The tin can conundrum: the problem with “labels”
Most of us have probably heard the saying by now. “Labels go on tin cans, autism is a diagnosis”. It’s true, calling autism a label is inherently invalidating. Being Autistic is an identity, a culture. As Dr. Chloe Farahar of Aucademy explains, autism itself is an abstract concept, the only thing that exists is Autistic people. So why do we feel the need to separate out and diagnose people according to the way their brain works.
After all, this is the neurodiversity movement, are we not trying to end the medicalisation of different neurocognitive styles?
Let’s consider neurotypicality. You don’t get “diagnosed” as neurotypical. This is because people with neurotypical bodyminds are able to perform their cultures neuronormative standards. They are able to assimilate into society, and therefore are generally good and obedient profit machines that don’t upset the status quo.
Neurodivergent people, however, are somewhat of a wrench in the gears. We can not perform neuronormative standards, not comfortably anyway. We require the masters house to be dismantled and rebuilt. Here’s where the conundrum comes into play.
As Dr. Nick Walker explains in her book Neuroqueer Heresies, the master will never give you the tools to dismantle their house. In this case the masters tools look like a society that disables neurodivergent people, and uses that disability to pathologise neurodivergence by locking all of the support that might improve our lives behind a medical diagnosis. That medical diagnosis, in turn, is then used as a marketing tool where by people have to pay for diagnosis (in many countries), pay for support, and in fact the “autism label” is used to wack a premium on anything that might make our lives more comfortable.
Let’s not forget that the ABA industry pulls down millions every year by selling the idea that they can “fix” your “broken” child, converting them into a person who can perform to the neurotypical standard. “Indestinguishable from their peers” has become somewhat of a motto for those who want to see autism eradicated.
So how do we break out of this conundrum?
As Dr. Walker says, we “throw away the masters tools”. We find and bring the tools necessary to dismantle a society that oppresses us. In this case, the masters tools are diagnosis and the so-called “supports” that we find locked away behind it.
It may sound radical, but we need to work towards a world where diagnosis is no longer necessary. A neurocosmopolitan society where no one neurocognitive style holds power over another. It’s radical, and sounds deceptively simple, but it isn’t.
In order for this to work, we have to dismantle the structural oppression that our current economic systems wield.
We have to understand the intersections between different minority groups.
We need to work together to create a world that doesn’t value arbitrary values over the value of human life.
This probably won’t be achieved in our lifetime, maybe not in our children’s lifetimes, but it can be achieved. We just have to take the first steps in the right direction.
A direction that takes us away from the pathologisation of different minds.
So let me end by saying this. My name is David, I’m neurodivergent. It isn’t an illness, I don’t require fixing because I am not broken. I live in a world that doesn’t fit me well by design. I refuse to accept that world, and I hope to leave a better one than the one I was born into.
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