Photo by Stu Allsop – at RE:collections exhibition 2016 with my installation.
And lo, it came to pass that one day in the later decades of my life I experienced a touch of the ‘normals’.
But please don’t worry – I am quite okay. In fact I’m more than okay. I’m frankly energised in ways I don’t yet fully comprehend.
And again – don’t worry – I haven’t been ‘cured’ of my autism or gone all typical overnight. I am still emphatically me, only I’m suddenly a me with a growing sense that there are others quite like me, rather than me being a somewhat ropey version of you (you – for the purposes of this post being the non-autistic reader).
You see this typicality runs very deep in our culture. It seems to me there’s always a best and correct way of doing things – indeed our whole learning culture depends on such concepts and methods, fathomable only perhaps to a ‘typical brain’. Professional structures depend on this too – in fact typicality is so deeply assumed that I suggest we as modern societies simply don’t even get close to understanding this as oppression. But it so is.
Those of us who experience it simply feel innately faulty – because it is in effect the only kind of template out there, and it covers just about every thing in sight until you get to certain leisure pursuits or the kind of employment where creativity and innovation is prized, and can be self-led. We seem to have a cultural obsession with the conformity implied in ‘getting it right’ and using ‘correct methodologies’. I’m beginning to think this accounts for some of the growing tyranny in schools and professional life of trackable and measurable outcomes, in which a somewhat warped idea of accountability seems to have replaced something more human and, dare I say it, more generous.
Generous and confident cultures perhaps accept more plurality? This is where I hope we can be headed – away from the idea of ‘best way’ and one way, to many ways of doing and being.
Because it’s all right for an older crock like me to grow into herself finally, but what about those coming after me – my own kids included. To use a well worn metaphor I’ve been a square peg in a round hole (without knowing it) and it’s taken decades to discover my square peg buddies.
But I can tell you that when one square peg (autistic) mets another – and when their square-pegged life notes are exchanged – something revelatory happens. You realise that what is needed (and always was) are more square holes. Simple. You may need to build them yourself – but that was it folks. No square holes, visible or otherwise.
Perhaps this is a newly useful if ancient metaphor after all? Let’s try it out.
So – I am after all a perfectly ‘normal’ (autistic) square peg. So is my friend. There are it seems many of us. SO many that we can’t count one another. Society functions on a round peg basis. We need square holes – in the same way that wheel chair users need wheels and ramps.
Square holes could perhaps stand as a visual metaphor for our access needs and the need for access tools to be shaped by us for us – because only we can think in square-pegged ways. If this were to be true and even useful, the steps involved might look like this.
Step one: experiencing a necessary touch of the ‘normals’ in which the penny drops. This world is not designed for me but this doesn’t mean that I am faulty. We need as many of of us out and signalling to one another as possible.
Step two: identifying the patterns of square peg thinkers and how they are disabled and mitigated against via systems which demand round-pegged conformity. This means dialogue about how our brains work in practice in ways we recognise and understand as our own.
Step three: designing, lobbying for & implementing square hole access tools and arrangements in schools and workplaces. Probably many small initiatives connecting where possible – perhaps leading to national programmes which are autistic led.
I put it out there – because growing into yourself is only the inner life hack. We need more autistic thinking to filter into the way we design education and work practices too. Having met some of my autistic square peg counterparts I can assure you that we’re pretty freaking amazing. You’ll want some of that in your school or organisation – if you’re smart you really, really will.