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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.

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.

Intergenerational trauma and the perpetuation of harm

“Mother is God in the eyes of a child”

William Makepeace Tackery

The above quote, whilst pertinent to this discussion, is only half of the picture. Adults control most aspects of a child’s life, and whether or not we realise it, we do this by being the people they depend upon to survive. I often wonder if those who abused me stopped to realise quite how severely they failed me in constructing a child for whom a feeling of safety was a rarity.

Children, like all of us, are socially constructed. The Self is an amalgam of the relationships and experiences afforded to us by the environment. This proves particularly problematic for children in abusive situations. Extensive and prolonged abuse creates a rocky foundation for Self-actualisation and scaffolding of one’s identity.

Much as the child who grows up seeing nothing but shadows does not realise there is a person who casts them, the child who is consistently and extensively mistreated does not view their abuse as out of the ordinary. This is how trauma passes from generation to generation. The normalisation of inflicted pain allows for it to be passed on.

There is a greater complexity to this matter than simply the way our parents and other family members treat us. Services and professionals who are meant to support us often compound the pain we are experiencing. When one is more concerned with the law than with ethics, you are almost definitely contributing to pain.

So, now we have a world where harm comes from all directions. This harm is so consistent and resilient to change that we do not realise its lack of acceptability. We are constructed into adults who believe that things should remain the same because “we turned out fine”.

We didn’t.

It’s not okay.

Our colonial society has taught us that normative violence is the pinnacle of love, and yet so few of us have actually known what real love feels like. We are hurt people who are hurting people. Not because we are fundamentally bad, but because the inflicting of pain in our world is taught to us as a second language.

We have become masters of our own torture.

It is necessary then to explore ways of moving away from this world of normative suffering. We must queer the expectations of human experience in order to build a new society where abuse of the Other is as unacceptable as any other crime against humanity.

We deserve a world where our fundamental human rights are not trampled daily, and more so, our children deserve the opportunity to construct themselves in love and not the crucible of pain.

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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Reclaiming Neurofuturism: Neuroqueering knowledge and its production

In a previous article, I discussed the idea of verisimilitude. I discussed how we might never find an objective truth that explains neurodivergent experience. In fact, we might never find one for human experience on the whole. What we can do is seek a falsehood that is close enough to truth to seem true, it has verisimilitude.

One of the flaws in this is the arborescent approach to knowledge creation that this takes. We are constantly building on previous knowledge. Our foundations are rooted in the past. However, if we accept the verisimilitous nature of all knowledge pertaining to neurodivergent experience, then we must accept that there is a good chance that prior knowledge is a falsehood that seems true.

This presents an issue. If the foundations we branch out from are unstable, the metaphysical structure of our knowledge is one doomed for collapse. I believe we need to move beyond the roots and instead create new knowledge, not by abandoning the past, but by utilising it in a way that no single part depends upon another.

One might pontificate that knowledge exists to evolve, but what if we approach knowledge as being independent of its purpose. Rather than measuring knowledge by its reiteration and resilience in the fave of scrutiny, we can view it as interconnected while retaining its independence.

Can we create new knowledge through linking networks of knowledge that are seemingly unrelated? How might one approach the creation of knowledge in a way that does not depend on antiquated thought?

Knowledge is a by-product of thought, which itself is a by-product of the bodymind. If we desire to queer knowledge, we must first queer the bodymind. This requires us to abandon the politics of our own existence and instead explore our own reality.

Through exploration of the Self, we are able to tweak and alter the bodymind. This, in turn, will alter our thoughts and, thus, knowledge production. By abandoning the arborescence of our own thoughts, we can abandon the roots of antiquated knowledge.

To liberate humanity, we must liberate thought and knowledge. We must escape the branching nature of our current system of knowledge and instead explore the coherence of our entire knowledge base rather than focusing on small details. When we can embrace the connectivity of everything, we can wield knowledge as the tool it should always have been.

Normative society has standardised thought to control the direction of knowledge. To be free of normativity, we must first free our thoughts and knowledge.

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