Autism Dialogue Out of the the Box

Oak tree photo by Jonny Drury

Mindlessness:  “A style of mental functioning in which people follow recipes, impose old categories to classify what they see, act with some rigidity, operate on automatic pilot, and mislabel unfamiliar new contexts as familiar old ones.  A mindless mental style works to conceal problems that are worsening.” (Weick and Sutcliffe)

I like being me.

I’m starting to think that there’s something awry with the language generally used in the current autism discussion, on all sides.

We’ve all heard the line “we’re all a little bit autistic”.  The current discussion has a resounding cry from the actually autistic people that this is nonsense and one must be autistic to have any authoritative point of view or true understanding.  Even self-diagnosed autistics have to literally take the oath, certainly on Twitter.   But what about the ambiguous world of academia and science?  I’ve read many articles and the most recent book of a succesful and established academic and writer on autism, but I still don’t know if he autistic is or not.  Closet autism is not something that exists in academia alone and many people in responsible positions may well have good reasons for non-disclosure.  Is it important that an autism academic discloses?  There should be a good reason for only using objective, scientific language about a truly subjective phenomenon, upon which  transparent communication of experience is crucial to the discussion.  Does academic context imply there’s not enough of a conclusion to use autism as a definitive term, let alone apply it to oneself?  The material I’ve read on my Masters degree so far disproves most theories and places the origins of what we have very recently come to know as autism in a highly questionable light.  But by not clearly stating whether one is or isn’t autistic, aren’t we adding to the confusion? Perhaps we really are all ‘a little bit autistic’ and we don’t want to admit it because this is far too simplistic and doctoral students and professors everywhere will suddenly find themselves alienated from a large proportion of friends and followers.

I am autistic.  Being autistic is who I am.  But let’s take that apart a bit.

Firstly, being diagnosed by the team at SAANS using the DSM5 or whatever in 2014, makes me autistic. It is their official terminology for my type of brain and I accept it.  When I say I am autistic, I am using their frame of reference, not necessarily mine.  Being labelled autistic by the NHS carries some weight in society of course, otherwise I wouldn’t have sought their knowledge; I wanted an explanation and I was diagnosed by the UK’s predominant medical establishment.  I’ll leave my question of whether I am #actuallyautistic or not, and perhaps just such a fantastic actor I fooled them, to another post.  The NHS gave me an explanation, I got the biggest national medical organisation to diagnose me on their terms.  I wasn’t ‘identified’ as autistic by the NHS, as some people prefer to say (the NHS are not in the business of identities, as far as I am aware); my identity is made up of lots of things including this thing called autism, which interrelate to varying degrees and altogether identify me as who I am.

So I don’t question the definition, instead I accept the different views.  The NHS think I’m ‘autistic’. Hurrah! Good for them!

As well as a medical condition, autism is also a social, psychological and psychal phenomena.  A religious person told me its spirits in me.  All points are valid.

I am not separate from other people. But what do I mean by that?

What I mean is from a sociological, psychological, identification, spiritual and quantum point of view (that’s a lot of views), all of us exist, at the very least,  in this space-time continuum and social construct together.  In this sense, if someone wants to believe “we are all a little bit autistic” it’s fine by me, because it is not necessarily driven by an undermining of autistic people or some other ignorant, separatist motive.  It’s also on the face of it, a bit silly; one could just as easily state ‘we’re all a little bit non-autistic’.  Perhaps though, the sentiment behind this statement might be “We are all in this together, I have an understanding, I have compassion, I am intuitive, so hey, let me help.” and  perhaps the cliché, “we’re all a little bit autistic” is now just a little bit worn and needs to be examined in a positive way, by using dialogue, eg. by adopting the stance of:

“I accept your different view so let’s talk about that together.”

The field of Autism itself stems from early neuroscientists who observed particular behavioural styles in certain groups of people and so a great body of knowledge develops and continues to do so.  One can even study a Masters degree in Autism, of which I am a student.  However, many autistic people would deny the right of anyone who is not autistic (by diagnosis or identification) to have a truly valid knowledge on the subject.

Experience cannot be proven as entirely subjective and isolated as quantum field theory shows. So why would the father of an autistic daughter, who has devoted his life to her, since her birth for many years, not have experienced her life to some degree as the same as his and have a view on what it’s like to be autistic? Why would the experiences and views of a mother of two autistic adults, an autistic husband and an autistic father, be less valid than an adolescent boy with a diagnosis or a successful businessman who identifies with Aspergers? By osmosis, is there to be some sharing of autism, behaviourally or otherwise as a phenomenon and can the same be said for all traits in everyone on a societal level?  Our individualistic, opinionated and judgemental society can be a dangerous place and autistic people are just as much at risk from the dangers of peer-group pressure and with the additional complications of unusual modelling and masking habits, perhaps even more so.

Life is too short to be so technical and militarily challenge everyone who doesn’t meet our immediate frames of reference; we can always build on our compassionate, openness and flexibility.  Compassion begins with acceptance.  Gratitude is the key to happiness.

Autistic people should accept being autistic, and with more of an open mind and heart, and learn to accept it as only one of a multiplicity of different viewpoints.  By witnessing an example of honesty, others might see themselves more clearly too.  By holding mutually exclusive ideas in our minds at the same time, we might understand a lot more about, and be more accepting of, each other’s differences.  Acceptance of diversity leads to unity, that’s always been my position.

 

Academy of Professional Dialogue Inaugural Meeting

At the Inaugural Meeting of the UK Academy of Professional Dialogue in July I had a really great day with thirteen others including Peter Garrett (who co-founded Dialogue with David Bohm) and Jane Ball, both co-founders of the Academy and Directors of Dialogue Associates.

You can read my main page about Bohm Dialogue here.

I was made a member of the Academy and look forward to further developments and engagements.  Of course much was discussed but when I got home there was one thing I hadn’t thought of, perhaps it was too obvious.  So I asked Peter on the members online forum – about measuring outcomes. ie. how do we know if a Dialogue was a success? This is Peter’s reply, reposted with his permission:

“A good question! I think it all depends on the situation. You may be using Dialogue as a research methodology, in which case collectively learning about the current situation and what to do about it may be the measure. If you were aiming to build from a group of individuals into a team, then a better understanding of each other and the common purpose may be the measure. Or it may be a cultural change situation where the relevant thing may be a clearer recognition of the tacit ‘rules-in-use’ and evidence of changing them. Common to all of these would be deeper awareness, stronger participation, better respect and a greater openness and sense of potential. Generally I aim for a series of Dialogues, rather than a single event, so that the development can be measured in terms of progress from one Dialogue to the next.”

This final point is particularly useful as it favours a more organic approach, whereby a community is assumed or established and encouraged to flourish over time.

Some photos of the Inaugural Meeting:

In 2018 I’ll be starting a two year project in Sheffield around Mindfulness and Dialogue to strengthen links among the UK Autistic communities, particularly to improve autistic people’s independent living and employability.  In order to nurture this, at the Academy’s The World Needs Dialogue! Annual Conference, I will be leading the theme around Autism and the Self.  The project is in partnership with Sheffield Autism Research Lab (at Uni of Sheff Psychology dept), Jane Ball on behalf of the Academy, who has kindly agreed to take part in some form and other partners including Sheffield Autistic Society, SOHAS  and CMLE.  As a loose introduction to this major project, I am convening and co-facilitating a Dialogue of Autism professionals and students next month (please see flier below). There are some places still available and if you know anyone working or studying in the field, I would be grateful of you could let them know and/or email me at jonnydruryATgmail.com or Liz Milne at e.milneATsheffield.ac.uk.

There’s a new Twitter account for the project @autismdialogue

Autism Dialogue ShARL University of Sheffield
Click for enlargement

AUTISM DIALOGUE

Usually a seminar provides the opportunity for individuals to convene and share common knowledge and understanding and hear about new developments in the field, usually with an agenda in place. Bohm Dialogue is a free exchange of ideas and information without an agenda and provides the opportunity to examine preconceptions and prejudices among peers by open conversation with active listening.

From my perspective, Autism brings into question the very nature of self and society. As an autistic person working in autism, student of autism and autism service-user, in just three years since diagnosis, I’ve seen a very wide range of definitions, criteria and ideas, some changing regularly, some driven by factors such as culture. It’s our objective to facilitate a Dialogue between professionals and students and support a greater common and more dynamic understanding. This one-off Dialogue on the 21st was arranged prior to organising a major programme, to begin in 2018.

Future Dialogue sessions will include autistic and non-autistic people from different cultures and sectors of society, and autistic people exclusively as well, and aims to increase common understanding and improve lives of autistic people. www.twitter.com/autismdialogue