C is for Culture

Writing about culture in relation to the neurodiversity movement is a little daunting because this is still a very fluid construct, so while I’m going to do my best to do the topic justice, I can’t declare this to be any sort of definitive account. I should start by saying that when I think of culture, I think of the sociological concept of culture as a socially transmitted system of knowledge, beliefs, art and customs, rather than the more common-place definition which focuses more on art.

For me, one of the more interesting aspects of culture when it comes to the neurodiversity movement is that, unlike the culture in which we grew up where a lot of the internalised values and beliefs is dependent on our geographical proximity to people within the same culture, the culture of the neurodiversity movement is more globalised.

The neurodiversity movement is made up of people who are based in multiple countries and have a variety of life experiences, so our shared beliefs recognise the inherent value of multiple forms of diversity. Because of this, neurodiversity activists are generally committed to ensuring that our activism is intersectional and that forms an important part of our culture.

As a brief aside, some critics have claimed that intersectionality creates some sort of hierarchy of oppression. In response to that, I would like to offer a definition of intersectionality:

“…to practice social justice in ways that grapple with the complex impacts of multiple systems of structural oppression (or systemic injustice, if you will). For those of us who are non-Black autistic activists, that means recognizing that behavioral compliance, indistinguishability, and conditionally passing as neurotypical can be tools of survival for Black autistic people. Resistance to arbitrary norms of abled and neurotypical existence can take multiple forms. Survival and resilience can mean navigating complicated tensions between out and proud autistic existence and safety from racialized violence. Intersectionality demands complexity without easy answers or simple slogans, because the real lives of everyone in the movement are infinitely more complicated than single-issue politics can recognize. Intersectionality requires thoughtful organizing and intense labor if we truly seek to build more just and equitable communities.”

Autistic Hoya

Moving away from intersectionality, another part of culture which can be seen within the neurodiversity movement are our symbols. While many neurodiversity activists are Autistic, many are multiply neurodivergent or neurodivergent but not autistic. Because of this, we have a large variety of symbols because the neurodiversity movement is not about a single neurotype.

As mentioned earlier, one of the more interesting aspects of culture in relation to the neurodiversity movement is the manner in which we socially transmit our culture. How do we interact and negotiate our shared values and beliefs, and how do we transmit that to people who are just entering the neurodiversity movement?

The Internet has played a pivotal role in this because it has allowed us to connect with other people like us. Growing up surrounded by people who were different to me made me feel like a bit of a foreigner in my own family’s culture. I struggled (and mostly rejected) their beliefs and values. Connecting with people who are like me has allowed me to find a community which has values and beliefs that make sense to me. I have found my place where I am accepted, and now I blog to let other people like me know that there is a place for them too.

But transmitting our culture is not limited to blogs and shared online spaces. An independent publisher, Autonomous Press, has been founded to focus on “works about disability, neurodivergence, and the various ways they can intersect with other aspects of identity and lived experience.”

It’s an exciting time during the neurodiversity movement. We’re building our culture, and at the same time, we’re telling the world about it. As we learn more about each other, as we continue to show that the diversity of human brains and minds is valuable for humanity, our culture continues to evolve.

This is part of a series of posts addressing themes from the neurodiversity movement and paradigm which will be published during the course of April 2016. To read the rest of the posts, please click here.