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Co-Creating NeurodiVentures and A♾tistic Whānau

Co-Creating NeurodiVentures and A♾tistic Whānau

There is an urgent need to catalyse Autistic collaboration and co-create healthy Autistic, Artistic, and otherwise neurodivergent whānau all over the world. Autists depend on assistance from others in ways that differ from the cultural norm – and that is pathologised in hypernormative societies. However, the many ways in which non-autistic people depend on others is considered “normal”. The endless chains of trauma must be broken. 

Surviving on the edges of modern society is an Art. The Arts and regular immersion in genuinely safe Open Spaces help us imagine and co-create ecologies of care in which care and mutual aid are the primary values. Healthy Artistic and Autistic life paths by necessity differ from “normality”.

It is time to fully recognise the level of trauma amongst the growing numbers of marginalised people, and especially intersectionally marginalised people.

Venn diagram of Artistic people and Autistic people, with the infinity symbol representing the union of both sets pf people

A♾tistic : Autistic, Artistic, and other ways of being that deviate from hypernormativity

The Arts are also an essential part of education. Healthy A♾tistic life paths by necessity differ from WEIRD normality. This must be fully acknowledged as part of any Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) approach that claims to respect the human rights of marginalised people.

Maybe A♾tistic should be pronounced Awetistic, which is already familiar to Autists?

With the expanded definition in place, which also nicely integrates the diversity semantics of the infinity symbol of the neurodiversity movement, we can recognise the ecological significance of A♾tistic humans that co-create A♾tistic cultures and A♾tistic friendly cultures. Only when we get to the point where everyone recognises that at some level they have an A♾tistic side, only then no one is left behind. Until then, WEIRD society is crippled by internalised ableism.

Please note that I am not saying that “everyone is a little bit Autistic”! What I am saying is that deep down everyone has a creative artistic side, and that this is the aspect of humanity that is systematically repressed and oppressed in WEIRD societies, and is replaced by shallow performative forms of “creativity” – the kind of “creativity” that any decent so-called artificially intelligent system can mass produce.

We need to recognize and celebrate our many strengths and talents that may not be showcased in modern transactional Western workplaces, competitive classrooms, and hypernormative nuclear family environments. Such unsafe environments punish us for our creativity, ability to think outside-the-box, solve problems with unusual skills, unique insights, and perspectives, as well as our perseverance and ability to collaborate in innovative un-orthodox ways. In mainstream society people don’t understand how Atistic people support each other, love each other, and care for each other in ways that go far beyond the culturally impaired neuronormative imagination

There is the saying that “It takes a village to raise a child.” The A♾tistic translation of this saying is “For an A♾tistic person it takes an extended A♾tistic family to feel loved and alive.”

In the modern industrialised and post-industrialised world, most A♾tists are not born into healthy A♾tistic families. We have to co-create our families in our own space and time, where we can express our many feelings in our own unique ways. In a healthy culture A♾tistic children are assisted in co-creating their unique A♾tistic families, but in our “civilisation” this cultural knowledge has been lost and is suppressed.

A♾tistic people are not for sale

The actual effect of the myth of meritocracy, which is used to normalise and rationalise head to head competition, is a consistent bias to over-represent capabilities, and to actively avoid thinking about externalities.

This is familiar to anyone who has ever been exposed to advertising. The cult of busyness undermines attempts at creating a shared understanding at a very basic level. The collective effects at scale and over decades are disastrous

Especially Autistic people, but also many artists do not fare well in transactional, competitive, and hierarchically organised workplace environment.

W Edward Deming succinctly summarised the myth of meritocracy within competitive hierarchically organised workplaces:

“Pay for merit, pay for what you get, reward performance. Sounds great, can’t be done. Unfortunately it can not be done, on short range. After 10 years perhaps, 20 years, yes. The effect is devastating. People must have something to show, something to count. In other words, the merit system nourishes short-term performance. It annihilates long-term planning. It annihilates teamwork. People can not work together. To get promotion you’ve got to get ahead. By working with a team, you help other people. You may help yourself equally, but you don’t get ahead by being equal, you get ahead by being ahead. Produce something more, have more to show, more to count. Teamwork means work together, hear everybody’s ideas, fill in for other people’s weaknesses, acknowledge their strengths. Work together. This is impossible under the merit rating / review of performance system. People are afraid. They are in fear. They work in fear. They can not contribute to the company as they would wish to contribute. This holds at all levels. But there is something worse than all of that. When the annual ratings are given out, people are bitter. They can not understand why they are not rated high. And there is a good reason not to understand. Because I could show you with a bit of time that it is purely a lottery.” – W Edwards Deming (1984)

For Autists, beyond the toxic aspect of competition, which completely violates any sense of fairness, the sensory environment in many traditional workplaces can be pure hell. I hand over to Mica for an in-depth explanation:

Mica’s story is not exceptional. It is a good example of the ways in which Autistic people have to weave their lives in unconventional ways – the only ways that are viable and survivable for us. The unusual and unique niches that many of us end up co-creating are not the sad part. The sad part is the extent to which hypernormative society actively prevents us from carving our unique niches that meet our basic sensory, social, intellectual, and emotional needs.

For most of us, finding our niche, and reaching a point where this niche provides us with livelihood within the context of a safe and welcoming ecology of care, is a process that takes decades. Too many of us never reach the point where we get to feel a sense of belonging within a multi-dimensional ecological context that is part of the amazing big cycle of life on this planet – without being judged and dismissed.

A/Prof Gerald Roche has written an excellent article that explains what’s it like to be an Autistic worker in the neoliberal job market and how neoliberal work ways disables Autistic people based on first hand experiences, referencing the timely book Empire of Normality by Dr Robert Chapman.

What mainstream society has to realise, and what especially well meaning potential employers have to realise is that the talents and strengths of many A♾tistic people are not accessible by hiring us as employees or by hiring us as individual contractors. Most of the A♾tistic people with a few decades of life experience under their belt that I have met know their sensory, emotional, and ethical limits, and recoil at the idea of employment in a hierarchically organised and “managed” company. We have been there often enough, and via the Internet, we have now had over 25 years of time to compare notes globally. Thanks, but No Thanks!

Co-creating A♾tistic livelihoods within a toxic institutional landscape

If this article seems to paint a bleak picture, it is because given the current institutional landscape, and given the dominant social ideology that is relentlessly reinforced by mainstream media and corporate controlled social media, the outlook for humanity is indeed bleak – very bleak.

But the older A♾tistic people that are still around are still around because deep down we are optimists, because we have not completely lost the ability to appreciate the wonder of life. We have found some good A♾tistic company along the way, at least sporadically, and increasingly, on an ongoing basis. This rare good A♾tistic company, outside the toxic institutional landscape, is what keeps us alive. This is what Mica and Quinn talk about, this is what I write about, this is how the AutCollab Education Team collaborates, this is how S23M operates as a NeurodiVenture (a worker co-op) – this is A♾tistic culture.

This article is intended for younger A♾tists who may find themselves pressured to undertake employment within the established institutional landscape, for older A♾tists who may find themselves clinging to a job in a toxic environment for dear life, for isolated older A♾tists who have burned out in the complete absence of good company, and for employers who are genuinely prepared to listen – prepared to engage with A♾tists people in unorthodox ways, and ideally prepared to learn lessons from 12 years of operating A♾tistic worker co-ops.

The employers that will most likely relate to Autistic people will be small company owners – small by our standards in Aotearoa, often less than ten people, but definitely less than 100 people. All small company owners with an ethical conscience are familiar with the need to put the needs of customers and employees before their own needs, often on an ongoing basis – many have arrived at doing what they do because they are neurodivergent.

Ethical entrepreneurship is not about “success” by the standards of a toxic institutional landscape, it is about co-creating livelihoods in good company, it is about nurturing long-term trustworthy relationships with co-workers, with suppliers, and with customers, embedded within cosmolocal community, it is about co-creating comprehensible ecologies of care beyond the human, and it is about open collaboration at eye level at all times.

The Autistic Collaboration Trust in collaboration with S23M and the Design Justice Network assists organisations that are committed to providing an inclusive and culturally and psychologically safe workplace.

The A♾tistic Collaboration community grows organically, at human scale, at a human pace, one trusted relationship at a time, in the form of self-organising small groups that collaborate on specific initiatives, contributing to the wellbeing of Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent and intersectionally marginalised people.

The story of infinite economic growth and technological progress portrays a completely delusional and scientifically impossible world, which not only ignores biophysical limits, but also human cognitive and emotional limits. Nurturing the human capacity to extend trust to each other, and engaging in the big cycle of life as part of an ecology of care beyond the human is the biggest challenge of our times.

For an A♾tistic person the pathway towards good company is distinctly different from the life trajectory mapped out by the expectations of mainstream culture. The most appropriate pathway for an A♾tistic person depends significantly on the surrounding social environment and the stage of life.


A big shout out to A♾tist Daan Verhoeven and his friends, and their incredible work, which I think many Autists will be able to relate to!

After years of struggling with depression, what helped me the most was creating things. Of course I also have to make sure I exercise and eat healthy, but once I combined them all, I had a much better handle on how dark my moods get. And when I discussed that with friends, it turned out this was pretty universal. They might have different creative outlets than my photos and videos, but they all found that making something, anything, be it a new business or a new skill or a book, was vital to them feeling better.

One of those friends is Sofía Gómez Uribe, who in the last couple of years has not only found a whole new way to approach her sport, but she also set up a freediving school in Dominica, creating new opportunities for people to learn and stimulating the local economy. Plus she makes perfect bubble rings, which I thought would be a good way to visually explain the idea of how something we create grows and then in turn, helps to create us. How your changing perspective can guide you to not just see things in a new way, but make new things as well.

– Daan Verhoeven

Stig Pryds is a Danish record holding freediver. He was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2008, which disabled him so much that he lost his business. After 5 years of intense pain and increasing dependency on drugs, he decided to quit all drugs cold turkey, and find alternative ways to deal with his disease. He began practising yoga daily, changed his diet, and started practising freediving. This caused drastic changes: within months he could walk without a cane, and he could play with his two young daughters again.

Stig Pryds on the importance of slowing down, on safety, and on good company:

And most importantly, a Big Thank You to my small & uniquely amazing Autistic ecology of care and to the wider Neuroclastic community of supporters and allies!

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