i don’t like developmental narratives.
correction: i hate developmental narratives.
developmental narratives are stories about how things get built. about how people, countries, trees, or ideas, are born, grow up, live, and die. developmental narratives are what teach you how to identify the “age” or “stage” of something based on how it looks, or how it talks, or how big it is, or how it’s organized.
developmental narratives tell you that humans started as hunter-gatherers then progressed into either settled, or nomadic pastoral life–tending, herding and living off of different kinds of livestock–and later developed agriculture, then villages, then towns, then cities, then empires, then star trek and so on. developmental narratives tell you that cultures develop oral language prior to developing a written language, and that children talk before they learn to read, and that your brain is supposed to learn to think more and more abstractly as you grow into an adult, that we all start in a state of unbiased and genuine social innocence that is then lost, progressively, as we become fully social and sexual beings. general knowledge 101. obviously.
it’s easy to write off our knowledge of these narratives as simple factual knowledge, or old introductory lectures we sat through at the start of our school terms. but then someone points out that in a single moment in history, different people can live in different ways simultaneously, in different places around the globe–one might live in a village, while another lives in a major city, and some people still migrate and herd livestock. to which you’d probably reply: “of course! this doesn’t mean that everyone goes through these stages at the same time, just that the stages always occur in the same sequential order. it’s part of the nature of how societies and cultures and language and humans and brains and social skills function; each step can only be built if the step that goes before it is already in place.”
sometimes, we’ll try and subvert the narrative, because we see how it could be used to devalue certain people in favor of valuing others. we’ll talk about how much we can learn from people who are still in stages that precede our own. don’t people who live in those “early stages” show us how much simpler and more genuine life can be? don’t they seem to transcend all that normal social claptrap like it’s not even there, and connect with people on a deep, personal level? isn’t it like they live in a world so much more intense and real than that of normal people, unburdened by all of society’s assumptions and biases and expectations?
there is an extremely famous scientist named alan snyder, who has received numerous awards for work that he believes shows that savant skills are latent in all people, and only emerge in actual savants because the “higher” brain areas that normally over-rule the “lower” areas are not working properly. he does tests where he momentarily inactivates those higher areas in normal people, and sees if they suddenly improve in their ability to draw still lives, or shit like that.
every time i read about this man’s research, i have to stifle the urge to set things on fire.
there is nothing subversive about assuming that all autistic people’s talents and positive qualities result from their inability to “develop” further.
there is nothing subversive about assuming that you could have all those same talents and positive qualities if you just, you know, turned back the clock on your own development.
autistic people learn. and develop. and grow. and expand their horizons. and find new ways of thinking and being and relating. and autistic people do this shit all the time. just like normal people. autistic people have savant skills because we are curious and engaged in our worlds, not because we’re so broken that we’re somehow stuck in the “lower levels” of the brain. why is it that when an autistic person is incredibly empathetic, and genuine when it comes to relating to others, people attribute that to them being somehow naive, or unknowing, or childlike, rather than attributing it to them being simply a kind and compassionate person who dedicates their time to caring for others? why is it easy for people to attribute the positive qualities of autistic people to our supposed immaturity, or incapacity?
i feel the need to help others and live an ethical life because, when you’ve experienced hard stuff and prejudice and exclusion, it often motivates you to try and help other people who experience those things as well. to suggest that i want to help others or live well because i simply am too naive or innocent to know otherwise is to belittle my motivations, and ignore the weight and importance of my choices.
you don’t need to tell us how our being lower than you, or younger than you, or earlier than you, or less than you, is actually positive quality, because we aren’t lower, younger, earlier, or less than you. this is not jurassic park. we are not neuroscience’s own personal dinosaur clones, built as a window into the depths of evolution. when we love, we love because we are human, and when we have talents, we have talents because we are human, and when we learn, we learn because we are human. and if you stopped sitting and waiting for us to “develop” for one damn second, you might finally notice that we’re changing and growing every day…we just aren’t changing and growing into a person like you.
* A note: I am not in any way taking issue with autistic adults who describe their experiences as being more sensory, or more in tune with the natural world, than the experiences of the average adult–I’m one of those autistic adults, for heaven’s sake. My issue is primarily with people who feel the need to justify, or explain this tendency to live in a different world by presuming that autistic people’s experiences are just, you know, what normal people would experience if they hadn’t grown up, or learned to be social, or learned to talk, or reached sexual maturity, or gotten an office job, or whatever the fuck. Like, if a person loves leaves, and collects leaves, and draws leaves, and experiences the world in leaves, is it that hard to believe that they might just be a person that fucking loves leaves? It’s important to examine what it is that makes people need to categorize, like, “people who love leaves” as inherently less developed, or evolved, or mature than themselves. Because it’s gross bullshit.
Me, when I’m probably like two or three, in a swimsuit on the beach. I’m completely by myself, and holding a golf club that’s taller than I am, staring quizzically at a golf ball on the sand that I’m trying to hit with the golf club. This picture is a really great summary of how I feel like a large amount of the time.