As you may have noticed from my most recent blog post, I am somewhat down a rabbit hole at the moment. In my previous article I discussed Zeno’s paradox of plurality and how it applies to the dehumanisation of Autistic people and the double empathy problem.
Today I would like to consider another of Zeno’s paradoxes and how it applies to the double empathy problem.
This particular paradox was known as the Dichotomy Paradox. Essentially, it explains that when travelling from point A to point B, one must first travel to the halfway point between the two. To then travel from that point to the destination, you must travel half way again. This continues infinitely when travelling towards a fixed destination and thus Zeno argued that you can never reach point B.
When considering communication across different neurocognitive styles, one must also consider what the goal is. If we presume that the goal is “successful communication” then the double empathy problem tells us that this is very difficult due to the different styles of communication. Despite this, Autistic people are always expected to be the ones to put the emotional labour into communicating. This has been discussed by Rachel Cullen, a recording of a livestream with Aucademy featuring them can be found here and here).
We then encounter the dichotomy paradox. Neurotypicals remain a fixed point in the goal of successful communication, while we as Autistics are constantly expected to move towards the goal by accommodating their preferred communication styles. It is as if we are constantly reaching the halfway point, and never reaching our destination. No matter how well we accommodate neurotypical preferences, we are caught in an infinite regression of distance, not achieving the aim.
This to me, highlights the deeper issue of dehumanisation and objectification of Autistics. Neurotypicals (perhaps subconsciously, sometimes consciously) consider themselves the pinnacle of humanity, a goal that all should be striving for. We know from the existence of the various compliance based behavioural interventions, that Neurotypicals do believe this in many cases. Evidenced by the fact that it is considered “gold-standard” to teach Autistic people to hide their Autistic nature.
As Dr. Monique Botha mentioned in their recent seminar, there is a reason why researchers and professionals insist on person-first language. “I want to eradicate autism” sounds much less like genocide than “I want to eradicate Autistic people”. However, both of those statements mean the same thing. This is justified because whether or not they overtly see it, neurologically queer behaviour and experience is seen as non-human. Remi Yergeau argued this dehumanisation was due (at least in part) to a perceived lack of rhetoricity in their book Authoring Autism.
Autistic people are viewed as husks, mindlessly performing nothing, controlled by an abstract spectre called autism. This then is perhaps why so many neurotypical people insist on person-first language, and ignore our preference of identity -first language. Why would they take a step towards the all consuming spectre? Surely it is better to leave such a thing trapped in that infinite journey towards a goal that is never to be reached.
This, then, is the appeal of neuroqueering to me. When I embrace my neuroqueer self, I no longer have to be trapped in the infinite journey towards performative neurotypicality. I escape the dichotomy paradox by abandoning societal expectations, and being true to myself. True to what nature intended for me. I am Autistic, I am divergent, and that divergence is a thing of beauty.
We need to raise up our fellow Autistics, high above the dichotomy of neurotypicality and neurodivergence. We need to embrace a world in which these words are redundant in meaning because no one group has the power to oppress another; and when our fellow Autistics are lost in the dark, we need to shine our own light, and guide them back to the daylight.
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