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Too many of the stories about autism are still tinged with doom and gloom. We can't seem to get through a full fortnight without some media narrative sending the autistic community into yet another tailspin. Whether its teachers being casually disparaging about their autistic pupils in award-winning memoirs, or a murderer's rampage being tacitly linked to their 'autism disorder', our media and culture still have a thirst for using the a-word as a buzzword for wrongness. This week we had the announcement of Spectrum 10K, a shiny new research project from Simon Baron-Cohen & UCARC - the same people who brought you the wreck of devastation that was their 'autistic people have no empathy' theories. This time, Baron-Cohen et al. want to make autistic lives better rather than ruining them, and for some reason require the DNA samples of ten thousand autistic people in order to do that. And the autistic community, who have spent years patiently telling the world in great detail exactly how their lives could be improved, have been roundly dismissed and ignored when they raised a few concerns about how the harvesting of DNA could very easily start us down the path to eugenics.
I was encouraged, however, by the angry reactions. A promoted tweet of Spectrum 10K appeared on my feed and all the replies beneath it were a firm: 'thanks but no thanks'. No doubt S10K will get their 10K and trip along on their merry way to whatever the hell it is they're doing, but the aura around the slick campaign has been defiantly, and rather wonderfully, sullied. And that's because the neurodivergent have their own narratives, and are telling them. And that is a relentless, glorious flood that cannot be stopped. And those waters are transformative, and teeming with thrilling new life.
Well, there's now a place for all those neurodivergents to talk about their narratives. Off the back of the PhD, I've helped to co-found a vibrant new group we're calling the Narratives of Neurodiversity Network. It has multiple purposes. It is a place for discussing works of literature and other arts that chime in some way with being neurodivergent. It's also a place for neurodivergent people to socialise and relax with other (quite literally) like-minded people. It has a dedicated creative writing area, that I'm helping to run, that gives neurodivergent people a friendly, supportive place to practice their creative crafts. And further down the line we want to start making interventions, especially into education institutions. We'd like very much to start changing the narratives of neurodiversity in the schooling places where narratives are born, debated, and fixed down.
But more than anything, we just want to neurodiversify the world a bit more. Just the other day we held our first 'Show & Tell' event where members got a bit of time to talk freely and openly about their particular hobbies and interests. I learned that Middle Earth should have had a lot more volcanoes and earthquakes, I discovered the elegance of the Chinese character for 'mouth', as well as the restorative power of aerial rope exercise, and that the electrical signals from moss make for mind-blowing musics. That's much nicer than what the popular media have to offer.
At the moment, we're mostly on Discord, and here is a permanent link for anyone who would like to join: https://discord.gg/dKQVGkytJw We can also be found on Twitter at @NeuroNarratives. The image below is a calendar of events we'll be holding over the coming months, but we'd very much encourage all members to be proactive and create their own activities and events. That's exactly what this network is for. Viva la Neurodivergent Revolution!