Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Autism: Neurological Queerness

William Blake famously spoke of the doors of perception which, if cleansed, opened into infinity.  For me, those doors of perception, my sensory gating channels, have always been wide open -- though I am often a bit far sighted, seeing the laticework underlying the structure of this world while missing parts of the human exchange going on around me. And I sometimes get overwhelmed.

It changed my life to find out that this experience is called Autism.

While Autism is classified as a disorder, it is actually a set of neurological variations that allow for a profoundly different experience of the universe.  Autistic people have always existed and we serve a fundamental ecological role in a healthy community, mediating between worlds.  Some of my Autistic predecessors were the people who lived at the edge of the village, maintaining connection between the human, the wild, and the divine.  My herbalism and my magic are in many ways an inheritance from these ancestors of the Craft.

The variation in human neurology is as profound as the variation in human sexuality and impacts our experience just as deeply.   As with sexuality and with gender, monotheistic religions and their capitalist descendants (the relationship between monotheism and capitalism is one brilliantly pointed out by Rhyd Wildermuth) decreed only a narrow band of neurological experience and expression permissible, and demonized or pathologized variatiom from the norm.

The way in which hierarchies are created within Autism diagnoses designating some of us "high functioning" and some of us "low functioning" points to the role of capitalism in establishing and enforcing compulsory neurotypicality.  Functionality is defined largely in terms of ability to play economic functions.  "High functioning" Autistics are those of us who were and are verbally precocious and able to give name and voice to complex layers of reality.  To the extent that our creative perception can be harnessed for lucrative purposes, we are tolerated as eccentrics.  More so if we learn to mimic neurotypical traits, putting on a convincing performance of social fluency.  That performance has its cost, however, in the form of stress-induced illnesses like the hypertension I struggle with.    Those whose expression does not include language are deemed "low functioning" and their silence is presumed to reflect a deficiency in mental processing.  But I can tell you that I have those silent places in me too, and sometimes using words at all feels like a betrayal, and I recognize those places when I see them.

For me, Autism is a neurological Queerness, a way of being in the world rendered transgressive by a culture intent on total control and infinite growth.

But we cannot be controled, and our power grows at the edges.

Author's Note:  9 months after writing this piece, I discovered that a number of people have actually been thinking and writing about neurological Queerness for a while.  See:



gel said...

It's so good to hear from you.

I can relate to much of what you are saying here. Both for myself and from working with a so called "low functioning" autistic lady. While she did not speak much at all....and had other profound differences that made it difficult for her to function in most "normal" ways of our culture, I came to perceive her as highly developed spiritually and socially very intuitive.

As for me....I have not been "diagnosed" as autistic. But I am on the edges and gateways between the "normal" and the wild or other realms. It's taking me a long time to reframe what the dominant culture has labeled "sick", or anti-social in me. And to reclaim the gifts and capabilities inherent in the non-normal aspects.

Lindsay said...

Well, this is an interesting perspective. I've never thought of Autism that way. I actually discern between those diagnosed with Autism and those who are 'sensate' and pick up on sense stimuli much more acutely than most people.

How I discern these two...is that ~ typically, in the case of Autism...it has been triggered by various toxins and pollutants to the body (environmental toxins, endotoxins, toxins receive in utero, or improperly timed and delivered vaccinations (especially compound vaccinations). I've read many case studies that parent's have treated their child's autism by healing the gut and helping their child move toxins and viruses in the cerebral-spinal fluid out of the system.

So, I understand what you are saying... But heightened sensitivities do not directly correlate with Autism as far as I understand. However, sensitivity to sound and touch (especially) are quite common for those diagnosed with Autism.

Sean Donahue said...

It is true that many of us have issues with gut permeability and with slow detoxification pathways and so we Autistics are often canaries in the well with regard to poisons in the food and water and air and soil. But we have always been here and cannot and will not be "cured" -- though we can have some of the struggles we endure as part of this modern world made easier.

Emily said...

I always enjoy your writing and insight. I have had the sense that autistic individuals are highly sensitive, both to the toxic environment we have created (possibly related to methylation difficulties compounding that toxicity) and to the energy of everything around them. Perhaps that person who cannot make eye contact is overwhelmed from everything being projected around them. Behaviors that can be viewed as antisocial may actually be a protective response to an overwhelming amount of stimuli.

I've often wondered if those lumped on the "low functioning" end of the spectrum are, in reality, focused extremely inward because of how sensitive their systems are to inflammation being created (from trauma or co-morbidities like leaky gut, toxicity, etc.) To my mind, this would explain why, when those co-morbid conditions are addressed, we tend to see more behaviors directed outward, conventionally defined as better verbalization and socialization.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sean,

Were you diagnosed with Autism or are you speculating? Its kind of trend for people who dont 'fit in' to self-diagnose with Aspergers these days.. Im surprised you put this kind of label on yourself. In temple Grandin's book The Autistic Brain she talks about brain imaging done on both autistic brains and 'neurotypicals' and it is not so cut and dry. While severe autism can be seen readily, the more subtle variations are not so clearly different from 'regular' people.

Anonymous said...

"More so if we learn to mimic neurotypical traits, putting on a convincing performance of social fluency."

From my work with students with autism, I think it is extremely unlikely that they would 'mimic' neurotypical traits. This is simply not on the agenda. Even with Aspergers, these kids are not interested in impressing anyone, the last thing they would attempt to figure out is how to act like everyone else.

Why do you need a label for yourself, why not just say you are anti-social.. You have been hurt and dont trust people. Also, smoking lots of ganga, the paranoia will make you anti-social.. just something to think about.

Sean Donahue said...

Performing neurotypicality is not about impressing anyone. It is about surviving in this culture.

The embrace of Au identity is not about labels, its about calling back to us the power that was separated from us through the pathologization of our way of being.

I trust those who are worthy of trust. Love is repaid with Love.

The identification many of us have with the changeling and the fey is no accident. A study of the law by which their world operates will be instructive regarding the nature of trust and protection.

Anonymous said...

I just looked up on wikipedia and see where you are coming from
"As noted, it has been hypothesized that the changeling legend may have developed, or at least been used, to explain the peculiarities of children who did not develop normally, probably including all sorts of developmental delays and abnormalities. In particular, it has been suggested that children with autism would be likely to be labeled as changelings or elf-children due to their strange, sometimes inexplicable behavior. This has found a place in autistic culture. Some autistic adults have come to identify with changelings (or other replacements, such as aliens) for this reason and their own feeling of being in a world where they do not belong and of practically not being the same species as the other people around them.[22]"

I am just challenging your using a diagnosis (Im guessing a self-diagnosis) of Autism to describe your 'changeling' nature. I believe it is a romanticisation of what it means to be autistic. Interesting correlation though. I enjoy the romantic stories also, like you do, aliens, faeries etc... but it is also a blinding viewpoint, that can close you in - and tempts the ego so.