There is a basic structure to a narrative. You have some characters, a setting, a situation and a resolution to the situation. That’s a pretty basic, well let’s be honest very basic structure of a narrative. But essentially that’s how it works. The trick is to weave a wonderful, entertaining, interesting and plausible story around that basic structure. A trick that some are masterful at and most of us plainly suck at it. Narrative is present in so many aspects of our lives that we kind of forget it’s working.
Obviously we see it in movies, books and video games, but, it’s present in so many aspects of life we just almost look past it so often. There are narratives around workplaces, there are narratives around illness, disorder, health care, elections. Just about any situation we encounter has its own narrative. Unfortunately these narratives are not always positive, it’s not always once upon a time…. and they all lived happily ever after.
It just doesn’t happen that way a lot of the time. Especially when there is money involved.
When it comes to autism there are a number of narratives in play. The dominant one is far less than positive. It is in fact decidedly negative, extremely money driven and very much dangerous to actually autistic people. It thrives in the health care sector, the therapeutic sector, the charity sector and dangerously the pseudoscience conspiracy theory sector. The language is terrible and the actions taken by people are terrible, and unfortunately the one thing that is most paramount in this is of course money. Money raised, money paid, grants given, votes won.
Yes as they say money talks…
It’s a pretty basic narrative really. It’s not too tricky. It’s not very nuanced even. It’s a simple plot and it is used over and over again:
Autism is bad, Let me fix it, you pay me money, end of story.
The problem of course is it involves real people. Actually Autistic people, their families their friends and others that care for them deeply. These people are damaged and hurt, lives are often put in danger and lives are even lost. It is a terrible way of things, it really is.
All these sectors rely heavily on this narrative. They use language like the autism epidemic, the sharply rising autism problem, locked away children, marriages wrecked, families broken, disease, catastrophe. In some case the language of war is used, with websites called Autism Wars, charities fighting and battling against autism, vaccine injured, vaccine induced. The list goes on and on and it’s all negative and all couched in disaster.
In order to take the next step this has to be the case. If the health care industry are going to provide therapies, if the government are going to win votes, if the charities are going to raise money and if the charlatans are going to sell their poisons then this is all necessary, it is all so necessary so they can be seen to fund research, develop tests, commission research, be seen to be doing things and to sell their snake oil. Without it none of this can happen….
There is another narrative. A better one. A positive one. It doesn’t talk of catastrophe and disease and disorder. It speaks of difference and diversity. It speaks of health and acceptance. It doesn’t rely on millions and billions but on the listening ears of the powers at be to the voices of the most important stakeholders in this whole thing; the actually autistic human persons living it.
It’s the narrative of neurodiversity and it is a powerful life changing narrative. As said it relies on acceptance of people as diverse. All people as diverse. Autistic people as diverse and non autistic people as diverse. Much has been written about it by others better researched and more knowledgeable than I, but at its core it says, that particular neurological conditions are not in fact diseases or disorders but difference. Being autistic, being adhd, schizophrenic or OCD is not disordered but different. Yes it is a condition but it is a condition of being rather than a condition of illness of disorder.
Neurodiversity thrives when all people are accepted for being who they are. Not categorised by their perceived deficits but celebrated regardless, included regardless. Their so-called deficits are supported and accommodated and strengths are enabled to thrive. The neurodiversity paradigm says that every single human person is inherently of value, and entitled to a voice, to self-determination and actualisation. Entitled to be just who they actually are.
Surely this is the way forward. Surely this is the way to stop the snake oil sales. To stop the poison being pushed on desperate parents. To stop the unnecessary research into so-called cures and causes and enable research in how to better support actually autistic people. I for one say it is.
Surely it’s time to change the narrative. Recognise the evil power of the current dominant narrative and silence it. Recognise the health of the neurodiversity narrative and amplify it.
Narrative is powerful, let’s conduct the power to the helpful healthy narrative and insulate against the unhelpful unhealthy narrative.