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Reclaiming Neurofuturism: Ontological perspectives of neurodiversity

For time immemorial the nature of human consciousness has been discussed and debated. I have spoken at length about neuronormativity and neuroqueer theory, positioning the Self as a moving target that grows and changes dependent on it’s cultural and environmental context, socially constructed by those we interact with. I refer to this as the Chaotic Self, a Self that is constantly changing and of no fixed value. The issue with this is that it contradicts one of the fundamental ways that those outside of neurodiversity paradigm based communities understand minds that differ from normative values.

The pathology paradigm posits an essentialist worldview, that you are born either normal, or abnormal, and that if you were not born abnormal, then it is due to the development of a pathological occurrence. According to this view their are no routes to atypicality outside of the circumstances of ones birth or illness.

This has itself given birth to medical models of neurodiversity which are themselves of a realist nature. Medical models view truth as objective and fixed, awaiting our discovery. There is no space for subjective experience and opinion in the medical world. Despite this, there is currently no meaningful, objective relationship between our physical brain and our experience of the world. The medical model deals in objective facts such as the DSM 5 diagnostic criteria for autism and ADHD, these diagnostic criteria are far more open to interpretation than we are led to believe.

They issue with diagnostic and medical models is that they suggest neurodivergence is a fixed and immutable fact. One is either neurotypical or neurodivergent, with no recourse for movement across the metaphorical boundaries. The truth, as ever, is far more complicated. The foundation of neuroqueer theory, for example, is that one can queer your neurology, with neurotypicality being a performance rather than a natural kind.

According to neuroqueer theory, it is possible for a person who performs neurotypicality to alter their mind in a way that they become neurodivergent. Under medical models this is disregarded as inducing pathology of the mind. The realism of medical models suggests that if one does not fit into contained and objective criteria then one is not neurodivergent.

From a relativistic perspective this is patently absurd. Every human mind is different. Relativism underpins the neurodiversity paradigm in the same way that realism does the pathology paradigm. neurodiversity models recognise that no two human brains are the same, and while some groups may have shared culture and experiences, we have our own subjective truths that are influenced by the cultural context of our existence and our interaction with others.

Therefore, neurodivergence is not unique to that which can be measured by diagnostic criteria, but instead a disengagement from normative values and performance. To become neurodivergent is to be liberated from the cult of normality. We escape the status quo by escaping the normatively constructed Self.

This raises the question of how one builds community and culture from the idiosyncrasies of individual humans. I would argue that in neurodivergent communities we form connection based on phenomenological introspection. Through our exploration of individual experiences we find the places where our lives cross and recross. We find the shared paths we have taken while acknowledging the paths we walk separately.

This is why understanding intersectionality is so very important, it allows us to recognise that we have just as many individual experiences as we do shared ones. It allows us to address the subjective nature of how we experience and embody the Self.

In my opinion, to embrace the neurodiversity movement is to let go of the notion of objective truth. To embrace the diversity of human cognition and embodiment is to liberate oneself from the standardised measurement of consciousness. It is to recognise that where shared experience creates identity-based communities such as that of the Autistic community, our subjectivity and solipsistic nature is what creates the diversity of the human population.

Thus, neuroqueering is an essential practice to the survival of the human species. A diverse species is a healthy species, and where we have too much homogeneity it is necessary to queer ourselves and create heterogeneity.

Reclaiming Neurofuturism: The disability question

Throughout the neurodiversity movement and wider into parent-led autism communities, there has been one particular question that comes up time and again: Is autism (and neurodivergence in general, for that matter) a disability?

The prevailing opinion of Autistic self-advocates and many people in neurodivergent-led communities is that, yes, it is a disability but only understandable using the social model of disability. Other groups have suggested that autism is not a disability, and use many euphemisms that neurodivergent people find patronising (no, I don’t have superpowers, and it’s definitely not a “diffability”). Then we have those parents and carers who believe that autism is a medical matter. They approach autism through the medical model of disability that views neurodivergence as something that is inherently broken in a person’s brain.

With the obvious caveat that pathologising neurodivergence is a weapon of normative violence, I believe there is somewhat of a middle ground in the way that we view disability. Perhaps we can find a way of interpreting a person’s disability that doesn’t require us to separate a person’s struggles into social issues, and medical issues.

First, let’s draw on the social models wisdom. A person’s access to the environment can often be a deciding factor in the presentation of disability. However, we have to consider what that environment consists of. Environs are made of more than objects and physical obstacles. Our relationships with those in our environment, and the power structures that exist within those relationships also form part of how we interact and experience our environment.

Having different or more intense support needs to the rest of your family will impact on how you relate to your family and how they relate to you. If your particular needs put you at odds with those you love, this will have an impact on your ability to access the environment.

Next, we have to consider the medical models teachings. Not all forms of disability come down to the diversity of minds. Autistic people especially are more likely to experience chronic health conditions. Unfortunately, under the current social model/medical model binary, they are required to separate out these parts of their identity in order to rationalise their support needs.

Consider then that under this approach, chronic health conditions and physical disability arising from traditionally medical issues also impact upon not only our access to the physical environment but how we relate to people in our environment. We can then see that the relationships and power structures in our lives are affected by not just neurodivergence but also those disabilities that are typically viewed through the medical model.

Where does this leave us?

People are not long lists of separate diagnoses that are the sum of their parts. We are whole people with diverse access and support needs, as well as undeniably interwoven relationships and power structures that impact upon our access and support needs. Regardless of the nature of your disability, the support you require will largely be defined by the way you relate to your environment and all of the people and objects within it.

In order to improve a person’s access to the world, it’s necessary to not only engineer physical accessibility features but also to engineer accessible power structures and relationships.

In my mind, I tentatively call this an enviro-relational model of disability, but I am open to suggestions.

If you take one thing away from this article, please understand that both the social and medical models ultimately fail to encompass a person’s entire experience of disability, and for this reason, we have to do further work to understand the true nature of disability in people’s every day lives.

Neuroqueering the Neuroculture: Exploring our place in society through the neuroqueer lense

Recently I started talking about a concept I call neuroculture, by discussing the risk of harm to society if the prevailing neuroculture becomes homogenous (find that discussion here). In this discussion, I would like to explore our individual contributions to said neuroculture, and how we can effect change in a neurotypical dominated culture.

It’s no secret that neurodivergent people are actively oppressed by society. We live in a neuroculture that assumes anything outside of neuronormative standards is broken or sick. Neurotypicality has become the dominant culture, and with it, the pathology paradigm.

Despite this, largely on the Internet, smaller and more contained neurocultures are developing. These cultures are still largely homogenous, consisting mainly of a particular neurocognitive style. However, the advancement of the neurodiversity movement and an increased understanding of what is and isn’t neurodivergence is allowing people of many different ‘flavours’ of neurodivergence to come together. Thanks to this, there are now neurocultures developing that allow for the inclusion of multiple neurocognitive styles.

So now, we have two distinct neurocultures, the dominant neurotypical culture, and a neurodivergent sub-culture.

Here is where neuroqueering comes into the mix.

In order for society to survive, we need a fully inclusive neuroculture, that allows neurotypical and neurodivergent people to co-exist without any one group retaining more privilege than another. Effectively, a neurocosmopolitan society. In order for this to happen, the prevailing neuroculture needs to subvert and erase the neuronormative standards that hold us back in the pathology model.

Neuroqueer theory tells us that the best way to destroy neuronormativity is to intentionally queer our neurological processes. To put it another way, the mask must be fully destroyed, and we must act in a natural and authentic way, not the way that society expects us to act.

This will be difficult for everyone in the current neuroculture, but especially difficult for neurotypicals. Neuronormative standards come easily to them, and subversion of those standards has been stigmatised for a long time. Therefore, the neurodivergent led neuroculture needs to model the queering of societies expectations and roles. It is on us to teach the dominant culture that there is another way to exist.

By engaging in the act of neuroqueering, we ‘normalise’ the subversion of neuronormativity, and the more of us who do so, the more ‘abnormal’ society as a whole will become. Isn’t that a wonderful thought?

Of course it’s not a quick or simple process. Many of us are not privileged with the safety to just drop the mask completely. That’s why advocates and activists must work everyday, and change the neuroculture one small step at a time; until each drop becomes an ocean of change.

Society needs a cosmopolitan neuroculture to thrive.

Why requiring Autistic people to be diagnosed is a betrayal of the Neurodiversity movement

It has long been accepted that diagnosis is a privilege that many are not afforded. What is not discussed is how diagnosis itself feeds into the pathology paradigm that has surrounded Autistic people since Autism was first conceptualised.

Requiring that a person be diagnosed Autistic is in and of itself a pathologisation of that neurocognitive-style.

One no longer expects a homosexual to be diagnosed with a disorder or condition, and yet we strive to be diagnosed as Autistic. While I recognise the privilege that having a diagnosis has given me, and I admit that my diagnostic paperwork saying “condition” instead of “disorder” filled me with joy; it has taken me some time to realise that my need to be diagnosed was in fact a perpetuation of medical models and pathologisation.

Being Autistic is an identity based on a specific neurology. It is not inherently good or bad. There is nothing to be fixed or cured, so why force people to acquire a diagnosis?

If a person largely identifies with the core experiences of being Autistic, then why should we deny them the right to identify as who they are? Should we not have accepted by now, in the 21st century, that neurodiversity is a natural phenomenon, and not a collection ailments requiring intervention.

Of course, a move away from diagnostic approaches would undermine what I would refer to as “the autism industrial complex” which largely consists of behavioural therapies and quack biomedical solutions, sold as the only way to separate your neurotypical child from the autism that has infected them.

Indeed, when one considers all the harm that the pathology paradigm has done, it seems to me that a world where being Autistic requires a medical diagnosis is not one designed in any way to accommodate Autistic people.

Should the neurodiversity movement wish to achieve its aims of acceptance and equitable treatment for all neurotypes, then we must strive to move away from all medicalisation of the natural diversity of minds. Until this is done, the neurodiversity movement can not succeed.

The renaissance of ableism

Edit: I am in no way saying that Autistic researchers work is tokenistic in this post, I am trying to talk about how studies such as S10k claim to have included Autistics in the planning of their studies purely to try and justify unethical research.

It seems with each passing day there is a new article about a piece of autism research being conducted. There are always two common themes. The first is that the research is conducted by non-autistic researchers, who generally only include Autistics in a tokenistic way at best. The second is that pretty much all of the research aims to reduce the number of Autistic people, either by reducing diagnoses, or literally erasing us.

One could be forgiven for thinking that ableism is having a renaissance, but the truth is much more grim than that. The truth is, that ableism isn’t re-emerging, it never went anywhere. The main observable difference that I find now, is that people (researchers in particular) are being much louder about their efforts.

Their want to erase us, reduce us, eradicate us, has become much more overt.

Is it any wonder that Autistic people around the globe are suffering right now? Our entire lives we have endured systemic oppression and (not to mince my words) systemic violence, and now we face a world where we are literally being shown how much we are not wanted. It’s sickening.

We have the notorious Spectrum 10k project, who definitely don’t support eugenics *wink wink*, but also can’t guarantee that the data wont ultimately be used for that. Canada now has the Q1k study, which to me seems to just be S10k lite. We also have the study that pushed me into writing this. Reported by various news outlets as an “early-intervention baby therapy”.

This therapy, supposedly, reduces Autism diagnoses by teaching infants “better” social communication. One need only read the published study to realise that these researchers don’t care about the wellbeing of Autistic people.

The medical model is strong with this one.

The study is riddled with pathologising language. The study outcomes are also highly questionable. Why do you want to reduce the number of people receiving an autism diagnosis? From where I am sat, it seems that they either don’t want us to have support, or they have a problem with Autistic people and the number of us who exist.

No, there is no renaissance for ableism. It’s here, and it’s always been here. Society is afraid of us. To quote a term I recently saw used by Dr. Nick Walker, it’s autistiphobia. Something about our existence makes non-autistic society deeply uncomfortable, and in a more literal sense, hateful.

The thought that keeps going through my head is this; if they can’t bring themselves to actually improve our lives in a meaningful way, can they not at least let us live those lives? Why do we need constant reminders that our existence is so offensive to them that they will either ignore us, or erase us.

We are human beings with a right to live happy lives.

At what point did “Autistic” become synonymous with the word “broken” or “burden” in the non-autistic world? Even as I write this, researchers rush to speak over us, presuming, it seems, that we are incapable of speaking for ourselves. The world has a saviour complex, but we don’t want a saviour. We want people to listen to us.

We are treated like a perplexing puzzle that needs to be solved immediately. As if our existence is a public health crisis.

No.

We have been explaining ourselves for long enough. It’s time that society at large began to listen to us. Where millions are poured into erasing us, there is a deficit in the support of those Autistic people who have been trying to help us for years.

I am not a crisis to be fixed. I am a human being, and I am sick of being held down.

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