I began thinking about this post through a personal reflection on the contribution of deep connective thought to innovation within my own projects. My focus (naturally) is this style of thinking within the autistic mind and how it might connect to mainstream culture, yet remain unrecognised as autistic in origin.
The obvious follow on from these musings is that there exists a parallel history to mainstream narratives, one of hidden talent and industry which has powered (and continues to power) just about every area of human endeavour. If our net is cast wider to include the entire gamut of neurodivergent minds, we can arrive at the following statements.
Traces of neurodivergent brain activity form a powerful (yet unspoken) web around the globe and across the ages. This web in past and present times supports all areas of human thought. If we turn this round 180 degrees, it can be argued that there will likely be no area of human thought in which neurodivergent brains are not in some way major contributors.
Steve Silberman traces aspects of this history in Neurotribes – what I present here is a flow of thought from personal experience.
Continuing this train of thought I’m struck by the equal knowledge that enforced conformity permeates modern human societies through a bewilderingly comprehensive array of systems beginning with school, in which neurodivergent minds have been assaulted or abandoned (I speak from experience).
In the area of autistic life – the one I know and will therefore stick to – the hidden nature of our toil has been due to ignorance and stigma. I’m certain this applies to most neurodivergences, but will park this larger topic here (with keys in the ignition) for all those other self-advocates to take for a spin.
Autism as a narrowly defined bundle of ‘impairments’ (seen through neuro-normative lenses) allows no possibility of contribution, let alone a fundamental role for such minds in supporting a mainstream culture. As we say in the UK – that is a bit pants.
But hope is on the horizon. The notion that autistics can be all things, because there are visibly so many ways of being autistic, has (at long last) the potential to flourish with the dawn of the neurodiversity paradigm. More of us are ‘coming out’.
I thank each and every one of these incredible pioneers, because they (you) have allowed an opening up of what it means to be autistic, and therefore how to begin the job of navigating and negotiating space for ourselves.
More elbow room – and the all important validation of public funding – is fostering a growing sense of entitlement (yes – a difficult word) within my soul. I feel entitled to a space in this neurotypically dominated world – and it is impossible to understate what a powerful shift this represents. For more than half a century, my journey through life has never felt truly worthy – a life lived as a failed neurotypical is a hard act to sustain with dignity or joy. Now I sense my basic human worth on this planet less fleetingly and more securely – as the incredibly diverse and rich community to which I belong grows around me, and I focus on the allistic friends who can genuinely value and celebrate my difference with me.
In a professional sense I begin to understand that this space I wish to carve for myself should accurately reflect my input, rather than involve continuing misjudgment on neurotypical terms.
What this does in practice, is allow me to begin to say difficult things. My gratitude to the Arts Council for funding my research is without bounds. Yet my research is uncovering issues buried deep within this organisation’s funding structure which are inherently ableist in assumption and unsurprisingly so. Cognitive dissonance is to be expected as this is pioneering work – Arts Council gives with the hand that holds present knowledge about access for disability, but withholds with the hand that isn’t there yet on autism.
Deep connective thinking will be needed to join it all up in my evaluation document. In recent days I’ve begun to recognise the bot like ways of my brain which is capable of mining and sweeping through certain kinds of information in a highly systematic way. Who knew! I struggle deeply with what is called executive function and am dyspraxic.
My handwriting is crap, I’ll fall off a bicycle, I can’t remember what I had for lunch – but I’m finding I can radically restructure a project, with the combined powers of hyper focus and ‘unusual logic’, in the space of a few days.
I’m living the truth that deep connective thinking can be one of the benefits and joys of the autistic brain – and that we lend this truth (this power) to the workplace. I’m of the firm conviction that we in fact often work harder and longer – because we can (hyper focus) and because we have to – but this tricksy notion deserves a post of it’s own.*
But it doesn’t take much of a stretch to multiply my own example by the many other autistic minds at work (and those barred from work through structural and overt ableism). Take that multiplication back through time and you begin to sense the web I began this post with.
I take huge strength from this notion – and I want us all to feel entitled in the best sense of the word.
If nothing else this is what I wish to pass down to my children.
So here’s to us all!
*This observation is partly founded on the knowledge that we are in many cases asked to work against our neurologies to conform, and that we work overtime to survive hostile sensory environments.