Search for:
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.

What purpose does the concept of mental “illness” serve?

As a Schizophrenic person, I see many talk about me as being mentally “ill” and in need of medicine. I do take medication, but for me, medication usage is similar to what one might see within ADHD communities. Medicine is a tool, not a treatment. It allows me to function in environments that are not designed to be accessible to me or my needs. It allows me to live my life without the constant experience of distress, one that I experience without medication because the world is not designed for me.

All suffering is valid, and all neurodivergence can result in suffering. Not because we are ill, but because the world is a traumatic place to live. Neurodivergent people have to face the oppression of all that is different on a daily basis.

“Illness” as a concept within psychological wellbeing a distress is a convenience. It allows professionals to tell us our suffering is unavoidable. If we die by suicide, then we are collateral damage. Victims of a pathology ravaging human kind. If we are “ill” then professionals and leaders do not have to acknowledge their role in a system, causing us distress.

This is what we are actually experiencing. Distress. When we can move forward from pathology models and start to consider that what is happening is a very human experience, we can start to point the blame where it belongs. A world that is violent and terrifying for a huge portion of the population. It is not on us to recover from a mysterious, unquantifiable entity of illness. The world needs to change.

We need to recognise that distress is a human experience, and no two humans have the same experience. Just because my distress looks like the loss of our shared reality does not mean that I am ill. Just because I take medicine that eases my distress does not mean I have a disorder. We don’t assume ADHD’ers to be ill for taking medication. Why do we do it to other forms of medication-assisted neurodivergence?

This ties us up in ideas around med-shaming and toxic positivity. One of the reasons people feel shamed of their meds is because, to them, it feels like an admission of guilt. They weren’t strong enough to survive without becoming ill. It’s not fair to let people feel that way. It’s also unfair to go the other direction and tell people to manage their distress without tools such as medicine. It’s possible to be neurodivergent (and not ill) and still need medication for day to day life.

Neurodivergence is aggressively neutral. It has positives and negatives, and it also has experiences that are not able to be compartmentalised. Truthfully, neurodivergent experience is human experience. The fact that we have to section off different experiences and diagnose them as “illness” or “disorder” fundamentally undermines the neurodiversity paradigm.

Mental “illness” is a deeply flawed concept, and until we fix this, we will not be able to reduce human distress.

Drug-use and harm reduction: what does it look like?

When we consider harm reduction strategies for drug-users, we often think about education on the safer use of drugs. Things such as safer injection practices and “tasting the hit” to reduce accidental overdoses. While things such as safe consumption rooms and needle exchanges can reduce a lot of the surface level harms, there is a wider conversation about the factors leading to drug-use and the fall out from drug-use once it has initiated.

Here are some of the things that, in my opinion, are important factors to consider when trying to reduce the harms from drug-use.

1. Trauma-informed practice

First, we need to stop viewing trauma through a normative lens and realise that trauma can be experienced from just about any source. As I discussed with Tanya Adkin in the Creating Autistic Suffering Series, trauma is a subjective experience.

Once we have shed our misconceptions of what constitutes trauma, we need to recognise the role that traumatic experiences play in the harms associated with drug-use. Anyone supporting people around harm reduction needs to remember that they are more than likely working with traumatised people.

2. Responsible prescribing practices

The pathologisation and subsequent medicalisation of distress has done many people a great deal of harm. For many people, myself included, it has meant trading addiction to illicit drugs for addiction to prescription drugs. In my case, prescription drugs were more dangerous than the illicit ones due to ease of access.

People don’t like to admit it, but doctors often end up being a person’s main supplier of drugs.

3. Move away from current diagnostic models in psychiatry

Distress doesn’t have to be centred as a problem in the person. In fact, I would argue that it’s necessary to externalise it by looking to the environment, and subsequent experiences of people in distress. We need to consider that if we want people to be safer in the use of drugs, we need to think about what in their life has brought them to using them.

For a good example of this, check out the power threat meaning framework.

It is also important to embrace neurodiversity models. It’s not just Autistic people that are Neurodivergent. Neurodivergence can be acquired in a number of ways, or you van be born with it. It is important, though, to recognise that “mental illness” as a concept has not improved outcomes in psychiatry in over 50 years. Recognising Neurodivergent people in distress will take you much further.

4. End prohibition

The war on drugs is a lie. It has not stopped drug use, and neither has abstinence-based education. Making drugs illegal does not stop their use, it empowers clandestine markets to exploit the distress of vulnerable people, for profit, and increases harms through the lack of regulations around purity and age restriction.

This is a non-exhaustive list. We need to have a wider conversation about racism and other bigotry, socioeconomic status, housing, access to healthcare, and myriad other factors. I do not believe I could do this justice in a short blog.

I hope that we can move into a world where we support people rather than criminalise and institutionalise them. I hope that medical professionals can take a moment to acknowledge the harm their profession has done. I hope that we can all assess our own internalised ableism towards drug-use and addiction.

We may not be able to solve this issue over night, but little by little, we can make the waves that will sweep away the old models and make space to replace them with something that works better for every one. The greatest thing we can do is have a little compassion for others who are suffering.

Neuronormativity, the pathologisation of Mental health, and the normalising of suffering

In recent years mental health has become more widely talked about, thanks to the popularisation of the “it’s okay not to be okay” trope. On the surface this is a wonderful approach to the normalisation of Mental health issues, but does it have a darker side?

There are currently over 300 “disorders” listed in the DSM 5, the diagnostic manual used by psychiatrists around the world. One could imagine that between them they account for the vast majority of human experience; a concerning thought to say the least.

What benefit does this serve us as a society?

Realistically, it only benefits those who adhere to normative standards.

We’ve been taught that mental health concerns are an illness, that we have a pathology that requires treatment. Despite this, there is no biomedical test that can definitively diagnose any of the numerous entries in the DSM. So perhaps there is something more to the pathologisation of human experience.

Our society is broken, it has fixed rules that apply to fewer and fewer people, while trying harder and harder to assimilate people into it’s normative standards of behaviour. Szasz would argue that this approach serves to provide a sort of social control over us.

So now we live in a society where anyone who doesn’t fit cultural standards of normal is considered “sick” or “ill”.

Thus, we reach a point of starting to understand why “it’s okay not to be okay” might have a darker side to it. Mental health issues (in my opinion) arise from living in an environment that can not fulfill the individuals needs. An environment that consistently traumatises those living in it.

However, we are now normalising human suffering. It’s okay to say “I’m not okay” but we must never normalise human suffering. When we do or say things that uphold the pathology paradigm, we are allowing our oppressive society to continue on its harmful path.

We need to do the work to rebuild society into a brighter place, thar meets the needs of the many, and not just a selected few. We do this by recognising that neurodiversity is about more than Autistic and ADHD experiences.

The change starts with us, and it ends with a brighter future.

It’s never okay to suffer.

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.

Neuroqueer: Depathologising psychiatric “conditions”

This article was co-authored by David Gray-Hammond and Katie Munday

Trigger Warning: Ableism, pathology paradigm, sanism, use of words insane and madness, medication, therapy and trauma.

Neuroqueer theory evolved out of the neurodiversity paradigm. It was a logical progression in the field of depathologising natural variations in the human bodymind. This concept appreciates the neutrality of neurodivergence, as neither good or bad, it simply is.

While this concept has been widely explored in the area of intrinsic neurodivergence, (such as autism and ADHD), there is less discussion regarding acquired neurodivergence; neurodivergence that is typically acquired through trauma or the intentional alteration of ones bodymind (such as through the use of psychedelic drugs). Specifically, we wish to discuss the concept of psychiatric “conditions”.

Psychiatry itself is one of the youngest branches of medicine, first mentioned by name in the late 19th century. Due to its infancy the field still remains fallible, and is largely governed by the contents of a single textbook; the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) currently on its fifth edition, and the recipient of a recent text-revision (DSM V-TR). Unsurprisingly, this textbook is based entirely in the pathology paradigm, with all bodyminds described in its pages as “disorders”.

The use of the word “disorder” is important. This word places a level of responsibility on the individual to return to a more “ordered” state, dictated by cultural norms. This has historically been achieved through the use of psychoactive drugs, which are often prescribed before the use of talking therapies.

Psychiatry has a place in the world, but currently relies too heavily on the use of medication, without understanding the context around individuals. This is why it is important for psychiatrists to take a more trauma-informed, neurodiversity-affirming approach. There is a balance to be found between the use of medication, and the introduction of talking therapies that encourage the individual to co-exist with the traits of their neurodivergence.

It is important to understand and work with people holistically to reduce their distress, as many of us are seeking support due to ongoing trauma.

We are living in a world that overwhelms our senses, ignores our social communication differences, and treats us as second class citizens. Autistic people are made to adapt to norms that are both uncomfortable and harmful, and this creates complex-trauma for an increasing number of us. Once we experience bullying, isolation, and neglect, our self-worth takes a nose-dive. Often we mask our Autistic differences for fear of ridicule, perpetuating the low self-esteem that arises from forced conformity and assimilation. This becomes a cycle of shame that encourages us to hide our true selves, in return for a semblance of dignity.

So where does neuroqueer theory fit into this?

Cultural expectations of mental health are based heavily in sanist ideas of “normal”, and define our understanding of “madness” as anything that departs from these expectations.

Taking a neuroqueer approach allows us to embrace our differences, whilst appreciating that many of us still need accommodations. This is why emerging talking therapies that teach co-existence (rather than interventions that aim to change us) are an important step forward.

Subverting the expectations of our societies predominant culture, we reclaim ourselves, and learn to co-exist with our “psychiatric” self. No longer are we “insane” by normative standards, but neurologically queer, and refusing to be ashamed of that.

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.

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.

Neurostandardisation: considering the oppression of neurodivergent individuals

For quite some time now, the neurodiversity movement has spoken about the harmfulness of behavioural techniques. These techniques are used to prevent the outward indications of the Autistic neurotype. They are generally aimed at children, and almost always lead to significant harm being done.

The use of such techniques belongs to a wider issue with the way that society views neurodivergence.

What seems most obvious to me, is that the existence of words such as “neurotypical” already imply that there is a typical standard that we diverge from. Words like “typical” and “standard” can be considered the descendants of the pathology paradigm, and the ableism that came from that worldview.

Under the pathology paradigm, anything that sits outside of the box of “typical”, is broken and in need of fixing. In the case of autism, this has led to research into deficits, resulting in the direct oppression of Autistic people through the use of harmful cure culture.

This cure culture attempts to standardise the mind, hence “neurostandardisation”. It is an attempt to bring the neurodivergent individual into line with a neurocognitive standard of existence. It’s not always medical and behavioural interventions either, often it is the societal culture that forces neurotypical people to camouflage their neruodivergent traits.

The question then remains as to why society forces neurostandardisation onto people.

I am firmly of the opinion that society at large has three reasons for clinging on to the pathology paradigm, and using it to oppress and “standardise” others.

1. Those with privilege in this society are afraid that by giving others more, they will have less.

2. Keeping minority groups in an oppressed state, requiring them to “fit in” means that the privileged do not have to consider the failings of their own culture and society.

3. Those who thrive in the dominant culture are unwilling to put the effort into learning how to live equitably with minority cultures and groups.

When you consider the origins of bigotry, I start to feel like the pathology paradigm has played a huge role. Mel Baggs wrote of how most (if not all) forms of bigotry are rooted in ableism. Nick Walker writes extensively of the privilege of neurotypical autism professionals in her book Neuroqueer Heresies. One might consider that having privileged member of a dominant culture in a position of authority over a minority is a blatant conflict of interest.

Neurostandardisation can then be recognised as the forced assimilation of neurodivergent people into the dominant culture, while keeping them in a position of disadvantage. It is a tool of oppression that takes many forms, but is ultimately the goal of the pathology paradigm. A paradigm that seeks to invalidate the existence anything outside of it’s limited, reductive, and quite frankly incorrect view that such a thing as “normal” exists.

This is why the existence of advocacy is so important. Where oppression exists, we need voices that can shout loudly, and expunge the false beliefs of the current sociocultural paradigms.

Until those beliefs have been dismantled, neurodivergent people will always be lower on the ladder.

Commentary on “Why requiring Autistic people to be diagnosed is a betrayal of the Neurodiversity movementWhy requiring Autistic people to be diagnosed is a betrayal of the Neurodiversity movement”

For this commentary to make sense, it may be worth reading my other recent articles on the liminal nature of the neurodiversity movement and the reality of Autopia. My recent articles have all come from my recent preoccupation with creating a utopian neurocosmopolitan society, and I have used my writing to try and imagine what such a world might look like for Autistics.

When I wrote the article that is the subject of this commentary, I was not intending to denounce diagnosis, at least not in the world we currently live in. What I was trying to do was highlight how forcing people through an ableist and bigoted diagnostic system in order to gain access to support, further pathologises the Autistic experience.

Like many supporters of the neurodiversity movement, I take offence to the medicalisation of my neurotype. I feel it is inherently wrong to treat autism as a pathology. I do not believe that any Autistic people require fixing or curing.

My reasons for this are complicated, but in a nutshell; I believe that our current society judges us on our ability to create financial value and drive up profits, when we can not fit into that requirement, society deems us as having deficits and views those deficits as reducing our value.

When we can not meet our cultures standards, we are forced into the medical system, to prove our neurotype in order to attain the support that we need to survive.

Not only are we a Autistics forced to do this, but our family and carers are required to jump through the metaphorical hoops, often with little to no support. They face institutional violence and parent/carer blame the whole way.

The article I wrote was me dreaming of a society where everyone is treated as equal, no one is considered “standard” or “typical”. Things like universal basic income exist, social care has been reformed. Autistic people are no longer treated as broken or defective. We are not forced to prove we need support because the support is freely available to whoever needs it.

It was utopian thinking, and never did I intend to make people feel as if they were doing the wrong thing, or that I believe diagnosis is bad on current society.

I hope that with this commentary, people can further understand where my line of thinking came from, and understand the point I was trying to make.

Diagnosis is necessary on our world at the moment, but can we not dream of a better world? Where all are equal and supported. Where no one has to feel broken.

Verified by MonsterInsights