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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.

Reclaiming Neurofuturism: Autistic embodiment and the enactment of neurodivergence

When we seek to describe our Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent selves, we tend towards discrete categories and observable definitions of what we mean. However, to be Autistic is more than a diagnostic category; while Autism is a defining part of my experience, I also enact neurodivergence. My embodiment gives definition to what people mean when they use words like Autistic, ADHD, AuDHD, or Schizophrenic.

Performing Autism

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Like any of the diagnostic categories that have been assimilated into my identity, I perform them much in the way a neurotypical performs neurotypicality. Unlike the diagnostic criteria that bestowed these identities on myself, my performance is not containable. Every word that passes my lips, every action that my body makes; my existence gives meaning to the word neurodivergent. We often hear:

“When you’ve met one Autistic person, you’ve met one Autistic person.”

Unknown Author

I, however, would go one step further. Through our embodied relationship to the Self, we become autism. In the same way, I have become ADHD, and I have become Schizophrenia.

Queering the diagnosis

Autism does not exist as a separate entity, it exists as the embodied performance of ourselves. We choose the meaning that our identity has. We don’t have to be the Autistic that everyone else expects; through our performance of Self, We can redefine what people mean when they use words like Autism, Autistic, or neurodivergent.

We are both the writers and the actors in the performance of our neurodivergence. It is our job to deconstruct the politicised Autistic identity and replace it with the embodied and fluid definition that one might only find within the Chaotic Self. To word it another way; if we perform autism, that performance will change and evolve with each interaction with our environment.

Concluding Remarks

This lays a significant responsibility upon us as both individuals and a connected community. If we are redefining the meaning of autism and neurodivergence, it is on us to ensure that its definition is neither exclusionary or repulsive. The meaning of autism is written on our bodies, and we choose the words that write it into being.

We must strive toward a future free of the dichotomous standard of “meets diagnostic criteria” and “does not meet criteria”. Only when we break free of our politicisation and medicalisation can we truly explore the endless possibilities of doing autism.

What is the double empathy problem and how does it relate to autism?

Within the Autistic community, there is theory that we speak about as though it is commonplace in human lives. In part, this is the double empathy problem in practice. However, not all theory that we speak of is known by wider society. Thus, it is my intention to demystify a small part of that theoretical knowledge in this article.

What is the double empathy problem?

The double empathy problem is a theoretical basis to explain why people with vastly different experiences of the world find it difficult to empathise with each other. It states that individuals and groups with differing cultural and life experiences struggle to understand the experience of the other due to having no point of reference within that opposing worldview.

How does the double empathy problem relate to autism?

Autism is broadly viewed by the wider world as a diagnostic category. It has been framed as a disorder affecting social communication that is pervasive and lifelong in nature. Autistic people, however, see autism differently. Autistic people view autism as an abstract concept with the only tangible aspect of it being the existence of Autistic people. That is to say, autism does not exist, only Autistic people exist.

Within this worldview, being Autistic has been conceptualised as an identity bound within the remit of the neurodiversity paradigm. As opposed to being a disorder, being Autistic is a natural variation of the human mind that prevents Autistic people from performing neurotypically, i.e. we can not assimilate yo neuronormative standards.

Consequently, perceived deficits in social reciprocity and communication are, in fact, the double empathy problem in practice. Because we are a minority group, our ability to communicate and empathise with others is viewed as deficient as opposed to just “different”.

Why is the double empathy problem important to Autistic people?

The double empathy problem allows us to demonstrate the fundamental power imbalance between Autistic and neurotypical individuals and groups. Autistic people’s position as a minority group results in our existence being pathologised and medicalised, while neurotypical embodiment is seen as something to be desired.

The double empathy problem highlights the exclusionary and oppressive nature of neuronormative thinking while highlighting the issues with cross-cultural and cross-neurotype communication and social reciprocity. Thus, rather than view Autistic people as anti-social, and deficient in communication and empathy, it would be more accurate to say that we have differences in these areas.

Why are Autistic people different?

Due to differences in brain functioning, Autistic people experience and process information differently. As a result, Autistic people utilise and understand language differently, resulting in the evolution of an Autistic culture and sociality (AuSociality). These fundamental differences in our use and understanding of language, sociality, and processing of information constitute a cultural divide that prevents neurotypical society from truly empathising with our experience.

Further Reading

Dr. Damian Milton- The Double Empathy Problem Ten Years On

AuSocial: Towards an understanding of Autistic social culture

In my book The New Normal: Autistic musings on the threat of a broken society I have a chapter about Autistic social nature. Autistic people have widely been represented as being asocial, which is patently absurd. Autistic people have a rich and diverse social culture that has been ignored for a long time.

“One of the prevailing misconceptions is that as Autistic people we are overtly asocial beings. It is taken as common knowledge that we are the friendless weirdos who don’t understand social cues but can recite every train we’ve ever seen.”

Quote from The New Normal

A brief look at the research

Upon perusing the existing literature surrounding Autistic sociality, there is limited research into the social nature of our community. I might first start by situating us within the remit of The Double Empathy problem.

“It is also vital to remember how the double empathy problem as initially conceived was heavily influenced by sociological theory and that such social interactions happen within a continually negotiated and mutually constructed context”

Milton et al (2022)

The double empathy problem within the context of Autistic communication essentially positions us as having a different way of communicating and relating to language rather than a deficit. This difference arises from cultural differences and the relationships we have with the world power structures.

Due to structural oppression, our style of communication is often centred as an issue to be fixed.

“The notion that autistic people lack sociality is problematised, with the suggestion that autistic people are not well described by notions such as the ‘social brain’, or as possessing ‘zero degrees of cognitive empathy’. I then argue, however, that there is a qualitative difference in autistic sociality, and question to what extent such differences are of a biological or cultural nature, and to what extent interactional expertise can be gained by both parties in interactions between autistic and non-autistic people.”

Milton (2014)

So we now have a position whereby Autistic people do not lack sociality but instead experience a different form of sociality. This is what I refer to as AuSocialility or being AuSocial.

Despite indications to the contrary, the emphasis is often directed towards teaching Autistic people to learn non-Autistic social culture, despite this being uncomfortable or even harmful for us. Some research has argued that this should be the other way round.

“We recommend teaching not autistic people but rather non-autistic individuals about autistic sociality, in order to lower the burden on autistic interlocutors in cross-neurotype interactions and socialization”

Keates, Waldock & Dewar (2022)

What does being AuSocial mean?

Autistic sociality or the AuSocial presence of Autistic people can be conceptualised by the growing cultural practices of Autistic people. We have our own customs, use of language, moral values, and even recognise what would be the cultural equivalent of public holidays in the existence of things such as Autistic pride day and the reclamation of Autistic acceptance month.

Such cultural practices as body-doubling (a firm favourite for AuDHD people) where we use video platforms such as zoom to be present and parallel with others while working on separate tasks are a key feature of Autistic professional culture and sociality. One might also look towards our differences in the way we understand and process language as the formation of a dialect.

A key feature of AuSociality is the cultural practice of moral defence of minority groups. While the Autistic community is far from devoid of bigotry, there is a general atmosphere of protectiveness towards the multiply marginalised that isn’t experienced within the non-Autistic cultural space.

In summary, AuSocial culture is a complex and highly developed set of communication, language, and socialisation skills that can only be witnessed between Autistic people. Rather than being deficient in our social exchanges, we often achieve a great deal and naturally fight to try and improve the world for our neurokin.


Autistic people, like most humans, are inherently social beings. Despite testimony to the contrary (usually by non-Autistic professionals and researchers) we have developed our own AuSocial culture that stands diametrically opposed to those who would label us as asocial. Such cultural practices as those within the Autistic community serve to diminish the burden of existing with in a systemically violent society and serve an important protective function for our wellbeing.

I invite people to add their own examples of AuSocial culture .

Yes, being Autistic does define me

Some years ago, I wrote a similar article for Neuroclastic. I thought perhaps now was the time to revisit the topic with several years more experience under my belt. Too many times I have been told not to let my “autism” define me, that I am something other than Autistic.

So, yes, being Autistic is a defining feature of who I am. This isn’t to say it is the only defining feature, but it is a core part of my identity. Of course, it is more than an identity to me. Much like my being ADHD and Schizophrenic, it defines my relationship to the universe surrounding me. I imagine my Autistic brain as a singular point, an event horizon within which all things become Autistic.

When I wake up, I do so Autistically. When I hold my son, I do so Autistically. When I breathe my last breath, I will do so Autistically. Autism is not a separate entity that inhabits me. I do not carry my autism as one might carry a brief case. My autism is the words I write, the thoughts I think. Autism is the way I feel. Autism is the way I love.

I am David, and so is my autism. If I were not Autistic I would not be David.

When others ask me not to be defined by “my autism”, they are asking me to cease existence. I have no existence outside of being Autistic because everything I do, I do as autism. As Autistic people, we are the point at which autism stops being an abstract concept and instead becomes a living, breathing human. My humanity is Autistic, and I will never know of non-Autistic humanity.

I can not tell you what it is like to be Autistic in a way that you can fathom unless you also are Autistic. Autism is all we know. We have never been anything other than Autstic. Even when I queer my neurology and seek a new way to exist, I do so as an Autistic person. My autism is exploration. It is expression of Self that can not, and will not, perform typicality.

So, do not ask me to define myself outside of autism. To do so is to ask me to define myself outside of my existence.

Being Autistic doesn’t automatically make you a good person

When I was new to the Autistic community, I was somewhat naive. Compared to the circles I had existed within during active addiction, everyone seemed very supportive and generally decent. Unfortunately, I had a rude awakening. Not all Autistic people have good intentions. We are human, and thus subject to making the mistakes and bad choices that most other humans do also.

One of the primary ways that Autistic people are infantilised is in the assertion of our perpetual innocence. The truth, however, is far from that. We are a community that has been traumatised time and again; subsequently reacting to things through our trauma. Beyond that, we have a fair share of bigots. BIPOC, Queer, and gender diverse communities within Autistic circles know this only too well.

Despite a huge part of our community being multiply marginalised, we are a community where those with privilege still speak over others. Even as a write this, I am aware of my cis-, white privilege. Despite the intersections I exist within, I have a great deal of privilege because of the colour of my skin and gender identity.

It was a great disappointment to me to discover the bigotry within our own community. Having come from a life where I was surrounded by bad people, and in fact could probably have been one of the bad people, I had hoped so desperately that there was a place in this world that was untouched by hate. Sadly, hatred is insidious and seeps into the cracks that are available.

It did teach me the important lesson, though, that Autistic people are not inherently good or bad. It helped to humanise not just other Autistic people, but also me. It showed me the pervasive attitudes towards Autistic people that we are trapped in childhood, incapable of having agency over our lives. So, while I cannot stand the bigotry, there is value in the lesson I have learned.

In order to fight back against hatred within our own community, we first have to acknowledge that it is there. We have to acknowledge that Autistic people are capable of hateful behaviour. We are human beings, and we will not fix our problems without acknowledging they are there.

Today is Autistic Pride Day: Let’s celebrate our diversity

I have been active in the Autistic community for some years now. I have come to realise that autism as a diagnosis has been somewhat of a failed experiment. Diagnostic models have failed to capture the intricacies of what they dub “autism spectrum disorder”. A lot of the issues with the diagnostic process itself come back to racial and socioeconomic bias in research literature; there are also significant issues with people gendering autism, creating exclusion by denial of gender and sexually diverse experiences.

The Autistic community is diverse. While autism itself is an abstract concept, the very real Autistic people that exist come from all parts of the tapestry of life. One might hope that the days of autism being a diagnosis of middle-class white males is coming to an end, but there is still significant disparity. This article highlights the significant gulf in diagnostic rates in the US alone. It is clear that BIPOC people are being ignored despite the countless voices from their communities speaking up.

I also recently wrote about queerness and being Autistic. Gender diversity and sexualities that do not fit into perceived heteronormativity account for a great deal of the Autistic community. Again, these groups may have a harder time getting a diagnosis due to ideas that position autism as something that is only observed between cis-gendered males. It is clear that if you don’t fit the historical research, diagnosticians will deny you exist.

But you do exist, like all of us. You have the same strengths and struggles, plus other struggles that I can not know as a person with the privileges I have.

When we speak of Autistic pride, I think many view it as cute little get togethers, spending time amongst our own people. That’s not entirely wrong, but Autistic pride, much like any pride, is so much more than celebrating. We are protesting. We are refusing to be ashamed, and what we need to stand against moving forward is the bigoted gatekeeping of the few who believe that multiply marginalised communities should be targeted and minimised.

Autistic pride requires us to root out the bigotry in not just wider society but also our own community. If there is even one person who can not celebrate their Autistic pride, then none of us can. Autistic people are a diverse people, and our fight will not succeed if we are not also fighting for our neurokin who exist at the intersections.

So today, and for all days to come. If someone asks you what Autistic pride is; tell them it is our fight to make sure the world has a place for all Autistic people, not just the select few who fit into the world normative standards. Let’s build a world together where intersectional communities can feel safe to express their experiences without fear of backlash or risk to wellbeing and life.

There is no Autistic liberation while any one of us is being oppressed.

What it feels like to be Autistic

Three years ago, I asked the question What does it feel like to be Autistic? By the time I wrote that article, I was quite confident in both my Autistic identity and my blossoming advocacy work, but in the time since writing it, I have learned and grown at an exponential rate. So now I feel it’s necessary to revisit this question and explore it further.

So, what does it feel like to be Autistic?

I’ve always been different. Some of my earliest memories are hazy recollections of feeling distinctly different from the expectations of what a person should be. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was being conditioned by society and its normative values. I was effectively being indoctrinated into the cult of normality. This probably explains why I spent a lot of my twenties despising who I was and wishing I could change it.

Our identities, our conscious sense of being, is a social construct. We internalise the experiences afforded to us by our environment. Autistic people often experience Self-hatred and internalised ableism because hatred and ableism is what we experience in the wider world. The building blocks we are given to construct ourselves are born of normative violence.

There is a fundamental issue with me telling you exactly what it’s like to be Autistic; there is a solipsistic asymmetry in my experience. I have never not been Autistic. I have no point of reference in an experience outside of my own. What I can speak to are the experiences that I have had.

Even calling myself Autistic has, at times, felt strange. It was an identity given to me by the world. I exist as David. Others describe me as Autistic. I have internalised and related that description. It has become a facet of my identity, but it is a surface feature of my deeper Self.

I have at times doubted my Autistic identity. I have been so adept at concealing parts of myself that I have doubted their existence. This is all-the-more complicated due to the abstract nature of autism. It is not a natural kind, it is a social descriptor that existed originally to segregate my mind from those who can perform neurotypicality. For this reason, my Autistic experience is often one of Self-doubt and imposter syndrome.

For me, to be Autistic is to bear witness to the detailed connections between all things at all times. I am Chronically overwhelmed because I can not filter out the complexity of the world. I experience the whole, and not the aspect.

Of course, my experience will differ from another’s because Autistic identity is not my sole identity. I am Schizophrenic, I am ADHD, and I am in recovery from addiction. However, my identity is not a maths problem that sums up to a whole person. The distribution of identities onto my person gives the illusion of multiplicity when, in fact, I am a singularity. I do not exist as many, but as one singular experience that ticks many boxes.

So, what does it feel like to be Autistic?

It feels like being me.

Defining and emancipating weirdness: A reflection for Weird Pride

With Weird Pride Day coming up on the 4th of March, I have been considering the way I embody my identity, and how I can use my Self-expression to reclaim neurofuturism from the tech industry and use it to drive us into a post-normal society. It seems to me that post-normal thinking is growing throughout the communities I find myself in. Little by little, we’re getting weirder.

So, how does one embody weirdness? Weirdness is, much like all other adjectives, a social construct. Different cultures and societies have different standards for what classes as weird. Weirdness, then, has been restricted in its own way by normative thinking and what we see as objective weirdness has become somewhat of a caricature. Stereotypical machinations of a prefabricated construct.

True weirdness doesn’t come from the expected. It is not a quantifiable and boundaried concept. Weirdness is abstract, and to embrace, weirdness is to subvert expectation. Weird Pride is not just a refusal to be ashamed of your difference, it is using your weirdness in ever more surprising and innovative ways in order to escape from the soul crushing normativty of the status quo.

Weird Pride is emancipatory. It liberates us from being defined by the observations of others. It is freedom from being a caricature of yourself.

If I can ask one thing of you for March 4th, it is this; be the unexpected. Innovate, generate, emancipate. Don’t be weird by someone else’s standard. Be weird by your standard.

Latest updates on my books!

It’s been a hectic time since I published my first book at the beginning of November 2022. I have worked hard to get The New Normal: Autistic musings on the threat of a broken society out in the formats that people asked for. With that in mind, what formats is it out in?

First and foremost, it is out in paperback and ebook format, available from Amazon in multiple countries, and Barnes & Noble (paperback only, and US only). There are two editions out. This is because the first edition did not meet requirements for wider distribution off of Amazon.

So here are some links if you wish to purchase the paperback and ebook formats:

Lots of you also asked for an audiobook version. So, naturally, I made that happen! The audiobook is currently available on Audible, but will soon be available on Amazon and iTunes. Here is the link to the Audible edition:

So what else?

I recently published another chapbook. No, it’s not a poetry book this time. This is a three part essay on my experiences with neuroqueering, and it is also where I introduce my concept of the Chaotic Self that you may have heard me talk about in livestreams!

The book is called A Treatise on Chaos: Embracing the Chaotic Self and the art of neuroqueering. It is currently available in paperback and ebook, also both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Here are the links:

If I can ask one thing of you all, please share the he’ll out of this news! Tell people about my books, write reviews, spread the word! Being self-published was a fun experience, but sadly, I lack marketing resources and I am being drowned out by some of the other wonderful books that are releasing at the moment. I would love to think that people get a chance to hear my message!

I am published in print in a couple of other places. For more information please click here

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