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More on Zeno’s Paradoxes and the issues with Autistic to non-Autistic communication

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.

Mental health and the neurodiversity paradigm

When considering the landscape of mental health, we also have to consider the normalisation of stigma and the dehumanisation of those who are struggling.

Since the advent of psychiatric medicine, mental health concerns have been described in pathological language. What if we used the language of the neurodiversity paradigm? How would it impact the wellbeing of those with lived experience if we recognised “mental illness” as a form of neurodiversity on a global level?

In my own personal experience, recognising my voice-hearing as neurodivergence has helped mitigate some of my distress. Knowing that my brain is different, rather than broken removes the pressure to fix myself, and instead has encouraged me to engage with talking therapies that are teaching me to co-exist with my personal experiences.

Don’t misunderstand me, there are still plenty of times when I feel broken. Such is the episodic nature of my mental health.

Reframing our mental health experiences as natural variation of minds, rather than sub-human errors in a computer may help many people by removing the self-blame that so many of us in the mental health community experience.

Rather than “you are broken and need fixing” we can consider the much more nuanced approach that there are infinite variations of the human mind, living in a world designed for one predominant style of brain. It seems natural to me that such a world would be incompatible with many people, and as such we experience suffering.

No longer do we take medicine to fix a broken mind, but instead to support our wellbeing in a world that causes our suffering.

Of course, we should mention access to diagnosis. Many of us miss out on our part in the neurodivergent community because our diagnosis is wrong or incorrect. While the general attitude in neurodivergent communities is that diagnosis is a privilege and not a requirement, we need to push to make sure that people acquire appropriate diagnosis in a timely manner. We need to make sure that it is an accessible option for all.

Eventually, however, I hope, a world will exist where diagnosis is a thing of the past. Where we can live in a neurocosmopolitan society such as that posited by Dr. Nick Walker. A world in which no one group has privilege. A world where we can all co-exist. A world a long way off perhaps, but still a world I will fight for.

Once we start realising that diagnostic criteria for ALL mental health is based on the neurodivergent person in distress, we have to become curious about what these neurodivergent minds would look like in a world that didn’t cause them to suffer. What a beautiful neuroculture we could build. A curious thought to say the least.

Neuroculture and the dangers of homogeneity

Today I decided to learn about monocultures. A monoculture is an environment in which a single crop is cultivated. The problem with monocultures is that a small change can destabilise the entire thing.

This got me thinking about something I call neurocultures. A neuroculture can be considered the culture created by a collection of neurocognitive identities in a shared environment. Current neurocultures tend to lean towards neuronormative standards, and this is what I want to discuss.

Neurodiversity is not just a biological fact, it is a necessity. From an evolutionary perspective, the presence of multiple neurocognitive styles in a given culture increases the likelihood of problem solving and the survival of the species. Unfortunately, over the years, we find ourselves in a neurotypical dominated culture, with other neurocognitive identities being actively oppressed.

Imagine a plane. You can take a screw out, and it will still fly, you can probably take several screws out. However, eventually you will have taken too many screws out, and the plane will crash. This is what is happening to society.

The current neuroculture is becoming homogenous, with attempts at eugenics being normalised thanks to the presence of systemic ableism. Screws are being removed from the plane, and we are heading for catastrophe.

This is why rights movements like the neurodiversity movement are vital. We need to perpetuate the neurodiversity paradigm. We need to stop the medicalisation and pathology model of neurodiversity. Such models justify the extinguishing of neurocognitive styles that do not conform to the homogeneity of the current society that we live in.

Much like a monoculture, we can’t predict the small changes that can cause disaster in a homogenous neuroculture. We need diversity to survive. It doesn’t matter whether you are autistic or neurotypical, if your culture only includes your neurocognitive style, you are at risk of collapse.

This is why it is vital for all neurominorities to share their culture with each other. We must create a neuroculture as diverse as nature intended. Humans evolved to be symbiotic with each other.

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