More Thoughts on #Neurodiversity

More Thoughts on #Neurodiversity

The concept of neurodiversity (see my previous post) is simple, concise and neutral. Unfortunately that’s only the starting point for something a whole lot more complicated. Here I will try to explore and explain some of that complexity.

Dichotomy Dialectic

Something that’s become tied into neurodiversity, despite that concept having nothing to say about it in any way, is the idea that the neurodiverse world can or should be divided into two parts, often labelled neurotypical and neurodivergent.

These groups are supposed to differ along lines of cognitive function or neurology (i.e. different “neurotypes”), and that difference results in impairment, disability, prejudice, oppression, or other inequality and inequity for one group compared with the other.

Reasons for defining a group like this include:

  • to provide an overall identity for the purpose of referring to people in an all-encompassing and inclusive way,
  • to enable collective action by and/or for the group,
  • to foster solidarity through a shared cultural identity.

The Social Model

Most of the existing activity around neurodivergence neatly parallels the social model of disability, and indeed has been informed by that. Like its disability counterpart, the neurodiversity social model is primarily intended to politicise the struggles of neurodivergent people, thereby raising awareness and challenging existing societal norms.

While the social model of disability has been successful in furthering disability equality and rights, it has arguably been much less successful as a tool for communicating and explaining the experiences of disabled people. Indeed, for most people disability remains synonymous with physical impairment.

Part of that is because it is essentialist in that it positions disabled people as one group and de-emphasises the individual in favour of a “sameness of difference” approach. It also serves some members of the group better than others: a focus on physical impairment and adjustments to the social environment has historically left learning-disabled people and others whose disabilities are not primarily physical still facing the same obstacles.

The social model as applied to neurodiversity can be expected to have a similar impact and success, but we need to remain aware that like all models it has limitations.

The Problem with Neurotypical

Neurotypical is a term that’s been around a while and is generally used to refer to those people who are not autistic or otherwise neurodivergent (I’m not going to focus on its informal use to mean non-autistic). But it’s not actually a thing that exists: the whole point of neurodiversity is that there’s simply diversity.

If you separate autistics from the general population, then take away dyslexics and those having ADHD and so on, then you’re not left with people who have one particular neurotype: they’re still neurodiverse. What we often call neurotypical people are neurodivergent from each other. Because that’s simply the fact of human variation.

Neurotypical (NT) is a social construction, a convenient fiction to collect together all those who aren’t any form of “neurodivergent” (ND). Whereas neurodivergent is… You see where I’m headed here? Each one is essentially defined as not being the other: everybody is either NT or ND. So there’s presumably a line between them, but where do you draw it? That’s tricky, to put it mildly.

The other problem I have with neurotypical is that whichever way you come at it you end up falling back on the idea that there is something deemed “normal” or “typical” from which everything else deviates. It gets dressed up in quotation marks, called a societal standard (which is just another way of saying it’s a social construction), but that’s all playing footsie with definitions that basically mean society has a concept of what it means to be normal.

I can’t speak for other people, but I find it difficult to argue against the idea that somebody can be “normal” using terminology that is underpinned by that very idea.

What’s Wrong with Normal?

Normal is a very familiar idea and one that we use in all kinds of places to mean standard, usual or typical. (For example, “What do you normally drink?”) It’s immensely useful, except that it has this well-established use when talking about “normal people” to mean people who are, as the dictionary describes it, “free from physical or mental disorders”. As soon as you start talking about differing, or diverging, from “normal”, people will infer that you are talking about “physical or mental disorders”.

The idea that some people’s neurology makes them “normal” carries the implication that this is the default, preferred state: after all, doesn’t being normal mean there’s nothing “wrong” with them? That’s language as commonly used here and now. But then by extension somebody who is neurodivergent would have “something wrong” which leads to the inference that it’s something to be fixed or cured.

Some instances of neurodivergence may not have any significant impact on the person’s life, some might be disabling or life-threatening, and many more will lie somewhere in-between. While some neurodivergent people might desire treatment or a cure, this is not the case for all and, more importantly, does not have any bearing on their status as neurodivergent.

That’s why I’m loath to use “normal” or anything derived from it.

What About Neurodivergent?

Neurodivergent is a useful umbrella term that allows us to refer to an entire group of people whose cognitive/neurological characteristics put them at risk of, or cause them to be subjected to inequity or inequality. I’m describing it this way for a reason: I’m deliberately avoiding any mention of specific conditions, or of what might be considered “normal”. I don’t even mention neurotypes. Instead it’s about the consequences of being neurodivergent.

The more usual definitions of neurodivergent have the same problem as neurotypical: they depend on the idea that one can have a normal or typical neurotype. The big question for me is whether it’s possible to define neurodivergent in a different way that doesn’t depend on anybody being neurotypical, being “normal”. Does it even make sense to do that? After all, it’s already been defined as being the opposite of neurotypical.

There’s nothing in principle stopping a group or set that’s historically been defined as being the opposite or complement of another being redefined in a different way: in terms of what it is rather than what it isn’t. We would need to step away from a literal reading of the “divergent” part and instead start thinking of neurodivergence in isolation. The alternative is to adopt a new term, or re-purpose a different existing one, thereby getting away from the whole typical/divergent dichotomy altogether.

I do have reservations about neurodivergent because of the way it holds the mirror up to normal–sorry, I mean neurotypical–with its implication of “divergence from”. For now I’ll continue to refer to this group as neurodivergent because I don’t have an alternative to hand, I’m rubbish at coining neologisms, and there’s more than enough different terms flying around already as it is.

As far as the definition of neurodivergent goes, there’s something to be said for treating it as a social construction in isolation from neurotypical. I think we’re most of the way there already in that an increasing number of people are using ND as an identity, and–as the popularity of labelling historical figures autistic or otherwise neurodivergent shows–it can be a perceived characteristic as well as something innate or acquired. We also already see movement towards describing various forms of neurodivergence primarily in terms of a collection of traits rather than deficits compared against some ideal, standard human.

What’s the Point?

It’s all very well going on about these definitions at length, but what’s the point of it all? What can we do with them? And why not just stick with autistic, dyslexic, etc.?

People with all kinds of neurodivergence face similar struggles for recognition and equality, and the same kinds of inequities. There is strength and solidarity in numbers. These are the same reasons why there is an umbrella LGBTQ+ identity that includes the whole range of sexual orientations alongside transgender people. Coming together under one banner works because for the most part any improvement for one constituent benefits most if not all of the others. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.

The language we use matters because it influences how we are perceived, which has a knock-on effect on how we are treated. It’s why we oppose the idea that there’s some aspirational normal that we’re failed versions of: we see that used as an excuse for inequity.

There’s a misconception that because neurodiversity proponents espouse acceptance of neurodivergence, we are opposed to any and all kinds of treatment or intervention. This is not the case. Rather, just like accepting disability and disabled people does not mean denying that some pursue treatment or cure, so accepting neurodiversity and ND people has nothing to do with whether they might want to seek treatment or cures.

What we do oppose is the exploitation of ND people and their families by those who seek to profit from their vulnerability.

What Can We Learn From Others?

I’ve already talked about strong parallels with the disability movement and neurodiversity’s adaptation of the social model. I also mentioned the similarity of neurodivergence to LGBTQ+ as an umbrella identity. But there are other areas of similarity that we can take notes from.

Neurodivergence has some equivalence in characteristics like gender where it’s becoming generally accepted that there is a lot going on beyond the over-simplistic model of mutually-exclusive binary genders. In this case, for example, there is a complex relationship between gender identity, gender presentation, and perceived gender.

The equivalent for neurodivergence would be this:

  • Identity: I’m autistic and therefore neurodivergent.
  • Presentation: I have traits that result from being autistic/neurodivergent. I am able to “mask” traits to some degree either with or without conscious choice, which affects others’ perception of me.
  • Perception: I can be perceived by others as “neurodivergent” because of my visible traits.

What I like about this framing is that it covers the perspectives of both the person (identity/presentation) and those around them (presentation/perception).

On the subject of identity, an important aspect of LGBTQ+ that informs a definition of neurodivergence separate from the medical/pathological world is the recognition of the validity of self-identification. In short, somebody is gay if they identify as such; somebody can be neurodivergent if they identify as being so. This is likely to be contentious because a number of people feel that only recognised professionals–medical professionals–should be empowered to determine ND status. However, I believe that given the desire to move away from the medical definitions of neurodivergence as a set of diagnoses we should embrace ND self-identification.

ND people face prejudice, discrimination and obstacles that relate to their neurodivergence, not to whether they have a particular medical diagnosis. Bullying at school and in workplaces occurs because people are perceived as different, not because they have any diagnosis. So it’s not reasonable to make recognition of identity–and needs–depend on diagnosis.

Finally, something that may or may need spelling out so I’ll add it just in case: the relationship of neurodivergence with disability. Like other identities such as Deaf, ND can equate to disabled in some instances, but it’s left to the individual to decide whether they are disabled based on their own situation and experiences. Neurodivergence exists independently from disability, meaning a person can be either, both, or neither.

WTF is #Neurodiversity?

WTF is #Neurodiversity?

Bust of an Ancient Greek, a people renowned for thinking about the complexities of human existence

Neurodiversity seems like a big thing right now, but what is it all about? And what’s with all the various neuro-this and neuro-that?

Neurodiversity

I’ll do the easy bit first: neurodiversity is the simple, observable fact that human minds are different from each other. Just like the variety of living organisms, which we call biodiversity. Same thing, only we’re talking about brains rather than plants and animals.

Neurodiversity by itself doesn’t say whether or not this is a good thing: it’s a neutral term that describes what we see when we observe human minds.

So what?

If that was the end of the story this would be a really short essay and you’d wonder why I even bothered writing about it. The fun starts when you pick up the neurodiversity ball and run with it. When you start asking yourself what it means, both for societies and for individuals.

When you think to yourself, “Biodiversity is good, right? Without bees and insects lots of plants would die and we’d all be struggling to survive here. So, is neuro-diversity good for us too?”

Time for a paradigm

Congratulations! You just arrived at the Neurodiversity Paradigm. What’s a paradigm? It’s a fancy name for a set of principles or propositions. It’s the proposal that neurodiversity is all part of natural human variety, just like we have diversity of culture, gender, belief, and even physical characteristics including height or eye colour.

It also proposes that, like culture, gender, belief, eye colour and all those other things that make us different from each other, no one type of brain is the “right” or “normal” one: all are equally valid.

Finally, it proposes that this diversity, like other forms of human diversity, is valuable and beneficial to human society and all of us as a species.

Enough theory already

Yeah, but what does that actually mean? What are these “different brains”? Surely we all have similar brains, right?

Well, no, not really. Mostly pretty similar up to a point, but then you get differences that we refer to as autism, or ADHD, or dyslexia, and many more that are all simply what we call it when people’s brains work differently. Process information from their senses, respond to stimuli, handle language or memory in a range of different ways.

This leads to these people having different experiences of day-to-day life, even when they’re in the same situations. because it’s their brains–their neurology–that are different we use the term neurodivergent. Divergent as in the way branches of a tree diverge or spread out from each other.

This is not saying that being neurodivergent doesn’t cause anybody problems in their lives–obviously it often does–and it’s not saying that neurodivergent people shouldn’t want or seek medical treatment or other interventions. In fact it’s quite the opposite: the aim is to improve the lives of neurodivergent people, but to do it on their own terms.

This is about social justice, eh?

Yes, that’s what all this is leading up to, something often called the Neurodiversity Movement that takes the Neurodiversity Paradigm and says that a person should not face discrimination or persecution because of their neurology, because of being neurodivergent from the majority of people around them.

This Neurodiversity Movement isn’t an organisation and doesn’t have a structure or leadership. It’s an umbrella term for a whole bunch of individuals and organisations who promote, support, campaign for the principles of the paradigm. For the civil rights of neurodivergent people.

Let’s go deeper

That all sounds fab and groovy, right? Yay, civil rights! And I agree, yes, it’s a good thing to protect the rights of neurodivergent people: those with neurologies (or neurotypes) that diverge from the most common (or predominant) ones in society, and to remove the prejudice and stigma associated with these forms of difference.

No objections so far. But remembering that neurodiversity is literally about everybody, how broad a term is neurodivergent? Who does it include, and equally importantly who does it exclude?

You won’t find much argument about including autistic people, likewise ADHD. Dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia: fine. Tourette Syndrome. Epilepsy? It’s a neurological difference even if it is potentially life-threatening, especially if untreated.

What about degenerative conditions affecting the brain such as dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, or Motor Neurone Disease? Or Traumatic Brain Injury? Do we draw a line and rule them out? Say we aren’t here for conditions we wouldn’t feel comfortable celebrating?

Should conditions that are brain-altering but pathologised (basically, regarded as disorders or diseases) be considered instances of neurodivergence? Certainly these people have to deal with the same kinds of stigma and prejudice as the neurodivergent folks I mentioned above. So shouldn’t they also be represented by the Neurodiversity Movement?

What about things we might consider mental illnesses? Depression, anxiety disorders? They affect brain function and perception. How about others such as psychosis or schizophrenia? Sadism, psychopathy, narcissism? Again, a lot of stigma associated with these conditions, a lot of prejudice.

I do think that it shouldn’t include temporary states of altered cognition induced by external influences such as drug intoxication, unlike more lasting, longer-term changes to brain function.

Still celebrating?

If we include everything that has anything to do with neurology or brain function, then we’re really inclusive and that’s good, right?

Except… You thought neurodiversity was about celebrating the differences of neurodivergence, and standing up against the medical establishment and others who seem to want to “cure” us out of existence. So how to reconcile that with including conditions that most would want to eradicate?

And if we’re including things most of us think of as mental illnesses, do we risk being perceived as being all about that? Of making neurodiversity almost synonymous with mental illness?

Do we then gatekeep, and make value judgements about what belongs in and what we keep out? Do we then risk being perceived as being unrealistically optimistic, focused only on the positive side of neurodiversity?

Or do we take a more holistic view about neurodiversity, and make the movement about the way society handles all forms of diversity, all forms of difference?

My evolving thoughts

I started out thinking in pretty simple terms about neurodiversity and neurodivergence: it was people like me. Autistic but without much else in the way of neurodivergence. From that I could relate to other forms of neurodivergence such as ADHD and dyslexia where the focus is primarily on accommodations and acceptance.

That gave me a comfortable picture of what it all meant, and it was a diversity I could feel at ease celebrating.

But I’ve recently begun to think a lot more deeply about the purpose of neurodiversity, what it’s really trying to achieve, and exploring the boundaries in an attempt to understand it better and answer some of the questions I had about its scope.

I feel I’m beginning to understand it better, but also feel a lot less comfortable and complacent.

Closing thoughts

I might seem unsure about what exactly to include, but I’m very uncomfortable with any attempt to ring fence neurodivergence and prescribe what is and what isn’t included. I feel that’s doomed to end up a question of deciding which are “real” or “acceptable” neurodivergence, and which don’t fit into a simple, neat world-view. It also falls into the trap of thinking about neurodivergence in the same pathological (“disease”, “disorder”) terms that reinforce inequality and create many of the problems we are trying to address.

The aim of neurodiversity–the movement—is to change the way society handles neurodivergence. The method is by changing how we all think about all forms of neurodivergence. At the heart of the problem is the idea that there is a “normal” neurotype from which all others diverge, and that such divergence is a problem to be corrected. Hey, I never said it was going to be easy!

It’s far from uncommon for people with all forms of neurodivergence to be pitied, abused, feared or otherwise face stigma, prejudice and to be regarded as less than people of the predominant neurotypes. This inequality manifests in power structures where neurodivergent people often have less control over their own lives, and face more pressure to cede control to others. This is a situation familiar to other non-neurological minorities.

Some forms of neurodivergence are positive and bring benefits to the individual and wider society, some are neutral, and some are negative and may pose some risk to the person or even others around them. Many more are some combination of positives and negatives, a range of different traits.

I believe that neurodiversity must inform how society deals with those whose neurodivergence poses a risk to them or to others. Current approaches are often punitive (via criminal justice systems), satisfying a desire for retribution rather than treatment or rehabilitation. Other approaches deem a person to lack competence, restricting or removing their rights. This makes neurodivergent people wary of seeking help or treatment.

Neurodiversity must find a balance between the needs of the neurodivergent individual and the needs of the society they live in. This means addressing questions such as when it might be acceptable to curtail individual rights, or to impose decisions on a person if they are deemed incapable of making a reasonable informed choice about something such as medical treatment. These are difficult questions, but that’s not a reason to avoid them.

Human society developed because living in organised groups benefits the members of those groups. Modern industrial societies are larger and require more complex organisational structures to function. As humans we like neat, simple answers. We often believe that problems can be reduced to a simple model that will explain everything. But the world doesn’t work that way. People are complex, society is complexity to the umpteenth power.

If neurodiversity is to succeed in changing society then I believe it must meet that complexity head-on. Altering attitudes and behaviour isn’t simple.

Further Reading

Probably the most widely-cited reference used to define neurodiversity is on Nick Walker’s Neurocosmopolitanism site that you can find here.

There’s also been plenty of discussion on Twitter, including this “in a nutshell” thread from Judy Singer who coined the word Neurodiversity.

A Bed of Roses Still Has Thorns – On #Autism and Cures

A Bed of Roses Still Has Thorns – On #Autism and Cures

As an autistic woman, would I want to be cured?

It’s a valid question, and one that I believe is worth exploring in depth because its simplicity hides a host of unspoken assumptions, assumptions that differ depending on who you ask.

What Is Autism?

Autism is not just a medical diagnosis based on a set of clinical observations, even though that’s exactly how it’s defined in manuals such as DSM and ICD. Those are just the outward tell-tale signs of a brain that works a bit differently from most.

I don’t pretend to understand how my brain works or how an autistic brain is different from a non-autistic one: I don’t know what exactly makes somebody autistic. I do know I can relate my experiences very strongly to those of many of the autistic people I know personally. I know that almost all my friends are autistic and that I have more trouble establishing close relationships with non-autistics.

One of the reasons that an autistic culture has arisen, especially since the growth of the internet made long-distance and alternative–not face to face and largely written–communication so much easier, cheaper and faster, is that so many of us relate to each other on levels that we can’t reach with non-autistics: this is a consequence of the double-empathy problem where each group has difficulty relating to the other.

Where you have a culture, you have an identity associated with it. So you often find autistic people speak about autism as an identity–a cultural identity–much more than as a condition or diagnosis. This phenomenon of autism as cultural identity is why so many of us feel a strong preference for referring to ourselves as autistic and not “people with autism”.

Neurodiversity

The concept of neurodiversity is strongly associated with, although by definition not restricted to, autism. In simple terms it is the idea that autism, ADHD and other neurological differences are all part of the normal variation of human brains. It’s the idea that these are differences, not faults.

That’s not to say that we don’t recognise the ways in which our differences can present obstacles in daily life. Some of these can be disabling, especially in a world that is largely shaped by and for the neurotypical majority.

The problem with the medical definition and view of autism is that it’s entirely based on deficits, on aspects that are seen as inferior when compared to the predominant neurotype. It’s like the old saying, “When all you have is a hammer the whole world looks like a nail”: when you always frame neurodivergence as a collection of faults, you only see it as something to be fixed.

Support Needs versus Quality of Life

So we come to one of the key points: many neurodivergent people have non-trivial support needs in their everyday lives. Many of us need assistance in one form or another, whether it’s with communication, mobility, tasks such as washing, dressing or eating.

Many people who don’t require such support would equate that with a poor quality of life but that’s not true. They assume that needing assistance means you lose autonomy, the ability and right to make decisions about things that affect you. The opposite can be true with the right support: it can enable someone to do things that they would otherwise be unable to.

Requiring support, even for basic tasks and activities, does not mean having a poor quality of life. Encountering prejudices and having support restricted or denied, on the other hand, does severely reduce the fulfilment in one’s life. There’s no scale from having a good life at one end to having high support needs at the other: it’s possible to have both.

Cure = Reducing Support, not Needs

This idea that requiring more assistance and support means that one has a worse life–because that’s the assumption made by people who don’t have such needs–is a key motivation behind much of the search for autism cures. There’s certainly money to be made for the corporations and medical professionals offering these treatments too, which is always a consideration.

The problem with such an approach is that it largely ignores the needs of people today, and the cure agenda is pursued instead of investing in support services. It’s a “jam tomorrow” scenario, made worse by the priority being which “jam” they feel will offer the best return on investment and not which one those receiving it might be asking for.

There is a history of research priorities being set without the input of those the studies are focused on, leading to unmet needs and a growing disenchantment with and mistrust of the medical establishment.

When this happens against a backdrop of cuts to social services and increasing barriers to access what remains, it’s no wonder that there’s considerable scepticism among autistics whenever some new prospective cure is announced. Indeed there’s growing anger that our priorities are routinely ignored or overridden.

Cure = Eradication

Some treatments are aimed at reducing or eliminating already-present aspects of autism–things like “improving” our social interactions or our ability to act “normal”. Others, particularly involving genetic manipulation, are intended to prevent autistic traits arising at all.

When we hear talk like this about “curing” autism it comes across as a desire to eliminate us as a people, destroy our culture, remove the core part of our identity. Eradicate that which makes us who we are, and so eradicate us. This is why there’s such strong opposition from autistic people to research into what from our point of view is no different from eugenics or genocide.

Would I Want To be Cured?

After all that, back to the question I started with. For me, being autistic is not something I can separate from how I see myself: it’s an intrinsic part of me, one of the aspects that makes me uniquely me. Without it I would not be me.

I feel at home in autistic culture, among people I can relate to and identify with. My people.

Anything that threatened to break the affinity I feel, that risked severing my feeling of connection to these people, would feel like it threatened my very life. Maybe even worse than that, because I would go on, cut adrift from the tribe that feels like home to me and I would be keenly aware of the loss.

But there are things I struggle with. I sometimes become overwhelmed by emotions and/or sensations and unable to express myself verbally, either in speech or even writing. I misunderstand people–neurotypical people especially–because I expect them to respond the way I or another autistic would. I have sensory processing and executive dysfunction.

Would I like to never again feel overwhelmed and disoriented by complex noise or too-bright lighting? Would I like to be able to remember what I came into a room looking for? Would I like to be able to keep my apartment organised?

These are areas where I want assistance. If there was a way to “fix” them while leaving everything else intact would I be interested? Maybe, but I’d need to be sure the cure wouldn’t have unintended consequences: side-effects.

So there’s my answer: a definite maybe, if it’s not too much trouble and it wouldn’t do anything I didn’t want it to. I’ll take help if it’s going, I might consider limited treatments, but I would never want to not be autistic. I don’t want to be “cured” because although I accept that I’m disabled, I don’t see myself as broken.

Everyday Aspergers – Interview With Sam Craft

Everyday Aspergers – Interview With Sam Craft

Earlier today I interviewed autistic writer and artist Samantha Craft whose recently completed book, Everyday Aspergers, brings together her reflections and experiences of life on the Autism Spectrum.

Alex Forshaw To begin, your book grew from your blog posts on Everyday Asperger’s. What first inspired you to write about autism?

Samantha Craft My middle son, who is now 17, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when he was 5 years of age. I’d learned a lot about Asperger’s through him and literature. When I started a second Masters Degree (which I didn’t finish) in Counseling, I was required to seek out a therapist as part of course work expectation. I asked the therapist I found if she thought I might have ASD. She was adamant that she thought so. From there, I had an abundance of emotions about the ideas of me being autistic, and needed a place to process what was going on inside my head.

AF I’m guessing that you suspected you had ASD based on what you saw in your son? Similarities between the two of you?

SC I’d always felt out of sorts, different from my peers and even from adults. I’d sought out answers for years from people in authority, such as therapists, priests, psychologists, teachers, and so forth. I didn’t know why I was the way I was. I didn’t connect the dots that I had Asperger’s when my son was diagnosed because very little was known then and what was shared was very stereotypical and didn’t make sense to me, such as: no empathy, no imagination, no creativity, etc. It took me a long time to connect the dots between my son and myself. He manifested his autistic traits differently as he was a child and a male and in a very stable home. In comparing our childhoods, there were a lot of environmental factors that influenced how I behaved. Similarities, now, are numerous and profound. Especially our need for time alone, limited expectation on others, keen interest in creative writing, deep philosophical thinking and discussion, ability to think outside of the box, and confusion over certain societal hierarchies and cultural standards. But these are not common things you find in an ordinary text book or article on ASD. These are things you find in real autistics leading real lives.

AF You mention the stereotypical nature of much of the literature about autism, and that it is removed from everyday life. Can you give me some examples where your book covers topics that you’d have found most helpful at that stage in your life?

SC Yes, and let me point out first, please, that I would add the word “falsehoods” or “false” to those stereotypes. I have corresponded with many people who are on the autism spectrum or believe themselves to be, and they are for the majority, let’s say 95%, extremely empathetic, kind, compassionate, passionate, insightful, and highly creative and imaginative. These stereotypes are largely based on the observation of autistics—largely on how others who don’t have autism think about autistics and not on the real voices of autistic people.

AF That’s a very good point.

SC It is hard to think of my book in “topics” as I don’t generally write that way. My blog was largely inspired by how I was feeling during that day, and what I felt needed to come out of me in order that I might be able to breathe. Typically I began writing my posts without knowing what I would say or even truly how I was feeling. The writing was my way of getting out my thoughts and ideas. Interestingly, at least a thousand people have written to me to say that I have read their minds. When in actuality, I tend to think they all jump in my head and I have to spill out what’s going on in there. Like a Jungian Collective Unconscious of Aspies swimming in my head. But back to your question, the whole book works as a whole. I cannot separate it into parts of most useful or least. For me, it depends on the given day, how I might be feeling, how I might have been triggered. It’s 150 posts ranging vastly in subject matter. Mostly, for me, it is about community and connecting. For others to be able to see their self in me and for me to continue to see myself in them. For others to know we are in this life and this journey together.

AF I find it interesting that the way you describe your writing sounds a lot like the way I write myself, with the act of writing itself being the catalyst that teases the thoughts into some kind of shape.

You say you see your book working as a whole, and that it is about others seeing themselves in what you have written about your own life and experiences. I know that my big “Aha!” moment was on reading some posts on a blog and realizing that the author could have been talking about my own life.

SC Yes, what you said; that’s it exactly. The act of writing itself is a catalyst. I often just type what I hear in my head. I can hear a still, calm peaceful voice whispering the words to type. It’s a very healing process. I am glad you had that Aha moment. I actually use that phrase “Aha!” in my book a couple times, at least. It’s amazing when we find a collective that understands us and sees us, especially after many of us have felt either entirely too visible in a way in which we were misrepresenting our own selves or misinterpreted by others, or entirely invisible, with thoughts of being isolated and misunderstood.

AF My own experience tells me what other autistic readers can get from your book, but how do people who are not on the spectrum respond, and what can they gain from reading it?

SC I like to say, or rather giggle when I say, “Most of my best friends are neurotypical.” And that’s the truth. I have been fortunate to know some very kind people in my life, especially in the field of teaching. I tend to keep my friends for life, if they’ll have me. Since I have some friends that are not autistic some read my writings. A few I sent my completed manuscript to. And their feedback has been that they feel a lot of what I feel. The primary difference being that I tend to experience life “turned up” or on heightened degree—I mean everything about life, from my thoughts, ideas, emotions, theories, and so forth. So, for the people reading my works that perhaps are not autistic, I would say I write in a way that is accepting of all my self, all my emotions and experiences, and in a manner that invites others to look at their own self and heart. In that, the book could easily be called “Everyday Human,” not just “Everyday Aspergers.” This is not to say that autism isn’t challenging, because clearly being autistic is very hard at times, but it is to say that I, as an autistic, have much in common with others that might not be neurodiverse. Also, interestingly enough, there have been quite a few folks, including some relatives, who ended up discovering they were likely autistic from reading my works, having not ever given it thought before or even known enough to give it thought.

I would add, too, that there are of course other major differences between my non-autistic friends and me, including the constant voice in my head monitoring social interactions, sensory challenges with all my senses, difficulty processing my emotions until time has passed, much stimming, high anxiety, and I could likely list 100 other things as well. Still, there is enough of me that is essentially human in the book that speaks to the human experience.

AF I love that response. Yes, I think it can be very easy sometimes to become so immersed in autistic culture that we forget we have more in common with neurotypical people than we realize. Though our differences, being autistic, are significant enough to affect how we experience life, we are all human and that should count for more than our differences.

Before I wrap this up, I’d like to say that one blog post of yours that I will always remember was your list of Asperger’s traits for women and girls. I particularly enjoyed the way you didn’t just present a checklist of attributes, but instead gave in-depth descriptions of living with those traits. I find your approach very accessible because it’s much easier to draw parallels with my own life when reading how it feels and the effects it has day-to-day.

SC I am pleased to hear you appreciated the Ten Traits post. That is the post that brought 1000s of us (meaning those of us who are autistic and those who support an autistic loved one) together. I recently did a YouTube reciting that post because after four years and with the coming of the book, I wished to put my tone and inflection to the words, to bring it even more life. Thank you for the kind words about my approach. I try to release all expectations, and thoughts of future, when I write. I write to write. I have a faith. I hesitate to say strong, as it wavers, that is uniquely mine and that I don’t ever intend to push on anyone, but this faith, my connectedness to source, helps me to write in a form that feels free of judgment, strong opinions, or want of anything. There is a definite freedom in my writing that others have reported, and I believe, allows for a person to be as they are without expectation of change.

AF Speaking of autism in females, do you think that we need stronger focus on how it affects women and girls differently?

SC In answer to your question, you likely know that answer.

I believe a wave has begun of autistic teachers, activists, advocates, authors, artists, professionals, and leaders and with this wave is a secondary wave of neurodiverse supporters who don’t necessarily identify with being autistic. I believe this wave will continue to build and in doing so bring increased awareness to the autism community and the neurodiverse community at large. This wave will bring to light many of our struggles, those of the autistic community, but also of the struggles of living life on this earth. It will bring connection, community, support, and a sense of purpose. It will encourage service and acceptance of differences.

This wave will naturally in its current expose the world to the autistic nature of an autistic individual. I no longer think it is about gender. As the false stereotypical traits are being eradicated by the true voices of autistics and we are seeing whether male, female, or an individual who doesn’t identify with a gender, we are alike in the way we experience autism; and in the same way we are also uniquely individualized.

I do understand what you mean by differently, with aspects to genetics and social expectations, and how girls naturally try to fit in, but in my experience, most of the men I speak with identify almost entirely to my female traits list.

AF Well put. I see this comes back to the principles of accepting differences while celebrating all that we have in common, building communities on those strong foundations. After all we are all stronger together.

Thank you very much for your time.

Everyday Aspergers by Samantha Craft is due to be released in June 2016. Please visit her website Spectrum Suite to find out more about her, her book, and a range of autism-related resources, events and links.