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Autistic culture and the conservation of neurodiversity

I’ve worn many professional hats over the years. Perhaps it may be surprising to some when they learn that I didn’t spring forth from the womb clad in rainbow flags and infinity symbols. My undergraduate degree was actually completely unrelated to autism (in the literal sense); I studied forensic and archaeological science.

As part of my training in both forensic and archaeological practices, I had to learn how to conduct environmental impact assessments. Right now, you’re probably wondering, “Why the hell is David telling us this?” You will be unsurprised to learn that I’m going to relate this to Autistic culture.

You can’t consider an environment and its health without first considering the biodiversity that exists within that environment. Neurodiversity can, from an ecological perspective, be considered a form of biodiversity.

The world can be considered an environment consisting of a multitude of cultures and sub-cultures. In this context, we can consider a sub-culture to be a group within an existing culture that shares similarities with that larger overall culture but contains variations, or perhaps deviations, from the perceived normative standards. I would then like to position Autistic culture in an ecological class of sub-culture.

We share many similarities with the wider cultures within the environment. Thanks to the intersectionality of our community, we exist within multiple larger cultures. We do, however, have specific language and a sociality of our own. So, within the broad context of various human cultures autism exists as its own diverse nook.

Why is this important?

The ecology of an environment is a complex machination. Each seemingly insignificant aspect creates the balance required for each living part of that environment to co-exist with each other. Removal of even the smallest part of an environment can create a cascading effect that leads to the failure of a given ecosystem. With respect to cultures and sub-cultures, they are a necessary part of human ecology.

As a species that evolved to be interdependent, neurological diversity allows for the development of the means of not just co-existence with our fellow humans but also the survival of our species. This, then, is why Autistic people find themselves so concerned with cure culture and eugenics. The ramifications of the erasure of Autistic sub-culture are far-reaching, beyond the scope of our mere elimination from the gene pool. It is possible that our erasure could threaten the ecological balance of the human environment.

Neurodiversity has a farther reach than merely our right to exist as neurodivergent people. It considers our need to exist. Autistic people are not just an aberration. We are not a deviation from objective normality. We are a necessary part of human cognition. Human existence, like the existence of any species, is predicated on its diversity. Reduction of biodiversity can and will ultimately lead to our failure to thrive.

So, with the consideration that we are necessary for the existence of the human race. Perhaps it is time to stop making us “indistinguishable from our peers.” It’s not just Autistic people who are being harmed by attempts to reduce us, it’s humanity itself.

Neuronormativity, the pathologisation of Mental health, and the normalising of suffering

In recent years mental health has become more widely talked about, thanks to the popularisation of the “it’s okay not to be okay” trope. On the surface this is a wonderful approach to the normalisation of Mental health issues, but does it have a darker side?

There are currently over 300 “disorders” listed in the DSM 5, the diagnostic manual used by psychiatrists around the world. One could imagine that between them they account for the vast majority of human experience; a concerning thought to say the least.

What benefit does this serve us as a society?

Realistically, it only benefits those who adhere to normative standards.

We’ve been taught that mental health concerns are an illness, that we have a pathology that requires treatment. Despite this, there is no biomedical test that can definitively diagnose any of the numerous entries in the DSM. So perhaps there is something more to the pathologisation of human experience.

Our society is broken, it has fixed rules that apply to fewer and fewer people, while trying harder and harder to assimilate people into it’s normative standards of behaviour. Szasz would argue that this approach serves to provide a sort of social control over us.

So now we live in a society where anyone who doesn’t fit cultural standards of normal is considered “sick” or “ill”.

Thus, we reach a point of starting to understand why “it’s okay not to be okay” might have a darker side to it. Mental health issues (in my opinion) arise from living in an environment that can not fulfill the individuals needs. An environment that consistently traumatises those living in it.

However, we are now normalising human suffering. It’s okay to say “I’m not okay” but we must never normalise human suffering. When we do or say things that uphold the pathology paradigm, we are allowing our oppressive society to continue on its harmful path.

We need to do the work to rebuild society into a brighter place, thar meets the needs of the many, and not just a selected few. We do this by recognising that neurodiversity is about more than Autistic and ADHD experiences.

The change starts with us, and it ends with a brighter future.

It’s never okay to suffer.

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