Within academia, the term "neurodiversity" has become almost exclusively associated with the field of critical autism studies. However, as pointed out by autistic scholar Nick Walker, while the term neurodiversity emerged from the Autistic community, "the neurodiversity paradigm is not about autism exclusively, but about the full spectrum of human neurocognitive variation" ("Throw Away"). Neurodiversity Studies: A New Critical Paradigm, a collection of essays edited by Hanna Bertilsdotter Rosqvist, Nick Chown and Anna Stenning, proposes neurodiversity studies as a field that can address the full range of neurodivergent experiences, especially those that are perceived as "less culturally palatable" (227). The field of neurodiversity studies aims to address "the epistemic and ideological rules that govern and produce 'normals' and 'others' according to scientific, cultural, and social practices" (2). The volume is composed of sixteen chapters and divided into six sections: "Curing neurodivergence/eugenics," "Neurodivergent wellbeing," "Cross-cultural communication," "Neurodiversity at work," "Challenging brain-bound cognition," and "Moving forwards." It is concerned specifically with neurodiversity's position within academia. In the editors' words, Neurodiversity Studies "aims to problematise neurotypical domination of the institutions and practices of academic knowledge production, by questioning the boundaries between the predominant neurotypes and their 'others'" (2). Contributors to the volume are described as "neurodivergent – or allied – 'insiders' in the academic realm" (1). (Even so, it is notable that the book includes contributions from scholars who have elsewhere advanced pro-cure and Applied Behavioral Therapy positions at odds with the core tenets of the neurodiversity movement.) Due to the book's concern with "talking back" to the academic institution, it "tends towards the 'theoretical' rather than the practical implications of neurodiversity" (227).

Neurodiversity is a multivalent term. In his chapter "Defining neurodiversity for research and practice," Robert Chapman points out that "[n]eurodiversity means a lot of different things to different people" (218). Rather than attempting to impose a single definition of neurodiversity, the essays in this collection reflect different interpretations of the term, "some more inclined towards medical formulations and the provision of support, and some toward social identities" (228). Although I appreciated the variety of perspectives presented in this volume, some of the essays adopt a pathologizing stance which appears to me as hard to conciliate with the neurodiversity paradigm. For example, in his essay "How individuals and institutions can learn to make room for human cognitive diversity: A personal perspective from my life in neuroscience," Matthew K. Belmonte remarks on the similarities existing between his autistic family members and himself, adding:

In citing these similarities I mean not at all to minimise or to distract from the conditions and needs of my brother, my niece, and people like them, nor – as seems to have become the vogue – to appropriate the clinical diagnosis that distinguishes them as patients and people who need treatments. There is a boundary between what constitutes a disease condition and what constitutes only individual difference, and I will not blur that boundary. (174, emphasis mine)

While the neurodiversity paradigm does not need to be at odds with all aspects of the medical model, and while, as stated by the editors, "neurodiversity perspectives do not exclude the use of all [medical] interventions" (7), this vision of non-verbal autism as a "disease condition" is not one that I expected – or wished – to encounter in a book dedicated to neurodiversity studies.

According to the editors, the book is committed to "neuroqueering." The term "neuroqueer" was coined by Nick Walker and Athena Lynn Michaels-Dillon, and further developed by M. Remi Yergeau in their groundbreaking 2018 book Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness. Amongst other practices associated with neuroqueering, Nick Walker lists "[e]ngaging in practices intended to 'undo' one's cultural conditioning toward conformity and compliance with dominant norms, with the aim of reclaiming one's capacity to give more full expression to one's neurodivergence and/or one's uniquely weird potential and inclinations" and "[w]orking to transform social and cultural environments" ("Neuroqueer") to create spaces and communities where practices of neuroqueering can flourish. I believe that these two practices of neuroqueering correspond to what Neurodiversity Studies intends to accomplish. According to the editors, "[t]he neurodiversity paradigm(s) can be seen as perspectives; either as lived experiences, ways of producing knowledge, ways of looking and talking back to power – of 'queering' the cognitive normative gaze – and an ethical stance" (228). However, while both Neurodiversity Studies and Authoring Autism engage in practices of neuroqueering, Yergeau's book engages more explicitly with queerness and queer studies. While Neurodiversity Studies is described as a book "building on work in feminist studies, queer studies, and critical race theory," its engagement with these fields appears primarily methodological rather than substantive. Although some of the essays in the collection touch upon queerness and race, considering the book's desire of "centralising marginality, and marginalising the centre" (226), the volume would have benefited from a more sustained and explicit engagement with questions of race and queerness.

If the field of neurodiversity studies is defined in part by its objects of study, Neurodiversity Studies is also invested in exploring neurodivergent modes of knowledge production and developing "new emancipatory methodologies" (226). As highlighted by the editors, being neurodivergent does not necessarily amount to being informed by neurodivergent perspectives. Since research has been dominated by a "neurotypical gaze," it is necessary to "[unlearn] the cognitive normative gaze" (228). As an autistic PhD student, the collection's focus on crafting neurodivergent methodologies is one of the aspects I was most excited about, as it opens up new possibilities for the work of autistic and neurodivergent researchers. For example, in "Sensory strangers: travels in normate sensory worlds," David Jackson-Perry et al. propose "sensory story-telling" (128) as a form of data collection and analysis. As a "cross-neuro-status collaboration" (126) centering neurodivergent sensory experiences, their essay invents new methods for "neurodiverse collective knowledge production" (9). Other essays in the collection explore "neurodivergent writing processes" (156) or emphasize the need for autistic researchers to "be at the forefront of autism research and properly remunerated" (153). An important intervention of this collection is to position neurodivergence as a unique vantage point from which to examine normate culture.

Alyssa Hillary's essay, "Neurodiversity and cross-cultural communication," represents one of the most thought-provoking essays in this volume. The essay opens with a poem on cross-cultural communication – written in English and Chinese – which introduces the questions that the essay will work through. Hillary writes:

Autistic people are too blunt.
It's because we're disabled.
We need to be 'fixed.'

Americans are blunt.
Chinese people are subtle.
It's a cultural difference. (92)

Drawing from their expansive experience studying abroad in China, Hillary discusses the connections between forms of communication across cultural and neurological differences. They argue that while principles of cross-cultural communication and mutual understanding could be applied to cross-neurotype communication, there is instead a tendency to blame miscommunication between neurotypical and neurodivergent people "on neurodivergent people's perceived 'social deficits,' including in 'Theory of Mind'" (93). That is, whereas instances of miscommunication across cultural differences are conceived as an interpersonal problem, miscommunication across neurotypes is regarded as an individual problem: that of the neurodivergent individual. Hillary's essay is rich and nuanced, never losing sight of issues of race. While they point out the existence of Neurodivergent cultures, they avoid the pitfall of treating neurotypes as nationalities, races, or ethnicities, since doing so would "[erase] national, racial, and ethnic diversity within and between Neurodivergent cultures and communities" (94). Hillary indeed emphasizes that "[b]oth culture and (neuro)biology affect all human knowledge, beliefs and actions. One aspect may be more obvious at times, but both are always present" (95). Through its engagement with a "non-ableist application" (104) of Daniel Hutto's Narrative Practice Hypothesis and with Damian Milton's "double empathy problem," Hillary's essay reaffirms the importance of neurodivergent narratives and offers important insights on how treating Neurodivergent cultures "as (sub)cultures in terms of cross-cultural communication can improve cross-neurotype communication" (104).

While I have expressed some criticisms, pertaining mainly to discrepancies that exist between the book's positioning and its content, this edited collection nevertheless includes a number of important interventions. For example, the section on "Neurodivergent wellbeing" and Robert Chapman's essay "Neurodiversity, disability, wellbeing" successfully challenge the vision of neurodivergence as "inherently pathological, tragic, and at odds with living a good life" (58) promulgated by the medical model. Chapman examines how neurodiversity fits within three different models of disability – the medical model, the social model, and the value-neutral model – arguing that the value-neutral model is the most aligned with the neurodiversity paradigm. Through his engagement with the value-neutral model, Chapman is able to argue that neurodivergence in itself cannot be equated with a lesser wellbeing. This focus on neurodivergent wellbeing allows him to counter the widespread belief that neurodivergent individuals are necessarily "worse off" than neurotypical individuals.

Another interesting aspect of this collection is its engagement with enactivism. In his essay, "Neurodiversity in a neurotypical world: An enactive framework for investigating autism and social institutions," Alan Jurgens argues that "the enactive framework is especially suited for investigating and explaining neurodiversity" (73). Rather than regarding cognition as something happening solely in the brain, "enactivism focuses its investigations of cognition through the concept of intersubjectivity" (74). That is, as pointed out by Ines Hipólito et al., "[e]nactivists conceive of cognition in terms of dynamic, 'out-of-the-head', world-involving activities" (206). According to Jurgens, enactivism, coupled with a social model approach, "can provide a systematic method to develop comprehensive explanations of autistic individuals' intersubjective relationships with neurotypical social practices and institutions" (85-86). This opens up interesting perspectives for future research. Furthermore, enactivism allows us to escape a purely biological explanation of autism and neurodivergence.

Overall, readers interested in neurodiversity will find a lot of thought-provoking insights in this book. Although I would not necessarily recommend this book as an introduction to neurodiversity, it raises important questions and deals with a wealth of theoretical concepts which researchers familiar with the topic will benefit from learning about. Most importantly, this book introduces an exciting new field of research, one which I hope will continue to be refined. I am excited about the possibilities highlighted in the concluding section, notably in Akiko Hart's essay "A new alliance? The Hearing Voices Movement and neurodiversity," and hope that neurodiversity studies will continue to develop, create alliances, and reach beyond academia.

Works Cited

  • Walker, Nick. "Neuroqueer: An Introduction." Neurocosmopolitanism, 2 May 2015.
  • ---. "Throw Away the Master's Tools: Liberating Ourselves from the Pathology Paradigm." Neurocosmopolitanism, 16 Aug. 2013.
  • Yergeau, M. Remi. Authoring autism: On rhetoric and neurological queerness. Duke University Press, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822372189
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