gray-Hammond

I also recommend becoming familiar with the work of Delueze and Guattari for a broader understanding of some of the motivations behind this post.

Reclaiming Neurofuturism: Decolonising the Autistic community

Community is somewhat of an abstract concept. It is an adjective for a group that has a shared identity. It comes with rules and politics that dictate how one must carry themselves. There is a dichotomy of insider and outsider within communities, often dictated by agreement of the communities politics. Those who don’t conform are ejected.

The Autistic community is not immune to this. Deleuze and Guattari, I imagine, would see the Autistic community as a machine. One enters the community, working their way through it until they achieve the title of advocate. There is a power imbalance between those that advocate and those who choose to remain quiet in the public domain. As advocates, we largely write the rules of our community.

I have previously written about the Autistic Rhizome in the context of neuro-anarchy. I envision this as an interlinked network with no point of origin. Each point of interest on this map of communities is linked with the others but independent in the sense that they do not require each other to exist. I explored this in an article for Stimpunks Foundation.

The Autistic Rhizome is decentralised. It has no goal other than mutual knowledge exchange and support. Rather than creating colonised communities engaging in separatism, they are nomads. Within the Rhizome, we explore the topography of neurodiversity while respecting each culture that we encounter. In my opinion, the evolution of an Autistic Rhizome is the first proper step towards a neurocosmopolitan society.

We can create communities through realising the connections in our individual nature.

This allows us to begin dismantling the structures we have built (out of necessity) using the masters tools. We can create a new community away from the colonial influence of our normative society. In this sense, these growing networks are queering the meaning of community through the rejection of hierarchy and the balance of power.

Like any new endeavour, it has the potential for mistakes to be made. One must accept that exploration comes with a few wrong turns, but as long as mistakes can be corrected in good faith, we can create a new kind of community.

This is the thesis of neurofuturism. To create a new culture and community.

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Neuro-anarchy and the rise of the Autistic Rhizome

Before we start, I want to go over some terms that will be covered here.

Neuro-anarchy: as conceptualised by Katie Munday, I use this to refer to to the decentralisation of hierarchy as it pertains to neurocultures such as that of the Autistic community. Munday and I co-authored an article on this here. Neuro-anarchists arrive at this position by existing on the fringes of their own communities and challenging the politics within them.

Rhizome: as conceptualised in the work of Deleuze and Guatarri. A network with no single point of origin. No part of the network depends upon the existence of another. I have introduced the idea of this in the context of community here.

When considering the nature of the neuro-anarchist, one could be forgiven for expecting to see Autistic people clad in post-apocalyptic garments decrying the existence of government. Some of us are like that. However, some of us look like this;

Image of David. A white, Mediterranean, masculine person with a shaved head, thick rimmed glasses, lip piercing, and an ear tunnel. David is wearing a waistcoat, white shirt, and tie. He is sat at a covered picnic table.

Neuro-anarchy as a concept is important. In any community built upon identity, identity politics come into play. Humans have this bizarre tendency to look for leadership, and when they find it, they will often defend it, even if it is overtly harmful. Neuro-anarchy, however, invites us to consider the nature of that leadership and whether the hierarchy of our own communities serves the greater good.

Allow me to elaborate.

Humans are fundamentally neutral. We are equally as capable of tremendous evil as we are of a beautiful good. We are not born naturally good or evil. That is an identity given to us by the sum of our actions. However, the tendency to create community hierarchy means that some members of the community sit in a position of power over others.

Neuro-anarchy seeks to rebalance the power dynamics of a given neuroculture, allowing for mutual exchange of knowledge and support.

Enter the rhizome.

On discord, there is a growing network of communities. I have lovingly dubbed this collective The Autistic Rhizome. They are an interconnected network of knowledge exchange, and mutual aid and support that have displaced the hierarchical nature of advocate/follower relationships.

We are equal in these spaces.

This doesn’t mean that all knowledge shared is useful in advancing the neurodiversity movement. Like any knowledge, some is good, some is bad, most is somewhere in the middle.

This growing network consists of communities that do not depend on each other to exist, but are still enriched by their interconnection. There is no starting or end point. There is no advancing through communities based on levels of knowledge. They just simply exist, and people come and go as they please.

I personally feel this is neuro-anarchy on action. We have decentralised the Self and become a collective. We are connected in the neutrality of our individuality.

There is somewhat of a liberated feeling within the Rhizome. It feels safe.

I strongly believe this might be the next step for growing our communities. A rhizomatic network of free thought that considers each member equal. The ethos of “do no harm” is a wonderful thing.

If you want to check out the Autistic Rhizome, you can join my server and no doubt explore into others!

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