The Neurotribes

Image may contain: one or more people, tree, outdoor and nature
[Image description: a village harvests a field of wheat, with some workers cutting the wheat while others take a break and eat soup under the shade of a tree.]

When people first began working together to reach common goals like hunting large animals together and sleeping safely at night in the wilderness, we organized ourselves into tribes with a common story together.  The stories that a tribe would write about itself, the songs that a tribe would perform, the language they spoke, what they preferred to eat, and their cultural behaviours, would come to define what that tribe was.

On Earth, there were autistic people in every tribe, and they worked as water gatherers, food foragers, hut builders, and storytellers just like everybody else.  But lets pretend that all of the autistic people from all of the tribes were placed into one tribe together. They would learn to bond together, they would share stories about their lives that would be woven into a tribal story, they would write songs together, learn behaviours from each other, and develop a culture.

This tribal organization of autistic people is happening right now in our modern world, now that the Internet and technology infrastructure allow people from all over the world to speak to each other, even if they don’t share the same language, and even if they don’t speak at all.  Technology has facilitated the autistic and neurodivergent people of the world to form integrated communities where we share our stories, share resources, and make friends. In developing our communities, we have developed customs, norms, icons, and cultural values. These customs and norms hold significant value to us, and it goes a long way in earning the trust of autistic people to respect these customs.

There is no book of Do’s and Don’ts about autistic cultural customs, and in fact I would say that we are too early in the process of developing our communities for a book on our current customs to still be relevant in a few years’ time.  We are in a storming phase of organizing, and very little has been solidly established. It is advisable for people who are not autistic to instead ask an autistic involved in an autistic community questions about integrating culture and customs into shared spaces, rather than to assume anything.

Autism is not the only neurotype that is seeing an effort to build community and develop a unique culture; people with all kinds of neurotypes are finding community with people who have brains similar to theirs.  People are gathering together under the banners of “Dyslexia”, “Down Syndrome”, “Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”, and other neurotypes in order to find community with like-brained people. These communities are very significant, because we have lived many of each other’s experiences and we have an empathy for each other which people who have not had our experiences can only attempt.  In some cases, different neurotribes band together to form a nation of neurodivergent or disabled people in the case of a spoon-sharing collective or a disability rights initiative.

But the history of the neurotribes has also been shaped by our encounters with the largest neurotribe of all, the neurotypicals; people who occupy the most common subset of abilities and communication styles.  Throughout history, people from the neurotypical nation have attempted to shape the destiny of the autistic tribe using their superior voice in society, and oftentimes these attempts result in conflict and violence.

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