‘i sat with the kid i tutor, preverbal ASD, ADHD, mitochondrial disorders etc etc etc and less than that and he just laughed for hours. i gave him lunch and tried to play with him (blasting 70’s pop tunes at ear-piercing volume and me covering my ears like he does when he knows he done something wrong, screaming and he screams with joy) then the fire alarm goes off cause the sausages have burnt a little too much and we jump up he’s got his hands over his ears laughing while i try to open the windows and fan the smoke and i freak for a little cause i’m the responsible one who’s fucked up and then with him i laugh we laugh at me and it aint constuctive p-stage key stage xyz play so much as us looking into each others faces and i have no idea what he sees but he’s smiling an inch from my smile and they tell me “they say you shouldn’t use metaphors with autistics” but later when i move my finger close to his face and touch the cheek and scream like a smoke alarm he sits and giggles before ignoring me for an hour and walking about the house chuckling and if i try to get involved he pushes me away and i love it i love his joy.’
don’t you think it’s the most glorious articulation of liberation politics ever?
i feel like the ‘neurodiversity’ movement is not beyond criticism, if only because there is a multiplicity of movements there, as ever, with aims and principles varied and contradictory. But, even in the most liberal of its expressions, neurodiversity still asks for something incredible – a recognition of difference that is embodied, but not necessarily performed to the stage-directions of the diagnostic manuals that continuously reproduce the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) identity categories as legally recognised disabilities, as disorders of neurological development still gathered under the umbrella of the disorders of the mind.
neurodiversity, in its worst and best iterations always seems to ‘demand the impossible’ – it’s a cliche but works right – to validate and invalidate the diagnosis, to secure a right to a fair assessment, to claim a belonging to a ‘spectrum’ that is fast losing its once binarist epistemology – from the ‘classical’ Autist to the more palatable ‘Aspie’ (DSM-V abandons Asperger’s Syndrome totally), fast-shedding its associations with the decidedly neurotypical culture of fascination with ‘savants’ (as distinct from geniuses proper because can’t ‘show their workings-out’, therefore receptacles of human nature’s mysterious workings, therefore automata) and ‘splinter skills’ (how many toothpicks have i just thrown in your face?). Even the ‘high functioning’ pole has gotten into the habit of reporting the failure to function at all. How long until the anomalous accounts connect into a culture of the appropriate degree of severity to warrant clinical attention? Perhaps, some advocates (brave, blogging, book-deal breaking Ted-talking parents) speculate, due to continuous official revisions, autism will no longer be a useful concept or word at all, its ‘original’ (Kanner’s strict, austere, beyond-all-reasonable-doubt) specificity stretched beyond recognition.
And yet – a classically stubborn thinker – neurodiversity says ‘We are all Autistic’, whether we flap or bite or hiss or hit or shit ourselves sometimes or all of the time, whether we speak the language of normalcy with exceptional precision or with selective mutism or not at all, whether we had ‘behavioural’ problems at school or were rule-followers. Neurodiversity says, ‘We all’ share a neurotype that is not the one that makes it easier to do neoliberalism. Neurodiversity is not afraid of neuroscience, but wants a clean break from state psychiatry, and, perhaps more pressingly in an ‘age of de-institutionalization’ that has been associated with the proliferation of ASD diagnoses aka ‘the Autism Epidemic’, it wants at the very least a democratic regulation of state psychology and its ‘early intervention’ in childhood doxa.. But really I feel like even then that is just a temporary measure before neurodiversity will abolish every last one of those Applied Behaviour Analysis [NO HANDS!!!] programmes, of the governmental care-complexes that exploit the free labour of the (parent) mother to over-privilege the diagnosis and discipline and you guessed it punishment of the kids (citizen-identity-at-stake), which somehow coincides with the cuts to the services for adult Autistics (citizen-identity-failed) that may require them. After all, says neurodiversity, you still characterise the developmental disorder as ‘pervasive’, so why do you only seem to care about white middle-class cis boys which show the correct early signs of an ‘extreme male brain’?
Neurodiversity says, Autism is not a disease, but nor is it a Szaszian metaphor for how shit life is under the relentless and violent imposition of state forms. Autism is a disability, but only insofar as the disabling conditions persist. And yet, it seems Autism will exist after capitalism, whatever happens.
And that is because neurodiversity has conceptualised the possibility of Autism as joyous life. Beyond the ‘triad of impairments’ – communication, social interaction, ‘stereotypy’ – there is a way of being, a way of braining, a way of wor(l)ding the ‘intense world’ that is still being discovered by the ActuallyAutistic, still being written, typed up in-between individuals a lesson to be carefully, ‘pedantically’ planned that may one day just wreck all the oppressive, obsessive economies, (socio)ecologies, stereotypies, taxonomies and theories of mind.