Neurodiversity - Seeing patterns and breaking silence
Updated: Mar 20
This week has been Neurodiversity Celebration Week. It is personal for me as I was recently diagnosed Autistic with ADD. I am celebrating that my brain is different. I am celebrating that I finally have the language and validation for my lived experience. Before then, I was silent.
I reflect that whilst I am celebrating, in this last year we have seen a number of silences broken in tragic circumstances; White silence around institutional racism and the need for white people to do their own anti-racist work following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer. Silence was shattered this week as women began to talk about their everyday experiences of fear following the murder of Sarah Everard by a police officer. It felt like the first time the debate had shifted to men and their need for behaviour change rather than women's need to change theirs.
I am realising however, that it is not enough to break the silence. People who hold privilege use language which diminishes lived experience of the people they view as different to them. We all need to label this language in order to hold the space for the lived experience of others.
I am calling this language ‘power moves’. I know these moves can be used unintentionally – I have used these moves on others and I have had them used on me. Once I read about my white power moves in ‘Me and White Supremacy’ (Saad, 2020), it was uncomfortable. I am learning to sit with the discomfort and intentionally try not to use these power moves now I know better.
By mirroring back to people what their language does, we can raise personal awareness and affect behaviour change. It is hard to do this in the moment if you are the person being othered. The more we all see patterns and have the language to call it, the easier it gets.
Power move 1: Negation and diminishing lived experience – ‘We are all on the spectrum’, ‘it’s not all men’, ‘I don’t see colour’.
Power move 2: Attention shift away from the discomfort of lived experience to the privileged person’s bigger picture; ‘we need to keep men safe too’, ‘all lives matter’…‘institutional change aside,….’, ’You may be autistic but I’m still your friend’.
Power move 3: Divide and rule; Before signing off with a chortling man promising to consider his masculinity in front of the footie, Michael Burke in the Moral Maze referred to listening to some women and their ‘subjective’ experiences. The word ‘subjective’ privatises and disconnects it from its commonality.
Power move 4 : Deficit dressed positively. ‘I actually really like autistic people’, ‘I actually really like (name of a black woman)’. ‘I love women’. Deficit dressed as deficit. The head tilt when I tell people about my diagnosis as if they are draining out their experience of me as a person from one ear and rewiring their understanding of me to deficit stereotypes of autism.
Power move 5: Fragility and tone policing. ‘You sound really angry’, ‘it’s as if you are accusing me personally’. A friend told me about a man who had entered a Facebook discussion this week by saying he felt really uncomfortable and that it felt like the women in the discussion were referring to all men. His wife joined from another room in the house and said ‘You’re not supposed to feel comfortable, just listen’.
We all need to get curious and learn from other's lived experience when they have the words to tell us. Knowing the power moves that muffle it can help you check yourself and others. I know that by being heard and by hearing others I have become infinitely richer. That’s worth celebrating!