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: