Enabling Geographies: Neurodivergence, Self-Authorship, and the Politics of Social Space

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Enabling Geographies: Neurodivergence, Self-Authorship, and the Politics of Social Space examines and co-documents the political relevance of alternative educational, vocational, and community-living strategies developed and implemented by autistic grassroots educators serving autistic and otherwise neurodivergent youth in Berkeley, California. These educators reject the conceptualization and treatment of neurodivergent embodiment and expression as a medical pathology or a charity case and, in concert with grassroots disability justice initiatives, reclaim it instead as a vibrant cultural and political experience. They so do while simultaneously calling for the emancipation and collective liberation of all disabled people. More specifically, our collaborative inquiry documents the role of autistic educators in the visioning of strategies designed to enable a creative opening of differential social spaces wherein to freely and fully embody neurodivergence. Neurodivergence is an umbrella term covering a wide range of alternative individual neurocognitive styles. One of the main arguments of this dissertation is that disabled service providers are uniquely positioned to intervene and unsettle institutionalized ableism vis-à-vis “safety-net” programs, especially against the historical backdrop iv of traditional community (care) services. The term ‘transition services’ means a coordinated set of activities to facilitate a disabled person’s movement from school to post-school activities. To document these strategies, the autistic leaders in question and myself co-designed the line of inquiry, methodology, and goals of this dissertation. We held collaborative meetings, interviews, and group conferences for almost two years. Our findings are presented through activist ethnographic vignettes, oral narrative analysis, and historical-analytical frameworks emerging from disability studies, activist anthropology, critical sociology, postmodern philosophy, and critical human geography. Overall, our methodology aims at capturing the program’s dynamics and philosophy, its gains and successes, as well as the institutional barriers and limitations to developing and sustaining autistic leadership roles in disability service provision.

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... Instead, miscommunications between neurotypical people and neurodivergent people are often blamed on neurodivergent people's perceived 'social deficits,' including in 'Theory of Mind.' This may relate people in primarily abled spaces failing to consider (or even be aware of) disability cultures grown from mutual recognition (Acevedo, 2018), including people in primarily neurotypical spaces failing to understand Autistic perceptions and cultures (Leong, 2016;Milton, 2012). Leong inverts Theory of Mind discourse to assert neurotypicals can't understand autistic mental processes. ...
... Like broader disability cultures (Acevedo, 2018), Neurodivergent cultures are themselves diverse, with differences between the Mad and Neurodiversity movements as one example. There is overlap between the two and space for conversation between them (Dekker, 1999;Graby, 2015), but they have different histories and trajectories. ...
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... Disabled children have as much a right to life as children in colonized nations have a right to not become disabled through colonial violence (Puar, 2017). How do we promote disabled children's "best interests" in the absence of an understanding of disability as culture and culturally mediated (Acevedo, 2018;Kasnitz & Shuttleworth, 2001)? How do we imagine disability as culture without colonizing transnational contexts with Western figurations of disability pride and overcoming? ...
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