Ad for the Intro to Neurodiversity course with Barefoot Body Training

Things that I know right now

When we\’re trying to understand ‘how life moves’, what we really have is a series of stories that attempt to make sense of massive complexity, diversity, and the interdependence of different systems. So whether we\’re talking about evolutionary movement, or developmental progression, or gunas and doshas, what we’re doing is using stories that can help tell us truths, that are useful to us, and that we can use to move and live and breathe with more ease. Each one of such stories is another lens of understanding, and another tool to share.

Given that, I think it’s important that some of the stories we’ve been told are only true for some people and not for others. We are starting to learn the impact of exclusion when our stories of how life moves and evolves and thrives are only based on white people, or on men, or on cis people. And yet, one in a hundred people are born with a fundamentally different neurological system, that affects every experience they have, and all our stories of childhood development and neurological regulation, of social norms and productivity hacks, of gender and of intelligence, speak as if they don’t exist.

At worst, those stories see these people as a problem to be grown out of or to be fixed. Fixing in this case is defined as becoming indistinguishable from the ‘norm’. In the meantime, most medical researchers bundle up real and difficult-to-manage impairments with harmless social differences and actual strategies for survival, and label them all with an evolving list of diagnoses: ASD, ADHD, PAD, SPD, and more. Every test for neurodivergence has been written by a neurotypical person.

We treat neurodivergence so often as if it is a mind problem or a brain problem, completely separated from history, bodies and relationship. A much more interesting story begins with the understanding that movement and sensation and thought are all part of the same thing. We learn to think through moving. We learn to move in response to sensation. And so neurodivergence is a sensory difference and a cognitive difference and a behavioural difference, because all of these things are part of the same thing. We reach out from the womb. We reach out. We find comfort in our caregivers in particular ways. We communicate in particular ways. We self-soothe in particular ways.

And this is important because so much of the mainstream understanding and supposed treatment of neurodivergence, particularly autism, is based on the idea that we can train human beings to act \’normal\’. This is not healing, this is indoctrination.

When we (neurodivergent people) stim, when we get sensory overwhelm, when we have flashes of insight and hyperfocus, when we run out of executive function – this is who we are. Training us out of it is known within the ND[1] community as masking, and masking is exhausting. Unlike avoiding eye contact, masking is one of the things that is most injurious to ND health, long term. And yet, there are far more ‘therapies’ that train autistic children to make sustained eye contact, than there are therapies to help autistic adults to un-mask.

In many societies, we have forced left-handed children to use their right hand. We have forced people to live as a gender that didn’t match their identity. We have told people to ‘pray the gay away’. And these things we now know don’t work. These things we now consider inhumane. So why are we still training autistic people how not to be autistic?

What next?

For the past two years, I have been navigating the process of diagnosis, which is a process of grief, of reconciliation, of remembrance, of guilt, of shame, and yet of liberation, and of joy. There are few things more precious and more hard-won than unashamed, neurodivergent joy. As of my 49th birthday, I hold a number of ‘official’ diagnoses, the most relevant of which are: Autism (level 1) and ADHD (moderate, combined type).

As part of ongoing and loving conversations with colleagues, we started to consider a CPD course for movement educators that would start from the story of neurodivergence, using it as a way to illustrate the clear connection between justice, liberation and somatic literacy. This is the introduction to that course. Beyond labels and diagnoses, neuroscience and somatic philosophies, this introduction to neurodivergence asks:

What would the story of ‘how life moves’ be in order to make sense, to bring heart and hope, and truth to those of us who are autistic, those of us who have ADHD. And what can that story tell us all about what it means to be a human animal who thrives.

Why now?

It is common for ND people not to know how close they are to burnout, yet ND burnout is serious, and life-changing. It can permanently affect cognitive functions, reduce one’s ability to cope with sensory overwhelm, and have wide-ranging effects on the physical body.

I learned very early in life to construct strategies and sublimate my own needs to mask as neurotypical and function semi-effectively in a NT world. Those strategies were like the rails I knew how to run on – not exactly natural but partly effective and without them I didn’t get very far. Every so often I would take off the rails in a managed, timetabled way, disappearing into nature, going off clock time, and refuelling. In fact, I was always a heartbeat away from burning out. I got very good at running close to that line but not over it.

Unfortunately, the pandemic changed enough of my underlying environment that I stumbled. Aging means those tracks are getting brittle. I have lost the ability to ignore my neurodivergence. This is surprisingly common. Whilst the vast majority of research into autism and ADHD in particular is focused on cure, prevention or the management of symptoms in early childhood, any major life change can trigger the kind of experiences that lead to a neurodivergent label.

Depending on how we look at it either:

  • well-worn strategies start to fail or
  • silenced selves begin to rise into awareness or
  • the resource a body offers in the face of this traumatic levels of change comes directly from its silenced neurodivergence.

In that moment, a person has to ask themselves: how far do I risk disabling myself within a society that feels increasingly hostile to disability?

I start by considering Halberstam’s[2] concept of queerness as a failure of indoctrination. I wait. I find my hyperfocus in the deep science of consciousness, and I learn.

Join me on this journey.

[1] ND = neurodivergent; NT = neurotypical

[2] Halberstam, Judith/Jack. 2011. The Queer Art of Failure (Duke University Press: Durham).

Scroll to Top