Beyond peak human standardisation

In some geographies the prevalence of autism within the population is now estimated to be 1 in 35. Overall, in the US, according to CDC data, 1 in 6 children has a “developmental disability”, and in the UK, according to the Department of Education, 15% (roughly 1 in 7) of students  have a “learning difference”.

I don’t have any issue with these numbers. In fact I am delighted that the extent to which people differ from one another is finally being recognised. But I do have an issue with the continuing pathologisation of people that don’t fit a standardised idealised (and hence fictional) human template. Even if we are seeing the first cracks in the pathology paradigm in relation to variances in neurocognitive functioning in the form of a partial shift from the language of disorder to condition and to difference, many of the traits associated with differences are still described in the pathologising language of diagnostic criteria.

Furthermore, even if the language of diagnostic criteria were to be completely overhauled, the social construct of having professional diagnosticians on the one hand and non-human-standard conforming people on the other hand creates an arbitrary social power differential where the level of humanness of the latter minority group is rated and judged by another minority group with privileged status in our society.

The desire to categorise and standardise human behaviours is the underlying force of civilised societies, which reached new heights over the last 250 years, first with the mechanistic factory model of the world that defined the early industrial era, and then more recently, with the development of networked computers and with the emergence of automated information flows that currently shape significant parts of our lives and our interactions with people and with abstract technological agents.

The illusion of the idealised standard human

Autistic people and otherwise neurodivergent people must take ownership of the labels. The way to do so is by collaboration and by rejecting pseudo science. Instead of normalisation therapies for neurodivergent people there is a need for developing yet to be conceived assistive technologies for improving communication and collaboration between people with significantly different cognitive lenses.

Is is as important to provide appropriate technologies to neurotypical people as it is to provide appropriate technologies for neurodivergent people. Thoughtful design of assistive technologies not only assists neurodivergent people to better relate to neurotypical people, but it also holds potential for assisting neurotypical people to learn about and better relate to neurodivergent people with a kaleidoscope of different cognitive lenses.

Our digital devices already come loaded with plenty of software tools that provide cognitive assistance in terms of

  • spell-checking,
  • speech to text,
  • text to speech,
  • image to text,
  • language translation,
  • synchronous and asynchronous communication,
  • management and filtering of social interactions,
  • project coordination and collaboration,
  • prioritisation and task management,
  • arithmetic calculation / spreadsheet,
  • statistical analysis,
  • computer algebra,
  • domain specific machine learning,
  • visual domain specific modelling,
  • visual drawing,
  • music and video production,
  • navigation,
  • noise cancelling and filtering headphones / ear plugs,
  • biological function monitoring and feedback,
  • visualisation and exploration of multi-dimensional data sets,
  • automation of routine tasks of various types,
  • general purpose programming,
  • augmented reality displays that can be configured to incorporate all kinds of visual information,

functionality, and the list continues to grow. A good way of understanding the concept of neurodiversity is to step back and to realise that all of us develop unique usage profiles of all these technologies. In fact, most of us end up focusing on using a particular subset of these technologies – because these provide us with the optimal assistance for our specific cognitive lens in the context of our preferred social and physical environments, which in turn are heavily influenced by our cognitive lens.

It is not an accident that autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people have been heavily involved in developing many (all?) of the above technologies.

The visceral experience of cognitive overload in various contexts experienced by neurodivergent people and the deep and highly domain specific areas of interests of autistic people have compelled people to dedicate much of their time and sometimes literally their entire life to the development and improvement of specific assistive technologies.

Just because the majority of people, once they are fully programmed by our culture, perceives a growing minority of people (1 in 6) as not fully conforming to cultural expectations, does not mean that there is anything biologically or mentally wrong with these non-conformists. From a sociological and biological perspective the rising numbers of cultural non-conformists may just as well be seen as an indicator of an increasingly sick society characterised by cultural norms that are incompatible with human biological and social needs.

The dynamics of culture and technology

How did society get to the point where the needs of 1 out of 6 people are not reflected in the evolution of social norms?

Social norms evolve and shift incrementally over time, often subconsciously, without any explicit intent at an individual level. Typical humans absorb the cultural norms around them without being aware of the extent to which this is influencing their world view and their judgements of other people.

We tend to believe that we consciously design the technologies we use. Whilst the development of technologies certainly involves an element of conscious intent, it is easy to overlook the implicit cultural assumptions and biases that are baked into the technological designs we create and implement.

Ted Nelson reminds us of the broad scope of technology in human cultures and of the social power dynamics associated with technology. Even the language we speak and the specific words we use are technologies.

A frying-pan is technology. All human artifacts are technology. But beware anybody who uses this term. Like “maturity” and “reality” and “progress”, the word “technology” has an agenda for your behavior: usually what is being referred to as “technology” is something that somebody wants you to submit to. “Technology” often implicitly refers to something you are expected to turn over to “the guys who understand it.

This is actually almost always a political move. Somebody wants you to give certain things to them to design and decide. Perhaps you should, but perhaps not. ”

Ted Nelson (1999)

We increasingly recognise that neurodivergent people and in particular autistic people are instrumental in the design and development of new technologies. But this does not imply that autistic people are interested in exerting power over other people. Usually the opposite is the case. Many autistic people are fierce advocates of egalitarianism and social justice.

Instead, autistic people primarily tend to design and develop technologies for personal use. In the era of computers and ubiquitous digital devices this has resulted in a mind boggling soup of diverse technologies for all kinds of use cases. In order to understand how technologies end up becoming co-opted for social power games we have to look at the bigger picture of the social context. Autistic people don’t operate exclusively in a social vacuum, and their social naivety in combination with the curiosity of the people around them leads to applications of new technology far beyond what an autistic inventor may have had in mind.

The resulting bigger picture of social dynamics illustrates how new knowledge and inventions can easily be co-opted, especially in sick societies that run on a hyper-competitive social operating system.

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The accelerated automated information flows enabled via the internet  have magnified the risks of and have amplified the reach of technologies that have been co-opted to establish and perpetuate social inequalities by several orders of magnitude. It should come as no surprise that many of the assistive technologies listed above are both highly valuable to individuals and at the same time have been co-opted to perpetuate established social hierarchies and economic “externalities”.

The complexity of the feedback loops between cultural norms and technologies is comparable to the complexity in feedback loops in social-ecological systems. The main agents are:

  1. neurodivergent creators of technologies (autistic people and small neurodiverse teams),
  2. designers of social games (organisations or individuals with a lack of empathy),
  3. the potential user base (wider society including its institutions).

In our globally networked world individual inventors or small teams currently don’t have much if any control over the use of the technologies they create. Anthropocentrism and ignorance of human scale are the social diseases of our civilisation.

These diseases are obvious to most autistic people but they are only just beginning to be recognised by a growing number of people in wider society. Many signs are pointing towards a major cultural transformation based on a significant shift in values of younger generations that have grown up in an environment of continuous exploitation by technological monopolies.

Mono-cultures and social games

The biggest challenge of the Anthropocence is the collective mind shift needed to reverse the growing ecological footprint of the human presence on this planet. Time and trusted collaboration are our scarcest resources. The former is a hard constraint and the latter is the critical cultural variable on which our future depends.

The trend towards increasing levels of technological, social, and ecological mono-cultures creates a multitude of existential risks:

  1. Fragile globally networked mono-technologies that have potential failure points with severe global impact
  2. A global ideological mono-culture that systematically prioritises the imagined “needs” of capital before the needs of humans and the other biological creatures that make up the biosphere
  3. Fragile ecological mono-cultures that are not only vulnerable to pathogens and climate variability at global scale, but are also dependent on unsustainable energy and resource inputs (fertiliser), whilst being inherently  unsustainable in terms of soil degradation

It seems that autistic honesty and significantly reduced cultural bias are the only forces that may allow human societies to escape from a deadly spiral of increasingly absurd social games.

To understand why so many innovations are perverted into toxic social games we only need to look at the logic that powers the global economy. Any innovations that are unlikely to generate a return on capital are automatically discarded by investors of capital.

Our education system and institutions steer all young entrepreneurs with visions of improving some aspect of our world into the hands of potential investors. Entrepreneurs are not taught that there are alternative routes to bringing valuable innovations to life, and they are certainly not taught that anyone should be able to define their own criteria of success – and that aiming for a monetary profit or for global scale may work against the original vision of the entrepreneur.

Think about this for a moment. As an example, imagine someone invented a personal transportation vehicle that is twenty to forty times lighter than a conventional car, powered by an electric battery that only needs a fraction of the capacity needed to power an electric car. Imagine these lightweight vehicles would have a range comparable to electric cars and were capable of travelling at speeds of up to 80 km/h. We already know how to build and produce such vehicles, they cost much less than traditional cars and they hold the potential to replace traditional car fleets at a fraction of the energy and resource use needed to replace the ICE cars on our roads by electric cars.

The reasons why we are not yet seeing local production of such vehicles in all parts of the world are very simple:

  1. Conventional automotive companies have no interest in shifting to the production of ultra-light one or two person electric vehicles, because it would drastically reduce their revenue and profit margins.
  2. An entire web of energy, resource, and labour intensive suppliers of automotive parts and components is interested in maintaining their revenue and profit margins.
  3. The shift to electric vehicles is already causing major headaches for countries like Germany where significant parts of the economy in some geographic regions depend heavily on automotive companies. As a result governments are reluctant to impose any significant limits on traditional vehicle production.
  4. As long as peoples’ livelihoods are dependent on being busy in some kind of paid “job”, any innovation that reduces the need for human busyness will be perceived as a dangerous idea that has no legs. It is quite bizarre how much governments are concerned about providing “jobs” (i.e. busyness) and how little they are concerned about addressing increasingly severe existential threats. The “only” barrier that stands in the way of radical transformation is the absurd idea that only money and busyness generating activities are valuable to society. In a world of material abundance in developed countries, oil spills and other environmental disasters are welcome opportunities for keeping the stuttering busyness engine going.
  5. At a fundamental level all capitalistic economies are based on mistrust (guard labour). The constraints that the system imposes on individuals optimises for inequality and busyness (spurious cultural complexity). The system leaves no room for intrinsic value of biodiversity and of living organisms. Ultimately the machines we design will keep themselves busy and produce capital for themselves and their peers – humans along with all other life forms become completely redundant.
  6. Governance models that aim to address some of the perverse incentives and externalities created by the logic of capital, such as triple bottom line approaches and frameworks such as the Living Standards Framework currently being implemented in New Zealand, tend to suffer from the tendency of maintaining traditional monetary measures of economic activity as a core foundation and from treating other measures of well-being and ecological health as secondary dimensions. Thus whilst such frameworks may look attractive on the surface, their bias towards money generating busyness severely limits the potential for improvements of well-being and ecological health at a fundamental level.

This little thought experiment demonstrates how economic ideology gets in the way of a profound transformation.

Non-autistic people who have internalised most aspects of our culture at a subconscious level have extreme difficulty in reasoning about economic ideology from the outside and in coming up with alternative organisational principles that seem to defy “common sense”. Non-autistic people are incapable of fulfilling the role of Greta Thunberg in educating young people about climate breakdown and about the dysfunctions of our economic ideology.

Most scientific and technological breakthroughs are made by people and teams of people with autistic minds. But throughout human history, as outlined above, the applications of such breakthroughs have been shaped by an entirely different group of people and by organisations that are mainly interested in maintaining and enhancing established social power differentials. In a networked world social power differentials have been amplified and scaled to a global level. Instead of the bizarre local power games played by baboons, chimpanzees and other primates, human civilisation now plays a global power game with much higher stakes.

Neurodivergent collaboration

Since autistic people are unable to hold hidden agendas and are not interested in holding social power over others, they hold great potential as translators between very different cultures and as arbitrators between stakeholders with competing interests.

Currently our societies are blind to this potential. Instead our culture pathologies those people who are best equipped to point out cultural bias and blind spots. Unless society starts to appreciate and celebrate neurodiversity and neurodivergent collaboration the future of humans looks bleak.

The following illustrations can assist in establishing trusted collaborations with neurodivergent people and with neurodiverse teams.

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In the above illustration the relative surface areas of the red, green, and blue rectangles  represent the usage profile of a neurotypical brain, and the sum of the surface areas represent the total brain volume.

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An autistic brain has the same volume but a distinctly different usage profile. The range of domains that are of interest is much narrower and deeper, with the exception of intuitive (subconscious) social skills, which are much less deep than in a neurotypical “reference” brain. Also note that an significant part of the autistic brain is devoted to the development of exceptionally deep knowledge and skills in specific domains of interest (the example reflects my specific interests, each autistic person has a unique profile of core interests).

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Attempts at collaboration between neurotypes suffer from the incompatible levels of intuitive social skills and from mismatches in the level of depth of knowledge and breadth of interests in other domains.

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Successful and mutually enjoyable collaboration across neurotypes focuses on shared or overlapping areas of deep knowledge and hinges on neurotypical adaptation to autistic levels of social skills.

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Beyond focus on shared areas of deep knowledge successful collaboration depends on mutual understanding of potential sources of misunderstandings. Autistic people carry around large numbers of open questions and only have beliefs that are backed up by personal experience or by scientific evidence. In contrast non-autistic people are much less comfortable carrying around open questions over long periods of time and tend to hold many socially constructed beliefs, i.e. opinions that are not backed up by personal experience or by scientific evidence.

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Minimising misunderstandings involves significant work on both sides and hinges on mutual respect and patience.

Recovery from social disease

Members of the autism civil rights movement adopt a position of neurodiversity that extends the LGBTQIA+ kaleidoscope of identities by recognising autistic traits as natural variations of cognition, motivations, and patterns of behaviour within the human species. As an autistic person I can only hope that it does not take another 50 years for autism and other forms of neurodiversity to be depathologised. The next step towards depathologisation involves autistic people taking ownership of the label.

I am not worried about the survival of our “civilisation”. Our current form of social organisation is a legacy technology that will be viewed as a severe and highly infectious social disease by future generations.

The lifespan of individual humans is far too short and our minds may be far too limited for us to develop a deep and profound level of understanding of social diseases at super-human scale (nation states, corporations, and other large organisations that we interact with on a transactional basis rather than via long-term trust based eye level relationships with specific people).

There is no straight forward cure or treatment for social diseases. Given our knowledge about earlier civilisations, we may want to play it safe, and rediscover the beauty of human scale in the process, which served us well for many hundred thousand years – until we invented the technologies of civilisation (cities, written language, and money).

If we are lucky some of our technologies may help us to remember the level of collective insanity that humans and other primates are capable of, and they may prevent us from exterminating millions of species including our own. The following call for action extracted from an excellent analysis by Nafeez Ahmed is a medicine worthwhile trying:

‘Rebellion’ is not enough. We need to build new systems from the ground up, right now

It’s not that we shouldn’t protest or call for institutions to change. But far more than that, if we are really serious about this, the far bigger challenge is for each of us to work within our own networks of influence, to explore how we ourselves can begin changing the organisations and institutions in which we are embedded.

And it means grounding this effort in completely new frame of orientation, one in which human beings are inherently interconnected, and inter-embedded within the earth; where we are not atomistically separated from the reality in which we find ourselves as technocratic overlords, but are co-creators of that reality as individuated parts of a continuum of being.

Whatever happens out there in the world, the crisis out there is calling unto each of us to become who we need to be, truly are, and always were. And on the basis of that internal renewal, to take radical action in our own place-based contexts to build the seeds of the new paradigm, right here, right now.

Let us not simply go to a protest. Let us build our own capacity as individuals and members of various institutions to think and do differently within our own consciousness and behaviour, as well as across energy, food, water, culture, economics, business, finance. By doing so, we plant the seeds of an emerging paradigm of life and reality that redefines the very essence of what it means to be alive.

This is the conversation we need to begin having, from our boardrooms, to our governing councils — for those of us who have woken up to what is at stake, the real question is, how can I actually mobilise to build the new paradigm?

Guidelines for future autism research

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From the perspective of the autism rights movement ownership of the definition of autism is a practical question of human rights and social power relationships in the here and now, and not an abstract philosophical problem.

Across the board most autistic people recognise the disabling characteristics of autism, which are socially constructed, exactly in the same way that left-handedness, female sex, or atypical gender identity used to be significantly disabling characteristics in our society.

Toxic social power relationships and bullying in society and in the workplace arise out of the pathologisation of autism and other neurological variants that influence the ability to conform to local cultural expectations in one or more areas of social behaviour.

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Here are two concrete examples of how social power relationships in relation to neurodiversity currently play out within academic research organisations:

  1. There is no staff member in our organisation who is interested in participating in an active role in the context of celebrating and de-pathologising neurodiversity
  2. When asking about a safe space (a time slot and small venue) that allows neurodivergent people to meet, I was informed that the organisation has already settled on five priority areas of diversity and that the organisation does not want to add any more [support]

In order to be of value to the autistic community, and in order not to further endorse and perpetuate the use of the pathology paradigm by researchers, it is essential that future autism research builds on the communal definition of autism and takes care to use non-pathologising language in all resulting publications.

The Autistic Collaboration community curates autistic perspectives and links to research that is deemed relevant from the perspective of the autistic community. The links between neurodiversity and creativity and the mental health implications of systematic discrimination and pathologisation are of particular interest.

This article is a sad reminder of the mainstream culture we often find ourselves in. This culture is the inevitable result of pathologising autism and other neurological variants; it makes invalid and highly toxic assumptions about human nature that become self-fulfilling prophecies:

Let’s begin with two principles:

  1. People are status-seeking monkeys
  2. People seek out the most efficient path to maximizing social capital

I begin with these two observations of human nature because few would dispute them …

I can’t comprehend how anyone wants to live in this kind of world. I would like to see research that explores how “status-seeking monkeys” can unlearn some of their assumptions about human nature and become more aware of their cultural programming.

From an ethical perspective, the following guidelines should be mandatory for all future autism research:

Non-pathologising language

Autism is a very broad umbrella term for a multi-dimensional set of traits. In our current society both autistic people with more complex support needs as well as those with less complex support needs suffer from discrimination.

  • A pathologising label such as “Low Functioning Autism” negates and belittles the capabilities of a group of people, simply because they are non-verbal (here is a good example) or learning disabled.
  • A pathologising label such as “High Functioning Autism” negates and belittles the support needs of a group of people, simply because they are verbal and not learning disabled. Bullying and autistic suicide statistics are a strong indicator of a lack of support that actually meets the needs of autistic people.

The rationale for using non-pathologising language is straight forward. It is the same rationale that prompts left-handed people, women, the LGBTQIA communities etc. to rightfully demand the use of non-pathologising language. In case non-pathologising language leads to concerns about the ability to publish in influential journals, then the problem clearly lies with the journals and not with the research and the language used.

My work involves the diligent use of language and formal semantic models. I am acutely aware of the power and the limits of language in the context of knowledge transfer, and the role of language in the context of power politics and deception. Our company is not going to be involved in any research that uses pathologising language to describe autism.

The use of pathologising language is fine in relation to physical or mental ailments where a person wishes for a cure or amelioration that is focused on their own body and mind. The use of pathologising language is inappropriate for physical or mental ailments that are caused by the environment.

If someone experiences pain in their foot because I stand on their foot, the person does not have a foot pathology but their environment is a source of pain that needs to be addressed. If an autistic person experiences mental and emotional pain due to sensory overload or due to cultural demands for conformance with culture specific arbitrary rituals (eye contact is a great example of a cultural ritual that is painful or stressful for many autistic people, and small talk can be similarly stressful), the person does not have a mental disorder but their environment (including cultural expectations) is a source of pain that needs to be addressed.

There is no doubt that many autistic people (just like non-autistic people) have ailments that are experienced as a disease or disorder, which people would prefer not to have. People do not enjoy having epileptic seizures, migraines, asthma, and many other ailments. All of these health conditions have formal labels that describe related symptoms. None of these health conditions health conditions are unique to autistic people, even though some autistic people have some of these co-concurrent conditions more frequently than other people.

Resorting to pathologising language in autism related research that focuses on autistic cognition but not on co-concurrent health conditions amounts to systematic discrimination.

Autism related research that investigates co-concurrent health conditions in the context of autism may use pathologising language in relation to the co-concurrent health conditions, but not in relation to autism.

Social power relationships

Social power relationships are not an intrinsic feature of all societies, even though they are part of all societies that consider themselves (considered in the case of historic societies that have collapsed) to be “civilised”.

We live in times where the very foundations of civilisation have become a major problem. Even non-autistic people are starting to realise that power relationships are a major root cause in this context. Human social behaviour across all levels of scale can not be understood through the lens of any single discipline. The research of Herbert Gintis is an excellent starting point.

Cultural evolution is a topic that “culturally well adapted” (non-autistic) people are ill equipped to discuss, as cultural bias easily creates significant blind spots. A culture without neurodiversity and without an adequate distribution of autistic traits is unable to evolve.

Humans have become more successful than other primates not because we are better at constructing social power hierarchies but because we have recognised the danger of the collective learning disabilities induced by all social power relationships. This allowed pre-civilised humans to collaborate very effectively and to reproduce and more successfully than other primates.

The era of human civilisations and anthropocentrism is a little detour or temporary disruption in the evolution of life on this planet.

It is the role of science to apply a critical lens to our understanding of the world, and in the case of human researchers this means being cognisant of the potential for cultural bias to induce culture-specific implicit assumptions when framing research objectives and when attempting to analyse the social world.

Disability

In the context of autism co-concurrent health conditions – rather than autistic cognition – can be disabling.

Most importantly however, for all autistic people the cultural environment and cultural expectations in most societies are disabling to some extent (see the social model of disability).

This article by Robert Chapman provides serious food for thought on the origins of the pathologisation of autism.

Ethical research objectives

Since autism is not a pathology, research objectives must not include:

  1. The search for a cure for autism
  2. Genetic tests that screen for traits that are common in autistic people, with a view of reducing the prevalence or strength of these traits
  3. Therapies for autistic people that focus primarily on changing the behaviour of autistic people, rather than assisting autistic people to shape their environment in accordance with their unique individual needs

Instead, given the shocking historic track record of autism research and therapies, all autism related research must be subject to ethical approval by a board of autistic people, and must consider the needs of all autistic people, including autistic adults.

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It is time to significantly raise the ethical bar for autism research.

The future is neurodiversity friendly!

The topics that generate conversations around the Autistic Collaboration  community increasingly overlap with the topics that participants are bringing to the quarterly CIIC unconferences in Auckland and in Melbourne, which draw in many people with autistic cognitive lenses.

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I have recently summarised the multiple crises of civilisation on the CIIC website, so there is no need to repeat theses observations as part of this article. I would rather like to highlight the deep levels of indoctrination that stand in the way of addressing the root causes of what is best described as extreme anthropocentrism or as “civilisation disorder”.

Cultural indoctrination

Human civilisations have incrementally produced more and more sophisticated tools for inducing and maintaining collective delusions. The increasing level of pathologisation of neurodiversity over the last century (measurable in the rise in diagnoses of “neurological disorders”) is a good indicator of deepening levels of indoctrination rather than an indicator of an evolutionary shift in human neurocognitive functioning.

Another good indicator of the multi-generational depth of cultural indoctrination becomes visible when examining shifts in the meanings of the words we use to describe human social behaviour within groups and between groups.

In the English language words that originally referred to companionship, ways of life, skilled handicraft, and track (I love how that relates to autistic focus and perseverance!) are used interchangeably with words that originally referred to anxiety, being busy, and marking of ownership with a burning iron. As part of the neoliberal capitalist agenda the words “business” and “brand”  have found their way into many other languages in Europe and beyond.

  • The origin of “brand”: Old English brand ‘burning’, of Germanic origin; related to German Brand, also to burn. The verb sense ‘mark with a hot iron’ dates from late Middle English, giving rise to the noun sense ‘a mark of ownership made by branding’ (mid 17th century), whence brand (the noun) (early 19th century).
  • The origin of “business”: Old English bisignis ‘anxiety’ (see busy, -ness); the sense ‘state of being busy’ was used from Middle English down to the 18th century, but is now differentiated as busyness. The use ‘appointed task’ dates from late Middle English, and from it all the other current senses have developed.
  • The origin of “trade”: Late Middle English (as a noun): from Middle Low German, literally ‘track’, of West Germanic origin; related to tread. Early senses included ‘course, way of life’, which gave rise in the 16th century to ‘habitual practice of an occupation’, ‘skilled handicraft’. The current verb senses date from the late 16th century.
  • The origin of “company”: Middle English: from Old French compainie; related to compaignon (see companion).

Today those who object to branding and busyness are pathologised. To top it off, many people are so brainwashed that they are afraid of the collapse of civilisation.

The term “civilisation” traces back to notion of “city”, labels which also carry baggage related to wielding social power beyond human scale that people no longer think about.

Origin of “city“: Middle English: from Old French cite, from Latin civitas, from civis ‘citizen’. Originally denoting a town, and often used as a Latin equivalent to Old English burh ‘borough’, the term was later applied to the more important English boroughs. The connection between city and cathedral grew up under the Norman kings, as the episcopal sees (many had been established in villages) were removed to the chief borough of the diocese.

Of course the label of “city” entails many functions beyond the old connection to social power. Valuable aspects of cities include all the other infrastructure functions of cities beyond the provision of a substrate for social power games.

Beyond civilisation

Creating more humane societies involves surgical removal of social power games from our institutions and relationships.

Without self-awareness about the depth of cultural indoctrination and without many years of practice in the use of [critical] thinking tools any attempt to consciously construct a different and more humane society is destined to fail.

Whatever changes well intentioned cultural designers have in mind will quickly be picked up and co-opted by established power structures, leading to watered down objectives and activities that create an illusion of change, whilst actually reinforcing power gradients and an anthropocentric concept of civilisation, where civilised humans represent the pinnacle of valuable life forms, and where lesser humans and other species are relegated to lower rungs on the ladder of life, deemed unworthy of influencing the future of life on this planet.

The only potential avenue to escape the patterns of collective insanity known as civilisation is an educational approach that delivers compelling evidence that all civilisations have a dark side that eventually becomes the dominant characteristic, and thereby leads to the abuse and disillusionment of the “inmates” of civilised society.

Only those who have understood in their minds and who feel in their hearts that civilisation is not a worthwhile objective for human society are able to see the alternative that is waiting for us: a life within small (human scale) collaborative groups, embedded in a planetary network of life that includes all species.

Prior to the short era of civilisations, humans have spent several hundred thousand years in human scale egalitarian groups. This capability – the potential to develop and maintain egalitarian norms over many generations – distinguished us from other primates, and it enabled us to become more successful than all other primates.

What civilisation has taught us is that humans still have the potential to fall back into cultural norms that reinforce primate dominance hierarchies. This potential in combination with the relatively large size of the human brain enables

  • super-human scale social groups,
  • super-human scale cities,
  • and spurious cultural complexity that manifests itself in dominance hierarchies and in increasingly energy intensive and self-destructive competitive social games.

From my discussions with other autistic people it seems that many of us would happily trade civilisation for life at human scale. Some of us are desperate to leave “civilisation” behind.

Life in human scale collaborative groups is possible today, and the number of non-hierarchical organisations is growing. In contrast to our pre-civilised ancestors we now have ubiquitous access to technologies that enable global peer to peer communication. The opportunity at our disposal consists of localised human scale organisation (minimising our ecological footprint) and global peer to peer sharing and validation of knowledge (maximising our learning opportunities).

Life at humane scale is life in a post busyness society. How much longer will it take for the majority of humans to reject the failed busyness of civilisation?

We don’t need to give up the infrastructure functions provided by our cities and technologies, we only need to give up super-human scale (inhumane) social structures and group identities.

The catch is that this may be easy for autistic people on the fringes of society, but it seems to be far from easy for most non-autistic people. Typical humans have a very hard time to differentiate culturally transmitted beliefs and desires from basic human needs and the innate human preference for peer to peer collaboration at eye level.

My conclusion: anthropocentric “civilisation” is a dead end. Humane neurodiversity friendly collaboration may hold the key to the future of human cultural evolution – not as a way of building a new civilisation, but as a way for identifying a viable niche for our descendants within the context of a thriving living planet.

The trigger for cultural change has been pulled

It is heartening to see Greta Thunberg speaking truth to power.

Established institutions will continue to use their powers and propaganda machines to create the illusion of change, in an attempt to turn climate breakdown into yet another big busyness opportunity.

But like many other autistic people Greta sees right through the attempts of social engineering. Her real achievement lies in reaching a global audience by riding on top of the media machines that work on behalf of the establishment, and by simply pointing out the obvious truth to everyone – that the emperors have no clothes.

Now the global public knows that everyone else knows that the emperors have no clothes. From now on all established institutions are operating on borrowed time.

From now on autistic people will be appreciated for an innate trait that has been systematically engineered out of our societies and institutions: our deep aversion to lying and our inability to maintain hidden agendas.

Over the course of several hundred thousand years evolutionary forces have honed the human ability to learn by imitation, but evolutionary forces have also kept alive the genes and levels of neurodiversity that are needed to survive during periods of rapid environmental change.

Employee-owned, non-hierarchical companies like the one I founded 16 years ago illustrate that neurodiversity is a collaborative advantage.

It is encouraging to see that we are not alone, and that more and more people and organisations are rejecting hierarchical forms of organisation.

The future is already taking shape.

Either humans have no future or the future is neurodiversity friendly!

Myths that help keep the autism indu$try in bu$yne$$

Currently the most visible way in which autism contributes to the economy is by providing a substrate from which a growing autism industry can extract profit.

What CAN be misunderstood WILL be misunderstood. Unless you are autistic there is no difference between “cure” and cure. Sadly, there is no shortage of “autism professional advice” and “cures” that amount to a sarcophagus for autistic individuals. The result is a bullet proof technique for creating mental health problems and selling further “treatments”. The first step towards progress could not be simpler:

Let the set of cures remain empty, and reduce the set of “cures” to the empty set.

To identify the “cures” it is important to understand the myths that are still perpetuated by the autism industry or by individual “autism professionals”.

staying-in-busyness.jpg

Myth 1: Autists lack empathy

Reality: There is a double empathy challenge.

It is not only the autistic person who struggles to read the intentions and motivations of non-autistic people, but the same can also be said in reverse.

Myth 2: Autists are bad at teamwork

Reality: Many of us can be great at teamwork.

One of the persistent negative stereotypes is that we are poor at collaboration. I am on a mission to demonstrate the opposite. Collaboration can take many forms, and different people have different needs and preferences. Autists learn and play differently, and only have a limited if any interest in competitive social games. We communicate and enjoy ourselves by sharing information and knowledge, and not by negotiating social status.

Myth 3: There are only very few female autists 
– and autists have an “extremely male” brain

Reality: There may be as many female as male autists, and quite a number of us struggle to identify with a gender identity.

Looking into the Autistic Spectrum has given us more insight into how we humans think, and how our brains are wired differently. We have various ways of thinking that can be perceived as odd to neurotypical’s. Looking into gender identity is no different, as various autistic’s prefer not to follow traditional gender labels.

Myth 4: All autists are introverted

Reality: Some of us are extroverted.

I’m an extrovert Aspie. You’re a what now? Yes, you read it correctly, I’m an extrovert Aspie.

Now I can see you all frowning at your screens. Isn’t autism supposed to be all about being shy, and not talking to others and such? Indeed the common belief is that women with Asperger’s Syndrome tend to keep to themselves, only speak when spoken to, and are more observers than participants.

So how does this work when you have a very outgoing personality? I will make a list of things that might help you understand…

Myth 5: Crippling anxiety and depression are an inevitable aspect of being autistic

Reality: Anxiety and depression are often the result of bullying and discrimination.

… first impressions of individuals with ASD made from thin slices of real-world social behavior by typically-developing observers are not only far less favorable across a range of trait judgments compared to controls, but also are associated with reduced intentions to pursue social interaction. These patterns are remarkably robust, occur within seconds, do not change with increased exposure, and persist across both child and adult age groups. However, these biases disappear when impressions are based on conversational content lacking audio-visual cues, suggesting that style, not substance, drives negative impressions of ASD …

Myth 6: Those autists who are able to mask their autistic traits are “cured” or don’t need support

Reality: Masking takes significant amounts of mental energy and requires recovery time.

Masking and trying to communicate can feel like paddling downwind in a sea kayak, in a small swell that has been whipped up, where the speed is limited to the speed of the waves. No matter how hard you paddle and how much effort you put in, it is impossible to paddle over the small wave into which the tip of the kayak is pointing.

The energy loss associated with masking is best described as autistic burnout.

It’s taken me six weeks to start writing an article about Autistic Burnout, because I’m going through Autistic Burnout… If you saw someone going through Autistic Burnout would you be able to recognise it? Would you even know what it means? Would you know what it meant for yourself if you are an Autistic person?  The sad truth is that so many Autistic people, children and adults, go through this with zero comprehension of what is happening to them and with zero support from their friends and families.

Myth 7: Learning to mask autistic traits is the key to a successful autistic life

Reality: Continuous masking is a major contributor to autistic suicide.

Adults with autism who camouflage are eight times as likely to harm themselves as those who don’t.

This statistic tells us more about the severe illnesses that afflict our society than about autistic people. In our society hardly anyone is familiar with the social model of disability. Below a timely slide from a recent talk by Judy Singer on this topic.

social-model

Myth 8: Autism is a one-dimensional spectrum that ranges from mild to severe

Reality: The autism spectrum is multi-dimensional.

My inspiration for this project comes from the multi-lens structure found in the compound eyes of insects, where each lens captures a unique perspective. The objective is to create a library of authentic autistic voices as a counterbalance to the diagnostic language used by the medical profession and the autism industry.

Myth 9: Autists are looking for partners who can replace their mothers

Reality: We choose autistic partners at rates that are 10 times greater than random choice.

autistic-mating

The pathologising language used by the researchers illustrates where society currently is at in terms of fully appreciating the value of neurodiversity. In spite of the growing body of evidence – and in spite of the double empathy challenge that is well recognised within the autistic community, some of the most visible figures in the autism industry like Tony Attwood think nothing of perpetuating a myth that likely sets up many autists for severe disappointments in forming trusted relationships and partnerships.

Myth 10: Autists are manipulative

Reality: We are incapable of maintaining a hidden agenda, but in certain environments sensory issues or anxiety may impact on our ability to interact or function

…The strip lights overhead, flickering constantly in pulsing waves, each one shooting through my eyes and down through my body; I can physically feel each pulse humming and vibrating…

… So we take more and more on, we allow our plates to get fuller and fuller, our anxiety heightens, our sensory processing becomes more difficult to maintain, our Executive Functioning abilities spin out of control and again this attributes to burnout.  We aren’t generally terrific at juggling plates.

Jeanette Purkis, who is an Australian Autistic, an absolutely wonderful writer and a Member of my network organisation, The Autistic Cooperative, has written an excellent piece called “‘Too Nice’: Avoiding the traps of exploitation and manipulation.” In it Jeanette says:

“There is an actual concrete reason that we tend to be taken advantage of and it starts with the difference in communication between autistic people and neurotypical people. Autistic communication is generally on one level. We are honest, up front and do not often do things like manipulation and deceit. We generally do not lie although many autistic people are capable of lying if they feel the need but usually it doesn’t come naturally.

Note : This list of myths is not exhaustive!

Autistic life beyond the myths

the last 20 years have seen the rise of an “autism epidemic” and a profitable “autism industry”. Social progress in relation to autistic rights is overdue.

autistic-role

 

Genuine appreciation of neurodiversity

neurodivergent.png

Society should be moving beyond autism awareness and autism acceptance towards  appreciation of all forms of neurodiversity. However, the label of neurodiversity is being co-opted. I cringe when I read statements and absurd goals like this one:

SAP has announced an intention to make 1% of its workforce neurodiverse by 2020—a number chosen because is less than the percentage of autistic people in the general population.

Co-opting of neurodiversity is the flag of convenience for exploitation. The reality: SAP, Microsoft et al. make a big deal out of aiming at 1% of “proper, certified by the autism industry” autists within their workforce, whilst at least another > 9% of their workforce don’t dare to openly identify as autistic, because they know what it would do to their career prospects.

This is Autwashing and not the celebration of neurodiversity. Autism awareness has translated into a proliferation of stereotypes. Autism acceptance has translated into the realisation that we are not going away. is the opposite of .

Social diseases

Our culture is sick. We don’t even have a good language to talk about diseases of society. Instead our society cultivates a language for describing ways in which individuals are “deficient” and “deserve to be rejected”.

The theme of the upcoming CIIC workshop on 22 September in Auckland is the Anthropocene. I wonder when our culture will start to acknowledge the link between mental health problems and social diseases – diseases of society that negatively impact people and the environment. “Treating” individuals is only addressing symptoms and not any of the root causes.

Mental health professionals have developed an increasingly rich diagnostic language to talk about individual mental heath, but we do not have any nuanced framework to talk about social / cultural / environmental diseases.

social-disease.jpg

Rather than being scientific disciplines, marketing and large parts of psychology are the twin children of the Western ideology of capitalism and industrialism that has conquered the world.

The underlying assumption of neoliberal psycho-marketecture is that human behaviour at all levels of scale can be explained as competition according to culturally defined rules.

This ideology nurtures instead of curbs the latent human tendency develop an arbitrary socially constructed sense of entitlement and to construct deep social power hierarchies.

The social norms that operated in small stateless societies and in hunter gatherer societies prior to the advent of large scale civilisations and empires did exactly the opposite, and curbed any attempts to gain power over others. Such egalitarian social norms allowed human primates to become much more successful than all other primates, and being very much compatible with autistic social motivations, they allowed neurodivergent creativity to flourish.

There is every reason to believe that contemporary human societies survive in spite of neoliberal psycho-marketecture and thanks to the exploitation of neurodivergent people, and especially those with autistic traits.

The catch is that non-autistic people have a big emotional attachment to status within their culture and social groups, whereas autists usually don’t. Therefore, whenever we say or do something that questions the established social order we are perceived as not having empathy. Until the 1980s most of us were simply seen as weird, and some people even genuinely appreciated the qualities that came with our weirdness.

The wider population is still ignorant and is completely unfamiliar with the social model of disability. Pathologising stereotypes keep getting circulated, leading to the perpetuation of support for organisations that advocate Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and research on the slippery slope towards eugenics like this New Zealand branch of the autism industry. No autistic person is in sight, only geneticists and “normalisation” therapists.

aba.png

This article provides an excellent summary of the level of appreciation afforded to neurodivergent individuals:

“Too many depictions of autistic people rely on tired clichés. The neurotypical world needs to take note of our own voices… Imagine describing an organisation as institutionally black, institutionally female or institutionally Muslim … Yet, somehow, intelligent people can drop ‘autistic’ into conversation whenever they want to draw a contrast between the unfeeling, insensitive, uncreative parts of this world, and their bright, emotional, magnificent selves.

Autistic culture

Judy Singer was one of the first people to write about the rise of autistic culture and community in her thesis in 1998:

For me, the significance of the “autism spectrum” lies in its call for and anticipation of a “politics of neurodiversity”. The “neurologically different” represent a new addition to the familiar political categories of class / gender / race and will augment the insights of the social model of disability. The rise of neurodiversity takes postmodern fragmentation one step further. Just as the postmodern era sees every once too solid belief melt into air, even our most taken-for granted assumptions: that we all more or less see, feel, touch, hear, smell, and sort information, in more or less the same way, (unless visibly disabled) are being dissolved.

From “Odd People In: The Birth of Community Amongst People on the “Autism Spectrum”: A personal exploration of a new social movement based on neurological diversity”

The internet has enabled autistic people to connect, share knowledge and collaborate at scale. A large number of closet autists play key roles in the sciences and in all kinds of industries and pursuits that depend heavily on deep bodies of knowledge and on specialised skills.

One of the most obvious and visible results of autistic collaboration is the Open Source software movement and the fact that most parts of the internet run on Open Source software.

The role of Open Source in our society provides a good example of exploitation of neurodivergent people. Our economic paradigm does not recognise the value of the majority of contributors to Open Source and instead attributes most of the value to corporations that wrap Open Source software into commercial software products and related professional services.

management.png

Autistic people are power users of online tools, but significant numbers of us also prefer to collaborate and interact with autistic peers in the physical world. Statistics on mating preferences within the autistic community clearly highlight the preference for interactions with autistic peers, with the odds of autists choosing an autistic mate being more than 10 times higher than a random choice.

Full appreciation of neurodiversity and social progress in relation to autistic rights is overdue. To get involved, and to fully embrace neurodiversity, engage with the neurodiversity movement, for example via these projects, these people, and these neurodiventures.

What CAN be misunderstood WILL be misunderstood

When I read this Tweet from Ted Nelson it occurred to me that he has articulated the fundamental axiom of autistic social experience.

ted nelson.pngAutistic social motivation is deeply rooted in the desire to share knowledge and in the desire to learn, and this has big implications for the protocols that are used in autistic communication.

Challenges

Linear verbal or written language is a poor medium for reliable transmission of knowledge. Being aware of the limitations of language is highly frustrating and reduces the desire to initiate conversation in all contexts where it is obvious that the communication partner or audience lacks big chunks of the context that is essential for avoiding major misunderstandings.

When making a conscious effort to structure and sequence communication so that relevant context is included in the reasoning and the flow of statements, it easily results in long and elaborate expositions that conflict with typical expectations of the level of interactivity or “chattiness” of the typical human communication protocol.

The situation is often further complicated by a likely mismatch in social motivation. Especially in the case of verbal communication the listener’s primary motivation may be cultural, influenced by the listener’s conception of the perceived group identities and social hierarchies that frame the context of the conversation. Cultural expectations can largely negate all efforts by the autistic speaker to convey context information in a culturally agnostic format to assist the transmission of personal experience and domain knowledge.

If the autistic speaker is familiar with the cultural context of the listener, she may go to great lengths to weave culturally expected phrases into the transmission of knowledge and context. She may even allow for some level of interactivity – conscious of the risk that it

  1. may completely derail the transmission,
  2. introduces a significant potential for misunderstandings, and
  3. may take a herculean effort to get the conversation back to the point where the intended transmission of experience or knowledge can be closed off.

All this conscious communication effort can be summed up as the linguistic part of autistic masking.

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Coping strategies

From an autistic perspective the extreme energy input required for any reasonably successful communication leads to the development of a number of complementary coping strategies for various situations. My approach is the following:

I have developed a strong preference for written communication, which is a very effective strategy for avoiding the need for linguistic autistic masking.

I have always been attracted to formal systems of reasoning and to mathematical formalisms, which provide a system for making all assumptions explicit, and for articulating domain knowledge in compact and unambiguous notations.

To minimise the energy cost of successful transmission of knowledge, and also as a way of connecting with the few people that have any genuine interest in the bodies of knowledge that I am interested in expanding, I often write in the public domain or talk at relevant conferences. This is a great strategy for mutual learning and for discovering others who are working on related bodies of knowledge.

Roughly 18 years ago I discovered Open Space Technology. Since then I have been relying heavily on this format for setting up and running workshops for sharing, validating, and expanding bodies of knowledge. It seems as if the Open Space principles and the Law of Two Feet have been designed specifically for autistic communication and collaboration needs. Even the way of initiating conversations in Open Space feels highly intuitive from an autistic perspective: (1) write down and briefly explain a problem statement, (2) listen to other problem statements, and then (3) allow participants to self-organise around specific topics of interest.

I make heavy use of whiteboards and conversations around whiteboards. This allows for interactive knowledge validation and elaboration. The content on the whiteboard acts as a tool for articulating semantic links in a format that is much more compact and less ambiguous than linear language. Pointing to elements on the whiteboard helps to connect lines of verbal reasoning to the semantic models that are evolving on the visual canvas. As an added bonus from an autistic perspective, focus on the whiteboard largely eliminates typical cultural expectations around eye contact.

I avoid networking events and conversations with random strangers about random topics like the plague. I gain nothing from such encounters, and others may walk away with snippets of information that will in all likelihood be misinterpreted due to a lack of essential context.

I make use of online tools to seek out what other autists with compatible interests are reading and writing. This creates great opportunities for mutual learning, and it leads to trusted relationships with peers who also tend to be acutely aware of the pitfalls of communication, who do not over-complicate communication with cultural expectations, and who do not have any hidden agenda.

I have become very concious of the energy budget needed for communicating with typical people, and I consciously limit the number of non-autistic people I interact with. I invest my energy into building deep relationships with specific people, and I avoid wasting energy on creating large number of shallow “relationships”. This strategy is essential for survival and for keeping sane. Investing in relationships allows the incremental construction of shared context, and it allows the construction of an optimised communication protocol for each relationship based on mutual trust and shared understanding.

Knowledge creation, validation and dissemination, as well as collaboration in neurodivergent teams have become my core areas of expertise.  The combination of all of the techniques above have culminated in the MODA + MODE meta-paradigm for interdisciplinary research, design, and knowledge engineering, and have led to the development of a corresponding formal meta language (the Cell meta language) and related graph based visual representations of formal models and semantic domains (the MODA + MODE human lens).

human lens.jpg

Languages that are better than all linear languages

Using linear language to communicate experiences and knowledge involves hard work that mostly goes to waste. It can feel like paddling downwind in a sea kayak,  in a small swell that has been whipped up, where the speed is limited to the speed of the waves. No matter how hard you paddle, it is impossible to paddle over the small wave into which the tip of the kayak is pointing. No matter how much effort you put into communication in linear language, there is always going to remain a sizeable residue of misunderstandings.

language design.jpg

As part of the S23M team I am designing and building technology that supports more and more aspects of the MODA + MODE meta-paradigm, to create a visual human scale language system that allows humans to reduce the level of misunderstandings by one or more orders of magnitude.

Such language tooling not only benefits autists, it can also assist us in putting machine learning to good use and assist us in designing better systems of collaboration. A shift towards more visual and genuinely human scale languages goes a long way towards improving the ability of any group of humans to develop a greater level of shared understanding of each other’s needs, and of the environment that the group lives and operates in.

The dynamics resulting from the interplay of neurodiversity and culture

Why do humans cooperate?

solidarity

This week Nature published a focus issue on human cooperation that brings together research from evolution, anthropology, ecology, economics, neuroscience and environmental science — to spark interdisciplinary conversation and inspire scientific cooperation.

Cooperation lies at the heart of human lives and society — from day-to-day interactions to some of our greatest endeavours. Understanding cooperation — what motivates it, how it develops, how it happens and when it fails to happen — is therefore an important part of understanding all kinds of human behaviour.

We know that children acquire notions of fairness from a surprisingly early age. However, coordination among adults often fails. Adult participants apparently contribute more when establishing a new collective good, but contribute much less to maintain an existing resource. This should remind us of the comments on teamwork made by  W. Edwards Deming more than 30 years ago.

Furthermore, typical anti-corruption strategies may have negative impacts on cooperation that depend on the cultural context. There are no universally applicable recipes that offer a quick fix.

Cooperation often fails when individuals are uncertain about the relative importance of their own effect on a critical, environmental threshold.

Hence, to avoid counter-productive levels of in-group competition, and to encourage cooperation, economic ecosystems and organisations must provide incentives that make cooperation the more attractive option.

Some powerful theories and empirical insights have expanded our knowledge of cooperation over the past few decades — but much remains to be understood. Integrating questions and approaches from different fields may provide fertile ground to achieve this.

What becomes apparent is that mainstream research into human cooperation (so far), with very few exceptions, ignores the influence of neurodiversity.

The damage caused by hyper-competitive cultures

Research into the effects of inequality shows that the frequency of bullying is 10 to 15 times higher in highly unequal societies.

Growing levels of social inequality correlate with a rise in mental health issues throughout the population. The root cause may well relate to the formation of increasingly absurd group identities and associated signals of social status that make it acceptable to exclude the less fortunate. From evolutionary biology we know that in-group competition has negative survival value – it is the opposite of intelligent behaviour.

Apparently the following little anecdote is highly relatable.

hyper-competition

Multiple studies confirm that the suicide rates for autists are are several times higher than in the general population.

Elevated rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide apply across the entire autism spectrum. These co-morbid conditions are a reflection of experiences made in the social environment rather than a reflection of autism specific neurology. The latest research confirms that bullying plays a major role:

“Autistic people and families have told us that mental health is their top priority for research. This is not surprising as we know autistic people experience high rates of chronic mental health problems which lead to tragically high rates of suicide. Yet, our knowledge of autism and depression has remained poor. This excellent study tells us that symptoms of depression are elevated in autistic adolescents. The authors found that it was bullying rather than genetic differences which drove an increase in depressive symptoms in autistic people. We now urgently need to carefully understand bullying and other traumatic experiences in autistic people as we’re now finding they can have devastating impact.”

Why do autists often become the targets of bullying?

Due to differences in social cognition neurotypical people are less willing to interact with autistic peers based on thin slice judgements.

judging

… first impressions of individuals with ASD made from thin slices of real-world social behavior by typically-developing observers are not only far less favorable across a range of trait judgments compared to controls, but also are associated with reduced intentions to pursue social interaction. These patterns are remarkably robust, occur within seconds, do not change with increased exposure, and persist across both child and adult age groups. However, these biases disappear when impressions are based on conversational content lacking audio-visual cues, suggesting that style, not substance, drives negative impressions of ASD …

There is a strong consensus within the autistic community that bullying is one of the most important issues that needs to be addressed.

Autists are often noted for their their honesty, their naivety, and their inability to be exploitative. Autistic neurological differences manifest in significant differences in social motivation, setting the scene for a mismatch with cultural expectations. From personal experience, the following situations easily lead to profound misunderstandings:

  • Reliance on personal competency networks and ignorance of social hierarchies is easily interpreted as arrogance and not as a critical scientific approach to learning.
  • Unwillingness to agree with specific assumptions or conclusions is easily interpreted as having a strong ego and a desire to be right, and not as a cautious reluctance to jump to conclusions or reluctance to endorse assumptions in the absence of adequate supporting evidence.
  • Giving others full autonomy over how they do their work is easily interpreted as a lack of management skill, and not as a form of trust based non-hierarchical collaboration that welcomes creativity and individual agency.
  • Providing others with clear and detailed description of expected results of a piece of work is easily interpreted as a form of micro-management, and not as a clean separation of concerns based on deep domain knowledge.
  • Pointing out unknowns and uncertainties is easily interpreted as a lack of relevant experience or a lack of confidence, and not as an honest assessment of the situation at hand based on deep domain knowledge.

Neurodiversity at the core of anti-bullying initiatives

The lack of social competition in predominantly neurodivergent teams affords such teams a distinct collaborative edge, especially when compared against typical teams within a highly competitive socioeconomic context.

Neurodivergent teams are uniquely positioned to identify spurious cultural complexity within organisational systems and interaction patterns. This creates interesting learning opportunities for organisations that are plagued by counter-productive in-group competition.

competition.jpg

Establishing one or more predominantly neurodivergent teams can act as a catalyst for cultural change in neighbouring teams.

Everyone can relate to the toxic effects of bullying, yet only few people are familiar with neurodiversity and autistic cognition from a first-hand perspective.  Launching an anti-bullying initiative is a great opportunity to frame neurodiversity in a positive and non-pathologising way, and to educate people about the social model of disability. 

Further steps towards appreciation of neurodiversity

In Auckland, I am currently planning the following activities:

  1. Regular Meetups to offer mutual support for neurodivergent 
families and individuals.
  2. A series of public discussion between autistic people, to present a realistic non-pathologising picture of autism and of living in a neurotypical world from an autistic perspective. Dialogues between autists are one of the most powerful forms of sharing autistic experiences. Otherwise we tend to be dismissed as individuals with amusing opinions. If you know of aspies and autists in Auckland who might be interested in participating please let me know. 

The aim is for students, academic staff, teachers, parents, and the general public to learn more about neurodiversity and autism, and also about the connection between neurodiversity and human creativity.  These activities are a further practical step to reduce workplace bullying.

Celebrating neurodiversity in your organisation

Organisations that claim to be supportive of neurodiversity must shift from a pursuit of a competitive edge to the pursuit of a collaborative edge.

Recommended steps include:

  1. Focus on organisational / team based performance, and abolish of all forms of individual performance reviews as advocated by W. Edwards Deming, to establish an environment that does not encourage in-group competition.
  2. Establish teams with a clear autistic / neurodivergent majority, to prompt the development of specific collaborative practices that are aligned with the purpose of the organisation.

If you have questions, consult the autistic community, for example one of these autists, who are committed to autistic collaboration.