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

I’d like to start with a word.

Verisimilitude

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.

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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 it feels like to be Autistic

Three years ago, I asked the question What does it feel like to be Autistic? By the time I wrote that article, I was quite confident in both my Autistic identity and my blossoming advocacy work, but in the time since writing it, I have learned and grown at an exponential rate. So now I feel it’s necessary to revisit this question and explore it further.

So, what does it feel like to be Autistic?

I’ve always been different. Some of my earliest memories are hazy recollections of feeling distinctly different from the expectations of what a person should be. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was being conditioned by society and its normative values. I was effectively being indoctrinated into the cult of normality. This probably explains why I spent a lot of my twenties despising who I was and wishing I could change it.

Our identities, our conscious sense of being, is a social construct. We internalise the experiences afforded to us by our environment. Autistic people often experience Self-hatred and internalised ableism because hatred and ableism is what we experience in the wider world. The building blocks we are given to construct ourselves are born of normative violence.

There is a fundamental issue with me telling you exactly what it’s like to be Autistic; there is a solipsistic asymmetry in my experience. I have never not been Autistic. I have no point of reference in an experience outside of my own. What I can speak to are the experiences that I have had.

Even calling myself Autistic has, at times, felt strange. It was an identity given to me by the world. I exist as David. Others describe me as Autistic. I have internalised and related that description. It has become a facet of my identity, but it is a surface feature of my deeper Self.

I have at times doubted my Autistic identity. I have been so adept at concealing parts of myself that I have doubted their existence. This is all-the-more complicated due to the abstract nature of autism. It is not a natural kind, it is a social descriptor that existed originally to segregate my mind from those who can perform neurotypicality. For this reason, my Autistic experience is often one of Self-doubt and imposter syndrome.

For me, to be Autistic is to bear witness to the detailed connections between all things at all times. I am Chronically overwhelmed because I can not filter out the complexity of the world. I experience the whole, and not the aspect.

Of course, my experience will differ from another’s because Autistic identity is not my sole identity. I am Schizophrenic, I am ADHD, and I am in recovery from addiction. However, my identity is not a maths problem that sums up to a whole person. The distribution of identities onto my person gives the illusion of multiplicity when, in fact, I am a singularity. I do not exist as many, but as one singular experience that ticks many boxes.

So, what does it feel like to be Autistic?

It feels like being me.

Bigots keep trying to tell us the meaning of words, I have bad news for them

I have repeatedly seen bigots use the “correct” meaning of words in order to try and invalidate and oppress minority groups. An immediate example is the use of singular “they/them” pronouns. Ignoring the fact that the singular use of these pronouns outdates the use of the word “you“, there is further discussion that needs to be had.

The bigots are going to hate this.

Language, at an essential level, is the use of non-verbal symbols and organised sounds. We have, ad a society, decided that particular shapes, sounds, body movements, facial expressions, and actions mean things. The meaning of these things has arisen from our collective agreement. To put it another way, language is a social construct.

Because language is socially constructed, even if words have prior meanings, we can collectively choose a new meaning for those words. This has happened many times throughout history, and in some cases, we have invented entirely new linguistic conventions where prior ones have not been able to convey what we need them to.

The fun thing about language is that you can repurpose it with very few negative consequences. Don’t like a change? Don’t use it. These changes can have huge positive impacts when made in the right spirit.

Language is the biggest social endeavour in history. It is a work of art, and each of us is the artist. By experimenting with language and altering it, we can create new images that we never thought possible. Language is the social construct that controls all other constructs because without it, we can not convey information. This is why we need to honour the words that describe a person’s identity. They are using language as a tool to dismantle normativity. Each time a person uses the words that feel right to then, and not the words they’ve been told to use, the weaker the chains of normative oppression become.

The people who are so attached to their understanding of words that they can not fathom new uses are not the future of the human race. In order to meet the future, we must first cut loose the chains of the past. Normative thinking has so conditioned the bigots that they react with fear at the suggestion of making even the smallest of changes. Mankind can not survive with such aversion to change, and we need to recognise that growth, like many changes, is not always a matter of personal comfort.

Neuroqueer theory and the advent of social DEcontructivism

Neuroqueer theory is the idea that one can subvert normality by expressing and embodying the Self in ways that break free from the constraints of colonial society. It is a liberational practice that is accessible to all. No matter your neurocognitive style, you can subvert the expectations of what it means to be a “normal human”. By engaging in neuroqueering, we subvert the very idea of what is meant by the word “human” and explore the infinite diversity of our species. The first step to this is to recognise the social construction of all identity. We have to recognise that the way we identify ourselves, and our sense of Self, is entirely built upon the interpretation and expectations of others.

This opens up interesting conversations about the scope of social constructivism and objective truth. If all knowledge that builds our identity is socially constructed, how can one be sure of who they are?

In my book A Treatise on Chaos I discuss the Chaotic Self, the ever growing, ever changing sense of identity that we possess. I recognise that through our experiences and ongoing learning, our identity is a moving target. As social knowledge changes, so too does our sense of Self. I am not who I was ten years ago, and I will be someone different in another ten years. This highlights the importance of neuroqueer theory in the philosophical discourse of epistemology.

Neuroqueer theory might be reasonably assumed to tie into social constructivism, but in a more accurate sense it’s social deconstructivism. Neuroqueer theory is the art of deconstructing knowledge and creating new understandings. It liberates us from past notions and inter-generational trauma by considering that humanities primary purpose (if there is such a thing) is to adjust paradigms given new information. To consider it in other words, humanity exists to evolve beyond the constraints of cultural normativity.

This in itself becomes somewhat paradoxical. If neuroqueerness becomes the new normal, is it still neuroqueer?

My suggestion is no. By viewing neuroqueer theory as belonging to the idea of social deconstructivism, it can remain neuroqueer provided that it still pushes people to deconstruct socially acquired ideas of normality. A post-normal society requires us to escape from satisfaction. It encourages us to question information, and approach life through a critical lens. For neuroqueer theory to work we must be critical of all assumed normality. It tells us that there is no liberation until we deconstruct societies marginalisation of all minority groups. Beyond that, we must dismantle the oppression of humanity by those that deem themselves to be the higher power of our perceived social hierarchy.

When one begins to delve into neuroqueer theory, you begin to dismantle all that you have held to be true. This means that social deconstruction is a painful process. Like all growth, it leaves you with an ache. It becomes necessary to embrace your existential pain and sit with it as you explore your own subjective truth. This, perhaps, is what people struggle with the most.

The Zeno paradox of autism: Is this the root of the double empathy problem?

This was inspired by the book “Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness” by Remi Yergeau.

The double empathy problem, so named, is the title given to the seeming appearance of deficits in communication in Autistic people. The double empathy problem states that Autistic people do not have a deficit in communication, but instead a different style of communication. Effectively, communication breaks down when attempting to communicate across neurocognitive styles. The different communicative styles do not combine well, and the predominant neurocognitive style oppresses the neurodivergent person by assuming a deficit.

Could this breakdown in communicative style arise from something called Zeno’s paradox?

Zeno’s paradox, more specifically, Zeno’s paradox of plurality, states that if two objects have the same attribute in common then we must assume them to be the same thing. In the same way, we can reverse this and say that if two similar objects have any difference, then we must assume them to be different things. Essentially, there is no such thing as the many, only the singular.

If we apply this to Autism and the double empathy problem, you can start to see where the problem arises. Non-Autistic people observe important differences between themselves and us as Autistic people. They then assume that we must be entirely different from themselves.

If Autistic people are assumed to be entirely different from non-Autistic people, then not only can we not have a commonality in the existence of our own culture, communities, minds, thoughts, feelings, and opinions, but essentially we can’t be people. This, I believe is where communication breaks down. Why we are assumed to have a communication deficit.

This paradox objectifies the Autistic person, and removes their agency. Therefore, why is it important to communicate on our level? Why learn our experiences and opinions? Does one listen to the opinions of a pencil? After all, if Autistics are reduced to an object, not part of the collective humanity due to our differences, then what can we possibly say that will be of importance to the human experience?

If we want to be listened to and heard, we need to escape Zeno’s paradox. We need to demonstrate our humanity. We need to demonstrate our personhood.

Until we succeed at such a cause, we will continue to be second-class citizens.

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