“In addition, a widespread use of NIPT as general screening may induce ‘eugenic’ use, even when the state is not involved. The adding up of a lot of individual choices to the ‘acceptability’ of aborting certain kinds of embryos or fetuses brings forward a societal phenomenon, which resembles a kind of eugenics in the search for a ‘perfect child’.”
People often ask whether autism (or another neurodivergent condition) is a disability. I’d argue that it is more helpful to ask whether autistic people are disabled (to which my answer would be: in most cases, yes). It may seem a semantic distinction, but it is important: it locates the disablement not in the autistic person’s brain, but in the society they live in and the way the individual and society interact. Autism is not our disability: it may be an impairment, a difference, or some combination. Our disability is the difficulty that arises in our interaction with the specific society in which we live.
These burgeoning, fragile, necessary autistic spaces may be the foundations that can help explorations to, and with, allies, companions, partnerships. However power imbalances within and outside these spaces must be acknowledged and respected. Being able to be there was a privilege not available to all. (That shouldn’t be taken to mean that the path to being there wasn’t differently hard for so many of us). It is always better to be done “with” than “to”. Luckily autistic people (can have) strengths in clear, direct, honest communication. What could be more useful (& endangered) in a post-truth world?
That me sitting here having a conversation in a way that reads as baseline normal to you is so high-energy that I’m going to start to break down from it in about half the time as you and have to go home and collapse. That to you that’s just how humans work and to me it’s like performing an extremely high-level game of mental and physical coordination.
You don’t have to look far to find derogatory descriptions of the communication of autistic people. Terms such as ‘disorder’, ‘impairment’, ‘deficit’ and ‘dysfunction’ abound in the research literature which, when you drill down into it, offers multitudes of negative conceptualisations of the ways that autistic people do, or don’t express themselves. In simple terms, autistic people are considered impaired whether they are speaking, or not speaking, for the words they choose, or don’t choose, for talking too quickly, or too slowly, for doing so at the wrong time, in the wrong way, or in the wrong place. Indeed, as I wrote in 2018, when I explored the intersection of autistic communication with noise and silence in schools, autistic people are simply considered to be making ‘the wrong kind of noise’.
A recently released study from the university of Cambridge claims to show that male and female brains are clearly very different. In a huge study of over 600,000 people, the data obtained showed that men tend to be more analytical and ‘systemic’ while women tend to be more emotional and empathetic, thus providing clear evidence for controversial theories about the differences between male and female brains.
So, what’s wrong with this particular study? Quite a few things, as it happens. But there are also some major issues with the ways it’s being reported. Here’s a basic rundown, from my perspective.
What Is NT?
Neurotypical syndrome is a neurobiological disorder characterized by preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority, and obsession with conformity.
Neurotypical individuals often assume that their experience of the world is either the only one, or the only correct one. NTs find it difficult to be alone. NTs are often intolerant of seemingly minor differences in others. When in groups NTs are socially and behaviorally rigid, and frequently insist upon the performance of dysfunctional, destructive, and even impossible rituals as a way of maintaining group identity. NTs find it difficult to communicate directly, and have a much higher incidence of lying as compared to persons on the autistic spectrum.
NT is believed to be genetic in origin. Autopsies have shown the brain of the neurotypical is typically smaller than that of an autistic individual and may have overdeveloped areas related to social behavior.http://erikengdahl.se/autism/isnt/index.html
Theory of mind is declared the native domain of neurotypicals; a kind of transcendent ability that is regarded the basis for communication and, in more inflated estimations, is celebrated as the very thing that defines us as human. A lack of theory of mind, or “mind-blindness”, on the other hand, is attributed to autistics as a kind of deficit. This supposed deficit is expressed as a lack of empathy on the part of autistics, sometimes carefully parsed as a lack of cognitive empathy (the ability to know what another person is thinking/feeling), but far too often, sloppily conflated with a lack of affective empathy (the ability to feel compassion for another person).
And in pragmatic terms, autistics are indeed frequently unable to discern or know what another person might be thinking, while a neurotypical person is often able to discern what another neurotypical person might be thinking or feeling. As I have noted in previous entries in this blog, this works between two neurotpicals, not because they have insight into the thoughts or feelings of other people, but because there is a statistical likelihood that they would be thinking or feeling the same thing. They are sitting in adjacent wells, describing bits of sky that share the same cloud. Or we might say that their individual experiences of their respective beetles are similar enough that the value, utility and dangers associated with those beetles correspond sufficiently to prevent disrupting the perception that meaning, but also experience, is shared.The belief in a theory of mind is a disability
In speaking with participants about causes of trauma, she has heard “everything from sexual abuse, emotional abuse and horrendous bullying, to much broader concepts, like what it’s like to go around your whole life in a world where you have 50 percent less input than everyone else because you have social deficits. Or feeling constantly overwhelmed by sensory experience — feeling marginalized in our society because you’re somebody with differences.” In other words, she says, “the experience of having autism and the trauma associated with that.”
The problem with the term ‘female autism’ is it essentialises the femininity of the experience of being autistic in this way. Yet there is nothing about this which is unique to autistic women and girls. When I first self-diagnosed I spent a lot of time reading blogs and books by other autistic women, the resonance of their words was a profound comfort to me during the uncertain time while I was waiting for a formal diagnosis. However, I would argue that this resonance wasn’t because they were female, it was because they are similar autistic people to me. Increasingly I find myself meeting men who are questioning whether they might be autistic and I find myself pointing them toward resources on autistic women and girls because this is the type of autistic person they are. This has nothing to do with their gender identity, they are not female type autistics any more than women who have been diagnosed using current tools are extreme male type autistics!
In the middle of 2018, a group of academics came together, with the realisation that we were all, separately, contributing to a new way of thinking about autism. In various ways we had – implicitly or explicitly – developed a quantiative and experimental test of the predictions of the Double Empathy Problem.
Because we are bad at some things, people often expect us to be bad at other things; for example, they see someone failing to conform with social expectations, and assume that person has impaired intelligence.But because we are good at some things, people are often impatient when we’re not as skilled or need support in other areas.
Academic achievements don’t imply competence in self-care and maintenance, and high levels of skill in certain areas don’t always translate to success in education or in the workplace.
We are often taken to be “lazy” because we seem to master some things easily, but fail at things many find “simple.” Autistic kids suffer a lot in school because when they struggle with certain tasks or subjects, teachers often assume that it’s from a lack of effort.
Autism is regarded by many autistic people as a neurodivergence, or indeed a minority people, not a fault. Although adding that of course some have multiple conditions and require a lot of support, and that proper support that values and respects all autistic people and their families fully is much needed.
This is a quick list of some of the research that I value:
There was also something quite meta at play, I now realise. In the delightful yet serious game of self-identification with the group, there also exists the teasing possibility of intuiting what autistic culture/s might be collectively speaking. Not wishing to be divisive, or pin down a beautiful butterfly, it matters greatly to know this and to be able to articulate it. Yet it is a very tricky area precisely because of the double empathy problem.