Tuesday, 14 March 2023

How not to define Neurodiversity

Well-meaning but misguided...

I am appalled to find that the influential journal, Psychology Today, has adopted the above misconceived definition of Neurodiversity disseminated by Stanford University psychiatrist, Professor Lawrence Fung. And that it has been "approved" by a host of their in-house "experts". 

Before proceeding please see my Official Definition of Neurodiversity 

My concept of Neurodiversity was intended to wrest "Neurological Disorders" from the exclusive ownership of the Psycho-Medical professions, to the extent that they practiced under the mindset of what we called the Medical Model of Disability, the idea that disability is located in the body of a contextless individual. Since the 1980s, disabled thinkers and activists, such as Michael Oliver and Lennard, challenged this one-sided model with a Social Constructionist Model. This balanced view sees Disability as part genetic and part constructed by a given society's assumptions, enablers and barriers. e.g. Western societies tend to demand eye-contact, thus stigmatizing many Autistics.Other Societies proscribe it in certain situations: e.g. Indigenous Australians, Ultra-Orthodox Jews. 

Let me make clear: I have huge respect for the psycho-medical professionals. I could not live without my doctors, my medications or my regular sessions with my psychologists, physios, pharmacists, dentists, and other ancillary professions. Why else would I spend about $8,000 per annum on their respective services? And that's after Medicare rebates! How else would I still be alive to harangue you all in my70s? I cannot help observing however, that while psychiatrists are at the top of the tree when it comes to prestige and income, I have found them the least knowledgable and helpful when it comes to understanding neurodivergent conditions. 

So, my intention was to balance the Medical Model with the a Social Model which frames Disability in the context of the intersections of class, gender, socio-economic status, disability, age, etc and gives voice to us as patients, clients, consumers. That is all. 

I know that Dr Fung does great work at Stanford University to afford practical help neurodivergent people. 

But he has no right to redefine "Neurodiversity", which he clearly does not understand. 

Not only is his definition a one way route back to the old Medical Model that wants to define ND in terms of individual "brains" devoid of social context, but it beggars belief that a professor in a science-based profession does not understand basic statistics. Surely...

IF everything is NORMAL, then NORMAL has NO meaning!

Increasingly I am finding that the Psycho-Medical professions are trying to corrall the concept of Neurodiversity back under their own sphere of influence. 

Not that I think they have bad intent. Instead, they suffer from "When-all-you-have-is-a-hammer, everything-looks-like-a-nail" syndrome. 

So, when all you have is psycho-medical training, everything looks like a psycho-medical problem.
Meanwhile the general public and the media are awed by psycho-medical authority. Not unwarranted by any means, as I have referred to above. It's just that Neurodiversity is not a Medical Problem. 

Neurodiversity, like Biodiversity, refers to the degree of variability of a specific variable in a specific location. In the case of  Neurodiversity, it refers to the entire human population of the location called Earth. 

Its usage, as I defined it, was simply to name a Social Movement for people who were misdiagnosed, misunderstood and marginalised by categories invented by the Psycho-Medical Model which aligned itself very much with the needs of the 20th century capitalist economy for a standardised, obedient work force. My intent was  
  1. to broaden the scope of "Disability", which, in 1990s only included 3 categories:
    1. Physical
    2. Intellectual 
    3. Mental Illness (which included everything else that the medical profession didn't understand)
Clearly another category was needed: Neurodivergences is not "mental illness" even though many of us may have been rendered mentally ill by punitive attempts to "normalise us", and by stigma, exclusion, ridicule and discrimination. 

      2.  to ensure that Neurodiversity was always contextualized by what we now call Intersectionality

For those who get histerical* (sic) about "Identity" politics, btw,  suggest to them that they should refuse to fill in their National Census, because if will ask them for their:

Ethnicity | Sex or Gender|  Disability | Class aka Socio-Economic Status| Age etc

These intersectional categories determine our degree of privilege or disadvantage. They have always been tools of government who represent society's attempt at distributive justice, ie "who gets what" support in society. 

So let's keep Neurodiversity as a banner term for our Activist Movement
by Neurodivergents for Neurodivergents!

* You don't have to have a womb to get irrationally angry

Tuesday, 21 December 2021

Part 1 of 2: Is the Neurodiversity Movement being colonized: by Business

Part 1: Exploring the New Colonialism in Business

Part 2: Re-colonization by the Psycho-Medical Complex

#neuroColonialism #neuroGoldrush #neuroAssets #neuroGold #supersessionism #Franchise #PyramidScheme #PonziScheme #BrandingGoldrush

The Eagle has been associated with Empire since the ancient Romans.
 It’s not hard to see why:  the ruthless descent out of the blue
swooping in to snatch its unsuspecting prey

I’m calling it! The Neurodiversity Movement is being colonized in plain sight, spearheaded by those past masters of the art of colonization: the British, the Americans and, as ever, close on their heels,the Europeans.

If you think Colonialism is a thing of the past, think again. You do not have to be a continent to be colonized - any territory, physical or conceptual, will do.

Beware of the push by some business and institutional entities with globalising ambitions to swoop in and impose themselves over the grassroots neurodiversity movement that we built. And then use it as a launching pad to extend their global reach.

Our movement has already significantly changed the (Western) world simply by the moral power of our discourse and its win-win logic, without needing the help of any self-selected and unelected leadership group.  

The power of the ND movement is that it is a leaderless and non-hierarchical network held together by the internet. Thus it gives both individuals and local or national social enterprises the freedom and power to have “a voice”, in whatever medium suits them best. It is out of our free interactions that we have managed, within a few years, to shape the policies of corporations, institutions and, increasingly, governments. We don’t need to impose ourselves on the globe.

But when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

And when all you have known for the last half a millenium is the dazzling wealth, power and prestige brought by colonisation, at least to the Upper Crust, then everything else looks ripe for take over.

Colonialism is no longer about swooping down like eagles on the physical territory of a people and then subjugating them, suppressing their culture and beliefs and snatching their resources and labor until you’ve bled them dry.  Colonization today has to be much more subtle.  

Enter CyberSpace: a virtually infinite conceptual territory, full of dazzling riches, conceptual assets initially given away by their creators for the sheer pleasure and passion of creating without thought of profiteering.

The new Neurodiversity Colonisers are Johnny-Come-Latelies who try to swoop in on conceptual territory built up by the pioneering work of the movement, impose themselves as a layer above us, and then try to extend their reach across the globe.

What motivates the New Colonialists?

Unlike the Old Colonialists, this new mob are not after gold or slaves.

By "Old Colonialists", I am not referring to the age of cruel and ruthless buccaneering perfected by Britain and Europe in the 16th century. My model is the 19th century version, a more "enlightened" era that needed a more humane justification for its plunders. Above all it  had to be something the plunderers themselves could believe to salve their consciences. Thus the new empire builders and colonizer imagined themselves as part of a superior “Civilization” who were "there to help the natives, bring them to civilization, and convert the heathens to Christianity”. And indeed, missionaries did persuade “the Natives” to accept them by bringing in European healthcare ideas (such they were), thus softening up indigenous people up for the exploitation to follow. They did some good, but see the bigger picture. 

How the Colonialists Saw Themselves



The Bigger Picture


I argue that some of our contemporary colonizers are still under the sway of this mentality. They truly and naively believe that they only want to help. Instead of Christianity, they want to bring "Progress" to the non-"white" world. Thus they can hide from themselves baser, albeit natural, human drivers - the drive for self-realization, the exercise of their own talents, the desire to expand their influence, and power - in the sense of the freedom to shape the world in their own image, the prestige that will accrue to them and the income to sustain their commanding position at the top of the tree. 

They are not in it for "gold" or "slaves" these days. 

Instead of gold, they merely would “love” to  receive your “donations” for their altruistic cause. And of course, you will have to pay membership fees… for “operational costs” to be “ploughed back to return to worthy colonials”. But you will have to look in the small print to find out how much you will end up paying in time and money.

Needless to say they would find the concept of enslaving you appalling. No, they just want you to volunteer your time out of pure altruism, while they jet around the world in your name.  It  makes more economic sense than slavery - you don't even have to provide shelter and food for your workers.

Don’t fall for it. If you are an NFP (Not-for-Profit) or Social Enterprise, don’t pay their fees,  only to find yourself working double time for little gain.

And if you are disabled in any way, don’t volunteer your time and talents! We're past masters there and should be over that particular scam!

Nothing about us without us
 And no one using us without fair pay

A final caution: Will the latest entrant, Institute/Society/ for Neurodiversity” end up as a cartel, which gradually pushes out the actual pioneers of the movement who value their independence, their capacity to innovate on their own terms,  and refuse to join? If the owners can tempt enough punters with wild promises of global glory, will wiser organisations feel pressured to join up or be pushed out of business? It's an open secret that that is already happening. 

How it works

It’s not about gold, but the symbolic power that accrues to those who successfully claim the right to name "The Other"

In the traditional colonial model,  first come the colonizers, who subdue local resistance, and make it safe for the gold-diggers to move in.  In the new model, the goldrush came first. When pioneers having staked out the territory, they attract the attention of the colonisers.  

It’s the difference between physical territory and conceptual territory

In traditional Colonialism, first came the missionaries and the adventurers, “discovering” places that were not actually “lost” to the ancient peoples who lived there. Then came the “little red soldiers” backed up by money-hungry monarchs and aristocracy and later by the new money of the Industrial Revolution. With the colony thus subdued, and an influx of white populations needed to maintain the invader's stranglehold, the European lower classes were allowed to rush in to stake their claim, take a risk, and if they made it, become the new upper class to lord it over the natives

In the realm of cyberspace, first came the actual Neurodiversity pioneers, the creatives, the activists, then came the “Helping Professions”. With burgeoning ND enterprises in full swing, it finally attracted the interest of privileged or pathologically ambitious entrepreneurs who imagined themselves born to rule.

It works thus: the more all-encompassing a Brand Name,  the more the media will come flocking to anoint the owners as the spokesperson for the masses, and the more power and prestige they will accrue.

And all they needed was a grandiose moniker and the cost of a slick website! 

How to identify a would-be Neurocolonizer

I do not include corporations, educationional institutions, start ups whose Neurodiversity policies only apply to their own staff or students. I applaud them.

I shall not name these organizaton yet. But here are some clues. They may:

  • have the words “Global” or “International” in their title, and yet they are all USA, UK or Europe citizens and the smiling faces on their glossy PR materials are nearly all white. In the case of the Neurodiversity, those faces will usually be male autistic computer codeeer
  • simply use the majestic Definite Article “The” as in The Whatever of Neurodiversity.  In case you’re not a grammar nerd, let me remind you that the definite article suggests that whatever follows is universally acknowledged to be the only one of its kind 
  • burst onto the scene with a conference claiming to be The 1st International/Global Neurodiversity Whatsit
  • be just one individual with the gift of the gab, whose office is an alcove in their bedroom and yet they call themselves the Neurodiversity Whatever International
And finally if a little digging reveals that the organization is actually floating a risky social franchise pyramid scheme and you won't be anywhere near the apex 

Then, be very cautious!

The Neurodiversity movement is doing very well in changing the way society simply by the moral pressure of its discourse, the win-win logic of its claims, and the activism that arises from it.

Even if these fly-in johnny-come-lately come in peace, and are merely naive well-meaning do-gooders still living out feel-good missionary fantasies, if they approach you with grand offers of global influence for the common good, think twice before you get all carried away

Thursday, 30 September 2021

Cordelia does Selection Criteria: a cautionary tale for CEOs and recruiters


The Cordelia Variant

of the syndrome currently known as "Autism"

Cordelia's Portion (Ford Maddox Brown)


King Lear, aging ruler of Britain intends on retiring and wishes to divide his kingdom between his three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia

But to win the greatest share, they must meet such selection criteria as he devises

Being an absolute ruler whose power has clearly stupefied him absolutely, he reckons one criterion is all he needs, to wit,  “Which of my daughters loves me the most?”

He makes a Very Baaaaaaaaaad Choice

Spoiler Alert!

In the end, everybody dies 😥

By the end of this exercise, you will have learnt:

  • King Lear’s Cordelia is possibly the first Autie in English literature
  • If you frame your selection criteria to invite flattery and self-promotion,  you may find you got the wrong person for the job.
  • And by the time they've successfully climbed over your head up the corporate ladder, you may be looking for a job yourself
  • Identify the characteristics of the Cordelia SyndromeVariantVirtuosity

Lesson Plan

  1. Do the required reading
    *You may apply for an exemption if you have Severe Acquired Shakespeare Intolerance due to early traumatic experiences with the Bard in high school
  2. Learn the to recognise the signs of Cordelia Virtuosity amongst your candidates
  3. Demonstrate your proficiency as a recruiter by intelligently discussing the set questions amongst your peers

Required reading

King Lear

Act 1. Scene 1
(Disclaimer: text accuracy honoured in the breach)

The Selection Criteria


Demonstrated fluency in declaring which daughter doth love us most

Candidate Responses


Sire, I love thee more than words can express; Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty; Beyond the rarest riches. No less than life itself, TBH, with grace, health, beauty, honour; As much as child e'er loved, that makes breath poor, and speech unable; blah blah etc etc


[Aside] OMG, how canst Regan and Cordelia toppeth this?


[Aside] OMG, what shall Cordelia do? Mine tongue bendeth not to flattery. Methinks will I best love and be silent


[Aside] Marry, craven Regan picketh up the gauntlet and runneth withal

So REGAN goes

#MeToo Sire! My sister hath taken the words right out of mine mouth only she falls way short. Trust me,  I alone bask in the sunshine of your dear highness' love


[Aside] Ah poor me! For want of that glib and oily art, I am undone!
Now must needs I step into this breach

Exeunt GDJ, leaving the rest to Shakespeare
overcome at the tragic lack of Neurodiversity Awareness
amongst Elizabethans

. . .


Now, our joy, Although the last, not least; what can you say to draw
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.


Nothing, my lord.






Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.


Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty 
According to my bond; nor more nor less

<... etc etc...>


So young, and so untender?


So young, my lord, and true.


Let it be so; thy truth, then, be thy dower:
For, by the sacred radiance of the sun,
The mysteries of Hecate, and the night;
By all the operation of the orbs
From whom we do exist, and cease to be;
Here I disclaim all my paternal care,
Propinquity and property of blood,
And as a stranger to my heart and me
Hold thee, from this, for ever.
E'en the barbarous Scythian,
Or he that makes his generation messes
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom
Be as well neighbour'd, pitied, and relieved,
As thou my sometime daughter.

FYI Lear full script here


The wicked sisters soon throw Lear out 
to wander mad on the icy blasted heath 

Too late doth he wake to his folly 
For alas, poor Cordelia, she is dead

King Lear weeping over Cordelia's body
Artist James Barry 1788

King Lear mourns Cordelia, then kills himself.
Everyone else is already dead anyway

What is the Cordelia Virtuosity?

From birth, Cordelians: 
  • find being deceptive mentally painful
    thus cannot lie, deceive, cheat or self-promote

  • find illogic mentally painful
    thus can't bear being illogical themselves, can't stand it in others

  • have no more "Theory of Minds (0ther than their 0wn)" than anyone else
    thus they have no "Theory of Deceptive Minds"
    and can naively end up being exploited by those who do

  • have not a skerrick of  malice or desire to hurt
    but their logical bluntness can be misunderstood

But let's not go overboard with a tendancy to the Rainbows and Sunshine School of Neurodiversity

Cordelians may be born Holy Innocents, but that does not make them "Inherently Saints". Allegiance to pure logic based on mistaken assumptions can also lead to extremism, conspiracist thinking and unfortunate allegiances aka "Sidekick Ayndrome"

Questions for discussion

  1. Would Cornelia have benefitted from Social Skills Training?

  2. When is masking a good idea? 

  3. What questions could King Lear have asked to determine who would make the best ruler for his country


Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Don't be too delicate girls. Payment is not a dirty word

[This is a reprint of my featured article on Linkedin as at December 2021]

I thought people joined Linkedin because they meant business. So I'm amazed that business people are constantly inviting me to their events without mentioning payment, as if mentioning payment was so indelicate as to be taboo.How did we become so coy?

How did we become persuaded that it was indelicate to mention money in job interviews? Who benefits from such delicacy? Not work-seekers, that's for sure. If the would-be recruiter doesn't make the offer transparent, the seeker is immediately wrong-footed as if "greedy" if they raise this fundamental question.

This is especially so if we happen to be in a "caring" or "social justice" profession. Mostly women, no? It is then assumed that we are happy to give away your intellectual property for the sake of saving everyone else (except ourselves).

Workers in the sector are already struggling and have the same bills to pay as our employers. That's why I aim to raise the issue in all future requests for my services as I hope everyone who reads this will agree that it is a social justice issue to be similarly upfront.

What I do is actually work. Hard work, based not just on “lived experience”, but on my years of academic study, my early career as a neurominority woman in IT, my foundation and key role in many voluntary community groups both local and autistic, including co-founding and establishing Sydneys first independent social club for Autistic teenagers, still thriving after 20 years .

So do not ask me or any other ND activist for a “coffee” so you can “pick our brains”.

And BTW I am one of the 35% of Australian women who retired with nothing but the paltry age pension to sustain us after a lifetime of work and caring. My autistic adult child and I live in tumble down public housing run by a negligent neoliberal govt who uses every opportunity to vilify us, while leaving our homes to rot.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

The Future of Neurodiversity

I'm afraid I don't have the gift of clairvoyance. When I look into my crystal ball, I see through the glass  darkly, very darkly.  And even more so in these times. Now pandemic, global warming, the rise of populism and the decline of what we called "Western Civilization", in all its horror and glory,  point to a future of socio-economic upheaval and uncertainty. History teaches us that in such times the dominant majority, and those who indentify with it, will turn against minorities and seek to eliminate them. 

The best advice in such times is to expect the best, but prepare for the worst. 

It will require courage to stand up for minorities - not just our own, but that of others, because divided we must beg but united we can bargain. 

And it will require us to work together. By "work" I'm not just referring to "paid work" though it is good to have if you can get it. But I will venture a prediction that paid work will be harder to get for more and more people, while employment terms and conditions will deteriorate. 

Instead, I'm talking about real work in the service of the future of humanity, not “busy work” as commercial and industrial conscripts goaded by the carrot of consumer goodies and the stick of a punitive “welfare” system. 

Don't  buy in to the belief that the possession of  paid work, no matter what the terms and conditions, is inherently a virtue. See also my awkwardly but meaningfully titled piece,  Is Paid-workliness Next to Godliness?

Work is not a virtue when our labour is used to pollute the planet for the sake of producing consumer junk for people in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction and desire due to the meaninglessness of their working lives.

And as for the Zero Sum Game of substituting an occasional autistic coder to replace a non-autistic coder in a shrinking employment market, think: 

Playing Musical Deckchairs on the Titanic 

Musical chairs game sinking couldn't find an image of the Titanic

So here's what I think are the most important aims that the Neurodiversity Movement can have, beyond the core goals of advocacy for recognition and respect for human variation 

  • the recocnitiongof  neurodiversity as a necessity for cultural sustainability, in the same way that biodiversity is a necessity for ecosystem sustainability
Going into an uncertain future, I advocate joining movements who are working towards
  • A living UBI - Universal Basic Income (see pilot results from Finland)
  • An end to the vilification of Unemployed People, and who wouldn't like to bet that a high proportion of them are Neurodivergent? 
  • Investment in public housing
  • Investment in Health
  • Investment in Inclusionary Education... 
You know you want it! Especially an UBI. It used to be a fringe idea. Now it's going mainstream. 

But, you cry, "How are "we" to pay for it?"

That's a political issue - you get what you fight for. NeuroMinorities when lobbying together, are a big voting bloc!

Image 1: Globe as Crystal Ball by Gerd Altman on Pixabay
Image 2: Downsizing Musical Chairs https://www.wannapik.com/vectors/3887, adapted by JSinger

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Neurodiversity: It's politics, not science!

... or ...

It's the name of a social justice movement, not a diagnosis

You may have heard critics of the Neurodiversity paradigm dismiss it with "It's not even scientific" or "It's pseudoscience". 

Of course it isn’t. It's not meant to be. 

Neurodiversity simply names a biological truism, a self-evident fact that adds nothing to what we already know about the world.  You don't need a cross-disciplinary PhD in a brace of "~ologies" to figure out that every human brain on the planet is as unique as each fingerprint. It follows that there is a virtually infinite diversity of humans on the planet, with infinitely diverse minds complexified further by experience in equally diverse bodies. 

A scientific investigation of Neurodiversity would have to find two individuals on the planet whose minds are exactly alike. Identical twins? As soon as one infant looks to the left and sees something that the other doesn't, their minds being to diverge. Neurodiversity is a not a scientific concept because it cannot be tested or falsified, though what a dream job it would be to get a grant to travel the world analysing each brain to get a perfect match. Y

es, you can have genetic matches, but not if you factor in culture and experience

And secondly, having been blessed, or cursed, with a highy systematizing (!) sociologizing brain,  my intent was political, unifying and liberatory, not divisively intent on putting individuals "under a microscope".

By political, I mean the combative process by which organized groups in societies make decisions about how to allocate resources, power, and status. 

Members of Neurological minorities, whether diagnostically labelled or not,  have generally been been discriminated against: denied resources, disempowered, and devalued from school through life trajectory and work career, which affects our standard of living unless we are lucky enough to be born into a well-to-do family. This must change. Thus our fight for recognition and a fair share of resources, influence, and status is a political fight. And to have the political clout we need to organize ourselves. 

The Dialectics of Neurodiversity
The Dialectics of
Click to enlarge

That is how the Neurodiversity movement began. First it needed a catchy name, a banner to gather under. And then the people came and fleshed out the agenda for change. And then as people always do, they disagreed on this and that,  polarised, debated, and sometimes even trolled each other, and a consensus began to evolve, with extremist views acting as a delimiter. And that is how politics is, and how the world changes by what is called a dialectical process 

To this end, instinctively - albeit semi-consciously, as I never imagined how this would actually take off  decades later - I came up with the word "Neurodiversity" for two specific political functions

·         to add a necessary new category to what is now called "Intersectionality".

·       to suggest an umbrella term for an emerging social/political movement based on the pioneering work of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Movement. It had become clear that ASA movement's paradigm was beginning to be adopted by other Neurotribes who had different diagnostic labels but common issues of exclusion

To be clear, this is how I first used the word "Neurodiversity", this and nothing else. 

That’s all.

Neurodiversity is a conjoined word which trades on two of the era-defining developments of 20th century science

·       the ascendency of Neuroscience, the "hard" science of the physical brain, - with pictorial proof yet - over Psychology, the study of that elusive substance, the Psyche

·       the rise of environmental science, from which emerged, in the 1980s, the term Biodiversity, another truism, coined expressly as an argument for the conservation of the species

The intention was to sound authoritative based on the combined heft of neuroscience and environmental science, not to be scientific.

The word Neurodiversity could be called a Koan – it caught on because it delivers an instant Aha! moment to so many of us. We hear it, we know it, it fits our times and for many of us, names our struggles. But the word is perhaps an exercise in consciousness that begs a question: Now that we have foregrounded the uniqueness of each human mind, 

“What is humanity going to do about it”?

What humanity has "done about it" depends on the cultures we have been born into. And our diversity of human cultures have, needless to say, dealt with it in their own diverse ways. 

Although I majored in Anthropology, I daren't make pronouncements about other cultures, other than to state that, from what I have learned so far, there are no utopias out there, not even amongst the remaining hunter-gatherer that some idealist romantics would still like to exalt to the status of "Noble Savages". Like individuals, the cultures we create have their strengths and weaknesses, winners and losers, as delimited by their available natural resources, of which, significantly, famine was the ultimate delimiter. 

Instead I will confine my observations to what I know best, our Dominant Patriarchal Western Christian Civilization.  (DPWCC). Armed with this conglomerations of beliefs, DPWCCs conquered most of the world over the past millenium, enslaving other peoples, including their own women and amassing massive fortunes as a result.

DPWCC is a mouthful. Let's call this obviously life-threatening (to others)  psychologically diseased constellation "Capitalist Syndrome". 

But like every other labelled disability, Capitalist Syndrome has its strengths and weaknesses  

Weaknesses: an  exploitative juggernaut which worships "The Market", "The Workplace"  and its High Church "The Mall" like we once worshipped our Father-God. It concentrates inequality and turns molehills of inequality into mountains that few can climb, that keeps everyone on a constant treadmill of anxious striving to outpace everyone else, lest we fall into the abyss of poverty and shame. 

Strengths: it has delivered the preconditions for an egalitarian society, at least for its members: freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, and freedom from famine. There is now in principle enough for the inclusion of everyone to extend to the other necessities of life. 

Nevertheless, this monoculture is gradually being diversified and its autocratic hold weakened by various factors. These include: 

  • transfers of wealth and populations by globalization, including the movement of formerly colonized people back into the lands of their colonizers
  • the post-war human rights movement that emerged as a reaction tp the horrors of the Nazi eugenicist extermination camps, based on the psueudoscience of race, and which led to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 
  • the emergence of one minority movement after another demanding civil rights pioneered by African Americans Americans, Women, and Gays etc.

And this is where the Neurodiversity came in. By the end of the 20th century, Westerners had been forced by the first intersectionalist movements to question their ingrained beliefs about the inferiority of black and indigenous people and women and the criminality of homosexuality.  

These movements had made it generally unacceptable for civilized people to air derogatory opinions about the above minorities. But it was still open season on "nerds", aka Aspies  -  as we learned to call ourselves. One of the triggers for me to start thinking about Neurodiversity included the film "Grease" in which it seemed perfectly normal, natural and unremarkable that the the nerdy character Eugene, should was bullied by the gang, who were assumed to have "hearts of gold". And this is par for the course for so many other films with the obligatory nerd character humiliated for the hilarity of the crowd. 

That is partly why I wanted to add Neurodiversity to Intersectionality, so that the mistreatment of neurological outsiders could no longer be casually overlooked.

Politics and Intersectionality

Broadly speaking, politics is the process by which societies make decisions about how to distribute resources, with status, power and wealth accruing to those who are best placed to control the resources. 

Without going into the history of why society began to classify people according to their neurological profiles, and punishing some 

Despite the complaints of angry conservative outrage-manufacturers, intersectionality is a tool of social analysis that is increasingly used by policy makers.  out of the recognition that as nations we must come to terms with the reality that we are no longer a monoculture, and must learn to understand each other's backgrounds and learn to get along. 

It's important to notice that the categories of intersectionality:  Age, Class, Ethnicity, Gender, Religion,  Sex, Disability, are devoid of rank or judgment, except for "disability", which only goes to show how much disability is still considered a second class category.  The correct term should be of course ABILITY

We all have socio-economic class, we are all ethnic, we are all gendered etc, we all have abilities Yet all of of these categories have been used to classify, grade, rank, disempower and impoverish people. That is what makes these categories political, as per the definition on the right. 

Politics and the unequal distribution of resources

While our culture is nominally still Christian, notice that the political “Right” who tend to be the most vociferous about their allegiance to Christianity, act according to the tenets of “jungle law”. They preach Christianity, but their practices of Neoliberalism support Darwin’s survival of the fittest. Market law makes clear that those who are unfit or unproductive within Neoliberalism’s limited ideas of productivity deserve what the get, and should be grateful for  the meagre pensions doled out to them.

And this is where Politics come in:

In the broadest sense, politics is about the distribution of resources and in our society that is massive inequity. There is still a long way to go.

I know the explicitly political nature of these terms can make the dominant majority uncomfortable, if they want to frame the issue in medical or commercial terms, whether for the financial and/or status benefits of expertise. And who can blame them? We live in a stratified social order, and must needs struggle to retain our place.  But discomfort is part of social change. Thanks to globalisation, and how the colonized nations have come back to bite those who benefitted from colonization, there are no more Anglo monocultures, and never will be. That is why intersectionality manifested. We need to learn how to get along. 

This is not to say that there’s no such thing as disability, or no role for helping professionals. 

Difference shades into disability depending on the amount of help required by individuals and their families. We do not want to go back to a world where (primarily) women had to give up their own dreams  because there was no help or advice available for them as carers. We still have a long way to go, when we see that mysogyny has recast Refrigerator Mothers into “Autism Moms” if they shd show a reluctance to acquiesce to the roles assigned to them whether by medical authority or the Twitter mob. It takes a village to raise any child, and more so if the child is developmentally more labour intensive

Take Home Lesson: ND is not a classificatory term dividing us from them. We are all Neurodiverse. We live on a Neurodiverse planet in which amoral nature generates endless genetic diversity, while we humans have evolved the capacity to make judgments about nature’s bounty. What Neurodiversity brings us is a challenge to find a place for everyone and to distribute the bounty fairly.


Thursday, 22 October 2020

Volunteering on Boards: Empowerment or exploitation?

It's always an honour to be asked by an organization to become a Board member or Advisory Panel member to be "a voice" with "lived experience". And it is indeed empowering to meet with powerful people and get an insight into how decisions are made "at the top". But after a while you begin to wonder.

I volunteered on Boards for decades. It began when I became the sole parent of an autistic child. Most carers find it impossible to retain their careers so many turn to volunteering in order to remain useful members of society. Initially I found volunteering to be stimulating and empowering until I began to wonder if I was allowing myself to be taken for granted and exploited. 

Bottom line, I now find myself to be an age pensioner who cannot even afford my medical bills. 

They like to say "Time is Money" in business. But it's your time, their money. 

Now that's a wake-up call.

Don't end up like me at retirement! 

A boiling frog
Think of the metaphor of  "The Boiling Frog". They say if you put a frog in water and up the temperature very very gradually, it doesn't notice before its too late. Result: one dead boiled frog.

So don't be mad at me because I am now scrambling to commodify myself before its too late.

It would be great if you shared your experiences in the comments, either in your own name, or anonymously if you are worried about exposure

And then let's see where it goes. 

Boiling Frog Image Attribution

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Taster: Explaining Neurodiversity

I am generally credited with being the originator of the term Neurodiversity while writing a sociology honours thesis,"Odd People In: a personal exploration of a new social movement based on neurological diversity" (UTS Sydney 1998). 

I did not define the term, thinking its meaning self-evident. Since then there have been a proliferation of definitions, and as I expected, most people intuitively "get it". But inevitably, some definitions seem to me to miss the point, especially when they take neurodiversity to be a synonym for "neurological disability". 

While I understand that language evolves and changes, I am determined to defend my intuitive understanding of the term vigourously, and have thus unpacked the complex meaning furled within it. 

To read my definition, click on the "What is Neurodiversity" tab above, or here


  1. What Neurodiversity is
  2. What Neurodiversity is not
  3. What the Neurodiversity Movement is
  4. Fundamental Principles
  5. Neurodiversity and Conservation
  6. The Dark Side of Neurodiversity
  7. Neurodiversity and Eugenics
  8. Neurodiversity and "Difference vs Disability"
  9. The Future of Neurodiversity
If you are interested in going to the primary source, see my republished thesis 

Carry On Regardless!

Am I the only one who can spend more time agonizing about what kind of “regards” to send in a business letter than on writing the whole damn letter?

I’ve had enough, I just can’t take it anymore,


Life is too short!

One of my autistic traits is that I am ALWAYS sincere. (Well, almost always, unless I have been taught to fake it for the sake of self-preservation in a dog-eat-dog world business world, where duplicity is the norm, and actual sincerity is viewed with suspicion).

In this world, I understand the Regards Hierarchy thus:

  1. Kind regards
    Opening gambit: we haven’t met yet, so let’s be civilized, and let me assure you that I don’t intend to rip you off, while keeping you at a polite distance

  2. Warm regards
    The next round: We still haven't met, but let’s pretend we are practically bosom buddies

  3. Just plain unqualified Regards

  4. [Regards omitted]
    We have engaged the services of a Debt Collection Agency

I CAN’T DO THIS! I do not know you! It is literally painful for me to protest emotions that I do not, cannot, have. All I want is a job/a gig/a refund/more time to pay! Why else would I be writing? I don’t know which adjective to use! This is taking me forever! Can we please just get on with it?

Although, I must admit, when someone sends me their “Highest Regards”, I’m like “Wow, reeeeeeeeeeaally? Well OK, if you insist!”.

To avoid drowning in this quagmire,  I have composed the following sign off:

Disclaimer: the absence of “Regards” and other salutations and protestations of sincerity in this letter do not signal hostility or unfriendliness on my part.They are merely a recognition that this is a business transaction between people who do not know each other. Sincerity is assumed, unless the matter needs to be taken to the courts.

Related Issue: Kisses

How many x’es in a sign off between friends?

I usually sign letters to female friends as “Jxx”, which seems to me to be just right.

One “x“ would seem too perfunctory, too cold, almost a matter of form,  while xxx seems unnecesarily effusive. After all, we should know each other well enough by now to know that of course we have a warm friendship, while not denying that nobody is perfect, and frankly, sometimes we do piss each other off.

This works for me, until someone ruins it and escalates with an extra “x”.

What to do? Should I respond in kind, or will this signal the beginning of an arms race of x’es?

And what if someone then trumps everything with a capital X????


And let’s not even talk about the delicate situation with male friends. So many worrying factors to consider. If I use an “x”, will they feel their manhood threatened? Will they worry that I consider them effeminate? What will their wives think? Will they think I’m offering them a sexual liason? 

Best not to even go there.


Yes, folks, my mind really does work this way. I’m serious!

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

What is wrong with this Wikipedia definition of Neurodiversity?

This is a typical definition of Neurodiversity found at random on the web. There are innumberable such, all referring to "normal" variations. 

First, it's important to be wary of the "passive voice" which confers authority by fudging who is speaking. If there is an omitted "by" in the sentence , it's worth asking "by whom". So... 

Regarded by whom? I submit: by an echo chamber of Wiki editors rephrasing earlier Wiki editors. In true viral mode, these definitions  were then adopted by myriad respectable institutions and replicated ad infinitum. 

Who can blame them? Nobody owns the term. I never defined it either, thinking its meaning self-evident. Nevertheless I will put my oar in based on the intuitive Aha! moment I had while writing the work that contained it.

And for goodness sake, do NOT go to Wikipedia for a definition of Neurodiversity. It seems to be changed almost daily by heaven knows who, and it is clear that most of these people don't "get it", they just mash up earlier misconceptions. 

Neurodiversity is not a judgment. It has nothing to say about Normality or Morality. 

Neurodiversity names a biological reality, the virtually infinite neuro-cognitive variability within Earth’s human population.  It points to the fact that every human has a unique nervous system with a unique combination of abilities and needs. That is all. 

Normality is a socially constructed term originating in the 19th century mostly for the use of the bogus science of Eugenics (see my thesis for more detail on the construction of normality). 

I recognize that words evolve beyond their origins by way of a dialectical process. But for the record, I intended the word 

  • to function as an addition to the toolbox of intersectional analysis and 
  • to suggest a name for the emerging 1990s civil rights movement of NeuroMinorities

And it should never be used as a synonym for Neurological Disability, so that respect for Nature’s awe-inspiring variability and its challenge to our ethics and practices becomes the latest stigmatized term for “the Other”.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

We are not "The" Vulnerable: the dangers of the definite article

Before you talk of "The Vulnerable", ask yourself by what means a significant proportion of the populace is rendered vulnerable


  • I propose that the term "The Vulnerable" is a depoliticized euphemism for people who require social security support due to structural injustice as much as to inherent disability

  • I further argue that applying the definite article "The" to minorities is a powerful method of othering them

  • While some of us may be inherently vulnerable due to heredity, injury, or life stage, as soon as we require government supports and services, this linguistic sleight of hand subtly strips us of our strengths, our agency, our capacity for choice, and our status as citizens

  • Thus reduced to the faceless"Other", we do indeed become vulnerable to stereotype, stigma, pity, and finally compassion fatigue

  • And when compassion for minorities is exhausted, all of us become vulnerable to being divided and ruled by the worst of populist demagogues

This came to me while I was listening to a presentation by an Emeritus Professor of Sociology who I admire for their life-long dedication to social justice. Though I am in awe of their work, I found my hackles rising as the speech went on. It soon became clear why. It happened every time they used the term "The Vulnerable", as in:

"We" must do more to help "The Vulnerable".

Now I knew this was well-intentioned shorthand for a birgeoning list of marginalized populations too long to itemize: including the many people at the bottom of the socio-economic heap who require require social security to survive: these include people who are: sole parents, disabled, carers, retirees without superannuation, public housing tenants, unemployed, homeless, indigenous, refugees, diasporized, working poor and more. BTW you may notice that many of these groups are overwhelmingly female.  

"Hello", thought I, "I am, or have been, all of the above except homeless and indigenous. But I thought I was part of the concerned and enlightened 'We' attending this symposium, not one of  'Them'!

Suddenly I felt like my sense of competence and belonging was at risk of being ripped away, revealing the tragic mask of "The Vulnerable". 

Theatrical Masks Tragedy and Comedy
Can "we" avoid imagining ourselves in the Blue Mask
when we consign others to "The Vulnerable" bin?
Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Well! I was damned if I would allow myself to be consigned to that nameless mass of the wretched of the earth, "The Vulnerable Others". I consider myself and many of my ilk to be smart, resourceful and resilient people who struggle to survive trauma and deprivation, and yet give back to society when we can. Whether via the energy we put into voluntary work, into caring for family, or in the taxes we paid in our working life, before discrimination, (you know the intersections I'm talking about ), unequal wages, carer responsibilities etc shut us out of paid work. 

So what does "vulnerable" actually mean? 

I disregard the concept of "showing vulnerability" as popularised by Brene Brown, since that is a personal choice, not something imposed from above.

From the definition on the right,  it is clear that while people in need of special care - due to youth, old age, or disability-  may be inherently vulnerable to risk, the rest of us rendered vulnerable by exposure to harmful agents or agencies

We are all vulnerable to having something done to us, whether by neglect, prejudice, greed, irrational belief in inhuman ideologies legislated by people with money or power. 

We are all vulnerable to the actions of unregulated enterprises, landlords and employers; predatory pedagogues and priests; inadequate social security entitlements,  the policies of neo-liberal ideologues, the incitements of tabloids, and more. 

People who are already inherently vulnerable are made more so by governmental failure to fulfil their duties of care, whether financial, or through a failure of regulation. 

I'd rather be called by the good old Aussie term, Battler. Because battling to keep our heads above turbulent economic waters is exactly what most of us do. 

Because what happens when everyone is lumped under the rubric of "The Vulnerable"?  I say it lumps everyone under the same heading of "there's something wrong with them" rather than "there is something wrong with society". Hello, Social Model... 

Some alternatives to "The Vulnerable" 

  • Battlers
  • Social Security Recepients (including those who should be but have been denied) 
  • People made vulnerable by social inequities and exclusions
  • Structurally Disempowered People
  • Socio-Economic Minorities
  • Be specific: unemployed people, sole parents, people shut out from labour markets by age or disability prejudice, people who cannot work and cannot survive on an inadequate pension.

Is "The" the most dangerous word in the English language? 

I have heard it described as such. Don't ask me where, but it certainly resonates.

Obviously the definite article is hardly dangerous when referring to places and things: the garden or the desk in the study 

But when it comes to humans and their collectives (by ethnicity, gender, class, ability etc) history has demonstrated that the danger is real.

Why? Because "the" presumes that the thing being defined is already known, that "we" share a common understanding of its referent, that the meaning attached to it is obvious, self-explanatory, and thus must be universally acknowledged by all sensible people. In short, indisputable common knowledge.

The question is, who defines what this "obvious" understanding is? Who "owns"the stereotype? Too often, the "obvious" is defined by the dominant culture and is used to stereotype and devalue minorities.

For a more indepth contemporary explanation, check out "Linguistics explains why Trump sounds racist when he talks about The African -Americans". (though I think the author is being a little too polite to Trump... )

Thought experiment 1

Look at each item on this list. Shut your eyes. What is the first image, thought, or other sensation that rises in your mind? (Don't censor it. If something ugly comes up, don't feel guilty. Remember, you are just reproducing a socially implanted prejudice. It's not your individual fault. What matters is how you act on a prejudice once you recognize it for what it is)
  • The Blacks
  • The Feminists
  • The Gays
  • The Jews
  • The Neurodiverse
  • The Neurotypical
  • The Vulnerable
  • The Whites 
If you belong to a minority, you may use those terms positively, yet when used by the dominant culture they are more likely to trigger feelings of how you have been hurt by stereotypes. Even if the dominant culture uses them positively, it’s still dangerous. Who hasn't heard the following? 

I can’t be racist because I admire ... [... the Blacks for their athletic prowess, the Jews for their cleverness, The Neurodiverse for their uncomplaining productivity, the Autistics for their genius with IT, the Aborginals for their wonderfully primitive art...]

In short, a great formula for the exploitation of minorities, lest they try to compete with the dominant culture and excel in any field that has not been alloted them.  

An interesting note: we do not often hear “The Autistics”. Perhaps our culture is wising up somewhat. Certainly linguistic research suggests that this reductionist usage of the definite article is in decline. 

Thought experiment 2

Even worse, look what happens when we make the group name singular, so that a whole minority becomes telescoped into one single inndividual.

Without censoring yourself, what image was planted in your mind by racist cartoons depicting "The Aboriginal" “The Jew”, “The Negro”, "The Blonde". Were they old or young, male or female, dangerously clever or stupidly suited only to menial work, ugly or beautiful?

When referring to human collectives:
  • simply leave out “the”
  • turn the word into an adjective: the Gay Movement,
  • qualify it: a few/some/many/most disability activists