Search for:
Reclaiming Neurofuturism: Autistic embodiment and the enactment of neurodivergence

When we seek to describe our Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent selves, we tend towards discrete categories and observable definitions of what we mean. However, to be Autistic is more than a diagnostic category; while Autism is a defining part of my experience, I also enact neurodivergence. My embodiment gives definition to what people mean when they use words like Autistic, ADHD, AuDHD, or Schizophrenic.

Performing Autism

Tweet grom @simonharris_mbd

Like any of the diagnostic categories that have been assimilated into my identity, I perform them much in the way a neurotypical performs neurotypicality. Unlike the diagnostic criteria that bestowed these identities on myself, my performance is not containable. Every word that passes my lips, every action that my body makes; my existence gives meaning to the word neurodivergent. We often hear:

“When you’ve met one Autistic person, you’ve met one Autistic person.”

Unknown Author

I, however, would go one step further. Through our embodied relationship to the Self, we become autism. In the same way, I have become ADHD, and I have become Schizophrenia.

Queering the diagnosis

Autism does not exist as a separate entity, it exists as the embodied performance of ourselves. We choose the meaning that our identity has. We don’t have to be the Autistic that everyone else expects; through our performance of Self, We can redefine what people mean when they use words like Autism, Autistic, or neurodivergent.

We are both the writers and the actors in the performance of our neurodivergence. It is our job to deconstruct the politicised Autistic identity and replace it with the embodied and fluid definition that one might only find within the Chaotic Self. To word it another way; if we perform autism, that performance will change and evolve with each interaction with our environment.

Concluding Remarks

This lays a significant responsibility upon us as both individuals and a connected community. If we are redefining the meaning of autism and neurodivergence, it is on us to ensure that its definition is neither exclusionary or repulsive. The meaning of autism is written on our bodies, and we choose the words that write it into being.

We must strive toward a future free of the dichotomous standard of “meets diagnostic criteria” and “does not meet criteria”. Only when we break free of our politicisation and medicalisation can we truly explore the endless possibilities of doing autism.

Yes, being Autistic does define me

Some years ago, I wrote a similar article for Neuroclastic. I thought perhaps now was the time to revisit the topic with several years more experience under my belt. Too many times I have been told not to let my “autism” define me, that I am something other than Autistic.

So, yes, being Autistic is a defining feature of who I am. This isn’t to say it is the only defining feature, but it is a core part of my identity. Of course, it is more than an identity to me. Much like my being ADHD and Schizophrenic, it defines my relationship to the universe surrounding me. I imagine my Autistic brain as a singular point, an event horizon within which all things become Autistic.

When I wake up, I do so Autistically. When I hold my son, I do so Autistically. When I breathe my last breath, I will do so Autistically. Autism is not a separate entity that inhabits me. I do not carry my autism as one might carry a brief case. My autism is the words I write, the thoughts I think. Autism is the way I feel. Autism is the way I love.

I am David, and so is my autism. If I were not Autistic I would not be David.

When others ask me not to be defined by “my autism”, they are asking me to cease existence. I have no existence outside of being Autistic because everything I do, I do as autism. As Autistic people, we are the point at which autism stops being an abstract concept and instead becomes a living, breathing human. My humanity is Autistic, and I will never know of non-Autistic humanity.

I can not tell you what it is like to be Autistic in a way that you can fathom unless you also are Autistic. Autism is all we know. We have never been anything other than Autstic. Even when I queer my neurology and seek a new way to exist, I do so as an Autistic person. My autism is exploration. It is expression of Self that can not, and will not, perform typicality.

So, do not ask me to define myself outside of autism. To do so is to ask me to define myself outside of my existence.

Reclaiming Neurofuturism: Decolonising the Autistic community

Community is somewhat of an abstract concept. It is an adjective for a group that has a shared identity. It comes with rules and politics that dictate how one must carry themselves. There is a dichotomy of insider and outsider within communities, often dictated by agreement of the communities politics. Those who don’t conform are ejected.

The Autistic community is not immune to this. Deleuze and Guattari, I imagine, would see the Autistic community as a machine. One enters the community, working their way through it until they achieve the title of advocate. There is a power imbalance between those that advocate and those who choose to remain quiet in the public domain. As advocates, we largely write the rules of our community.

I have previously written about the Autistic Rhizome in the context of neuro-anarchy. I envision this as an interlinked network with no point of origin. Each point of interest on this map of communities is linked with the others but independent in the sense that they do not require each other to exist. I explored this in an article for Stimpunks Foundation.

The Autistic Rhizome is decentralised. It has no goal other than mutual knowledge exchange and support. Rather than creating colonised communities engaging in separatism, they are nomads. Within the Rhizome, we explore the topography of neurodiversity while respecting each culture that we encounter. In my opinion, the evolution of an Autistic Rhizome is the first proper step towards a neurocosmopolitan society.

We can create communities through realising the connections in our individual nature.

This allows us to begin dismantling the structures we have built (out of necessity) using the masters tools. We can create a new community away from the colonial influence of our normative society. In this sense, these growing networks are queering the meaning of community through the rejection of hierarchy and the balance of power.

Like any new endeavour, it has the potential for mistakes to be made. One must accept that exploration comes with a few wrong turns, but as long as mistakes can be corrected in good faith, we can create a new kind of community.

This is the thesis of neurofuturism. To create a new culture and community.

Subscribe to David’s Substack for bonus articles, and don’t forget to join the Discord Server and check out David’s books.

Reclaiming Neurofuturism: Neuroqueering knowledge and its production

In a previous article, I discussed the idea of verisimilitude. I discussed how we might never find an objective truth that explains neurodivergent experience. In fact, we might never find one for human experience on the whole. What we can do is seek a falsehood that is close enough to truth to seem true, it has verisimilitude.

One of the flaws in this is the arborescent approach to knowledge creation that this takes. We are constantly building on previous knowledge. Our foundations are rooted in the past. However, if we accept the verisimilitous nature of all knowledge pertaining to neurodivergent experience, then we must accept that there is a good chance that prior knowledge is a falsehood that seems true.

This presents an issue. If the foundations we branch out from are unstable, the metaphysical structure of our knowledge is one doomed for collapse. I believe we need to move beyond the roots and instead create new knowledge, not by abandoning the past, but by utilising it in a way that no single part depends upon another.

One might pontificate that knowledge exists to evolve, but what if we approach knowledge as being independent of its purpose. Rather than measuring knowledge by its reiteration and resilience in the fave of scrutiny, we can view it as interconnected while retaining its independence.

Can we create new knowledge through linking networks of knowledge that are seemingly unrelated? How might one approach the creation of knowledge in a way that does not depend on antiquated thought?

Knowledge is a by-product of thought, which itself is a by-product of the bodymind. If we desire to queer knowledge, we must first queer the bodymind. This requires us to abandon the politics of our own existence and instead explore our own reality.

Through exploration of the Self, we are able to tweak and alter the bodymind. This, in turn, will alter our thoughts and, thus, knowledge production. By abandoning the arborescence of our own thoughts, we can abandon the roots of antiquated knowledge.

To liberate humanity, we must liberate thought and knowledge. We must escape the branching nature of our current system of knowledge and instead explore the coherence of our entire knowledge base rather than focusing on small details. When we can embrace the connectivity of everything, we can wield knowledge as the tool it should always have been.

Normative society has standardised thought to control the direction of knowledge. To be free of normativity, we must first free our thoughts and knowledge.

Don’t forget to check out David’s new book Unusual Medicine and subscribe to his Substack!

Reclaiming Neurofuturism: Are neurodivergent communities in danger of separatism?

I have been active in the Autistic community now for over half of the past decade. Still, when we consider some of the greatest thought leaders within our community, I am aware that my time is a drop in the ocean. However, in my time I have seen a growing trend towards inadvertent separation from wider society culminating towards what can only be viewed as a sort of self-imposed segregation.

This is dangerous.

I’ll be honest, I can count the number of non-Autistic people I interact with regularly on one hand. Almost all of the people in my life are Autistic, and most of them are part of the wider online communities I exist within. This has been important for mitigating my sense of isolation and alienation from the world, but perhaps it has an echo chamber effect, which limits my access to ideas and knowledge.

Knowledge is power, and that power is largely controlled by neurotypically performing agents. However, we need to consider the power that is wielded within our own communities. There are distinct do and don’t rules that by the sum of their parts have become identity politics. What has started out as a means of liberation and protection from harm has become at risk of harming the community itself.

This doesn’t mean that communities shouldn’t have rules. There are people and attitudes in our world that are overtly harmful. Normative violence is insidious in the way it indoctrinates us into believing things about ourselves and others. What we must be aware of is the policing of thoughts and knowledge production.

The Autistic community especially has become so attached to certain ideas presented in certain formats that we often see the same concepts packaged and repackaged, lauded as new knowledge when in fact they are thoughts that were explored at the inception of our community back in the days of dial up internet.

What we need are thought leaders who are willing to take risks, explore new avenues, and build upon the foundational knowledge that those who came before us provided. Yes, sometimes we will get it wrong, but overall, we need to sometimes come up with the wrong answer. It is better to produce a falsehood if that falsehood brings us closer to the truth of the matter (if such a thing as objective truth even applies here).

We need to understand that the knowledge that exists within our communities is helpful, but not nearly the whole picture. In separating ourselves from those who might challenge that knowledge, we risk the opportunity for growth. Only through challenging our own ideas can we build upon the knowledge that exists.

This is the danger of separatism. It is the antithesis to evolution. We must liberate neurodivergent people fully into the world and not into a bubble that is curated to never challenge them. Only through trial and tribulation can we grow the knowledge that we need to truly free ourselves from oppression.

Reclaiming Neurofuturism: Autistic knowledge creation and the drive to know truth

I’d like to start with a word.


This word represents a concept within philosophical thought. It is the notion that some false ideas are closer to the truth than others. One might ask why this is an important concept to know in the realms of Autistic knowledge creation; in simple terms, we must always strive to know more.

Allow me to elaborate.

Autistic experience was once conceptualised as a form of childhood schizophrenia. Only those with significant day-to-day support needs were recognised, and most, if not all of them, spent their lives on institutions.

We can argue that this idea is leagues below the current water table of Autistic knowledge, but there was once a time when there was no recognition of autism. Not even under incorrect names and misunderstandings. In this sense, childhood schizophrenia, by virtue of a name, gave the story of autism a level of verisimilitude. It would seem as though this idea, while false, was closer to the truth.

This is an important distinction to make. Each new concept is bringing us closer to the truth of Autistic experience. This truth, while obscured from academic sight, is what we experience day to day. This brings us to a broader issue. There is no objective truth to Autistic experience.

While monotropism and double empathy constitute shared experience and agreement between Autistic people, we have to recognise the subjectiveness of our experiences. Our experiences, while similar, will never be identical. There is no singular truth of our experience awaiting discovery because each of our experiences is unique to us.

To understand Autistic experience is to view the larger picture, a Web of overlapping pathways that allows us to bear witness to our shared experience.

Perhaps this is why so much of autism research fails to achieve its aims. Its positivist approach seeks an objective truth that does not exist. Even if one could find the biological origins of our shared experiences, it would tell you exactly nothing about that experience, neither singularly nor as a group.

This means that even Autistic produced knowledge is more likely to be a falsehood that is close to truth than a truth in the whole. I contend in fact that since all human experiences are subjective, no knowledge will ever be objectively true in this context. The best we can hope for is a falsehood that is closer to our shared subjective truths than what we knew previously.

This, of course, raises issues with institutions that use one-size-fits-all approaches in their interactions with those within them. If there can be no objective truth of human experience, then there can be no singular approach that will work for everyone. When we realise this, things like mainstream education and social care begin to unravel. Their singular frameworks and models can not even contain a fraction of the cumulative subjective truth of our lives.

We need to enter a world in which each person is taken as they are. Where our truth is honoured and the boundaries between noise and sound are recognised in a way that allows us to transcend them as required. Until such time as the world embraces not just its diversity but its experiential-subjectivity, we will have to settle for the closest falsehood to the truth.

For access to even more of my writing, please consider purchasing a subscription to my Substack!

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.

World Autism Day 2023: A reflection on the work still to do

The date is April 2nd, 2023. This means another World Autism Day (part of the wider Autism Acceptance Month) has arrived, and as the month progresses, we will, as a community, share in the triumphs and comfort one another in our losses.

This month can be a bitter tasting pill for many, with World Autism Day representing a day that should be ours. Sadly, it is often claimed by those whose agenda does not align with the very Autistic people that they claim to support. Today, and all of April, for that matter, serves to remind me of the Autistic people who have left us. The ones for whom this world was simply too cruel to withstand. I often see positivity that change is slowly happening; the change isn’t fast enough, there are no acceptable losses on the road to liberation. Every Autistic person we lose is a scar on our history, and an indictment of the world we live in.

Yes, perhaps the days of asylums is coming to an end, but what of the countless Autistic people here in the UK who are locked away and abused in psychiatric institutions? Can we truly say that the asylums are gone when one can be placed into carcerative care, simply for being Autistic and in distress?

What of the CAMHS crisis that has been ongoing in perpetuity? Can we really say that Autistic people are liberated while our children are being denied their identities and/or turned away from help for being Autistic? Every single day, Autistic people are fighting to exist. While the nature of our fight might be becoming less overtly life-threatening, we still have to recognise that our dramatically reduced life expectancy lists filicide and suicide as to of the biggest factors.

Yes, the world is changing, but it’s not changing fast enough.

Speak of normativity and structural oppression to the average person, and you will be met with blank stares or even gaslighting. To create a truly inclusive world we have to start from the bottom up. We have to consider the foundations that our world’s power structures are built upon. You don’t destabilise oppressive regimes from the top, you foment revolution amongst the people it rests upon.

If I can ask one thing of Autistic people this World Autism Day, through out Autism Acceptance Month, and moving into the future; be resolute in your commitment to shifting the views of the masses.

While change at government and legislative level is vital, it ultimately will fail if we do not change the hearts and minds of our similarly downtrodden friends, family, colleagues, and loved ones. We have to recognise that we are all sharing in oppression and that we have the collective force to cut free from the chains of normativity. We can, together, create a neurocosmopolitan society. We can lay a new foundation for those that come after us to build upon.

I am Autistic, I am proud, and I refuse to accept the way that things are.

Post-normal childhoods: Neuroqueering education and play

Neuroqueer theory is often discussed in the context of neurodivergent adults. While a helpful tool in the liberation of Neurodivergent people, constraining it to just this section of society limits its potential. Neuroqueer theory, at its root, is a theory that intends to liberate all people rather than just the select few. It does this by teaching us the malleable nature of identity, culture, and the Self.

I personally I have discussed my idea of the Chaotic Self; a Self that is ever shifting and changing. The Self emerges and re-emerges from itself as a factor of our experiences and relationships with the environment and those within it. As we acquire new ways of rationalising and contextualising those experiences, we also learn new ways to subvert our own meanings and understandings, allowing us to fundamentally queer our very existence.

So, how does this apply to childhood education and play?

Current “traditional” education and play is built upon normative standards. Those who provided the knowledge it is built on were unaware of their privilege and acted to uphold systemic oppression, regardless of whether they intended to or not. What we have had in both historical and contemporary contexts is normatively violent and creates a power imbalance between the student and the teacher.

Every aspect of our growth and development is regulated and controlled through the milestones we are supposed to achieve, the times we are expected to achieve them, and the curriculum that a given authority feels is necessary to learn.

The issue with this approach is that it expects all children to adhere to these standards. If one can not achieve under normative standards, we are deemed to be disordered and troubled. We find ourselves undergoing behavioural intervention and medicated treatments in order to achieve what is important to others rather than ourselves.

So, how do we move beyond this cult of normality? Can one be an apostate of normality and still achieve great things? I propose that the starting place is simultaneously a thing of beautiful simplicity, with the potential for profound complexity. We encourage children to experiment with language.

Language defines every aspect of our understanding of the Self. Words we acquire from others move forward to become the words we apply to ourselves. The first thing we must do is gift children language. All language. Access to language is essential to our relationship with ourselves. We then must consider how a child might be empowered to explore and experiment with that language.

Children should not be taught to use descriptive language based on someone else’s view of them. We should allow them to identify themselves in whatever way they please. This can be done as a form of play, and as such, it is a vital part of our development.

Once a child is comfortable with playing through language, we can begin to work with them to consider how they can subvert and reimagine the meaning of language. Once a child is free of objective definition and allowed access to the fluid nature of subjective meaning, they have an infinite number of ways to engage with their Self. It sounds deceptively simple, but the effect of truly unlocking language to a child could be immeasurably life changing.

It teaches us the importance of what we say to children.

This is but one way of applying neurofuturism to childhood, or perhaps more accurately, post-normalism. If we are ever to live in a neurocosmopolitan world, we must explore the ways in which we raise children, and consider them helpfulness of standardising and regulating their development.

In the meantime, let children play with their language and identity. You might be impressed by the way they explore themselves, and it might even teach you a thing or two as well.

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.

Verified by MonsterInsights