This page will hold resources relating to the 'In all our stimming brilliance: neurodiversity in contemporary arts practice' course curated by Simon Yuill.
The concept of neurodiversity originally developed in the late 1990s within the autistic community. Although neurodiversity has always included the broader range of what are medically defined as “cognitive disabilities” such as ADHD, Tourette’s, dyslexia and dyspraxia, much of the writing and discussion around neurodiversity has largely been produced by autistic people. Neurodiversity also overlaps with both disability and mental health issues and there is common ground with disability rights activism and movements such as Mad Pride. Whilst the resources listed here are largely from an autistic perspective much of what they offer is of relevance to other neurodivergent people and the broader understanding of neurodiversity.
If you know of resources or organisations that would be relevant but are not included here, please contact the Scottish Artists Union ([email protected]) so we can update this.
Part 1: Enminded and embodied practice
Embodied practice is well-established within contemporary visual and performance arts, the idea that the body and experience of living in a body expresses something more than the depiction of the body itself. Enminded practice foregrounds an awareness of different cognitive styles and processing, emotional modalities and sensory being that integrate with embodied experience. This talk brings three artists, Tzipporah Johnston, Sam Metz and Priya Mistry, who work across a broad range of disciplines, to discuss how their work responds to these practices from a neurodivergent perspective.
Part 2: Neurodivergent curating versus the curation of neurodiversity
Within the visual arts, neurodivergent people have conventionally been present either as subject matter (the enigmatic and eccentric outsider, the silent and unreachable child, etc.), client-recipients for art activities facilitated around neurotypical frameworks of therapy and social integration (often related to concepts of “worthwhile employment”), or as “outsider” artists for whom their neurodivergence is used by dealers and collectors to authenticate a brand. This process could be described as the curation of neurodiversity for the benefit of the neurotypical gaze. In this talk, three practitioners, Sonia Boué, Ashokkumar Mistry and Bruce Phillips, who work as artists, curators and critics, discuss how to counter that through the potentials of neurodivergent-led curation and critical practice.
Links shared in the session:
Ashokkumar Mistry - Autograph article What more is there left to say
Sonia Boué -
Part 3: The practice of neurodivergent life
Many of the medical models applied to those who identify as neurodivergent, such as Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Bipolar Disorder, are based upon the premiss that neurodivergent people are incapable of living a meaningful life on their own terms. In this talk, Fergus Murray and Amy Pearson, two researchers, writers and activists, discuss some of the key concepts and strategies through which neurodivergent communities have challenged such deficit-based doctrines and developed their own models of a meaningful and rich neurodivergent life.
Links shared in the session:
This glossary by Nick Walker is one of the best guides to the new language and terminology that has developed to describe and explain neurodiversity. It explains the meanings behind the terms and provides examples of how to use them correctly: Neurodiversity: Some Basic Terms & Definitions
Jim Sinclair’s Don’t Mourn For Us, a speech given in 1993, was a defining statement in the emergence of autism rights. The word “neurotypical”, initially meaning someone who wasn’t autistic or ADHD, etc., was developed in the discussions that Sinclair’s speech inspired. These discussions paved the way for the later development of concepts such as neurodiversity.
The writer, musician and artist Donna Williams was part of these discussions. Through her autobiographies and other writing, she was one of the first people to give voice to autistic experience from within. Williams’ writings have contributed significantly to understanding the sensory dimension of autistic experience that had largely been ignored by the medical community. The experience of different forms of sensory engagement with the world, that Williams highlighted, is now recognized as one of the key features common to neurodivergent people of all kinds.
The concept of neurodiversity itself developed within early online autistic communities such as the discussion list Independent Living on the Autistic Spectrum (InLv). Drawing on these discussions, sociologist Judy Singer introduced the term “neurodiversity” in her Masters thesis from 1998 that she later published as Neurodiversity: The Birth of an Idea. Singer went on to become a key figure in gaining acceptance for the concept within academic research. Recently, however, Singer has become critical towards the wider development of the neurodiversity movement, especially towards neuroqueer perspectives, and has become a somewhat divisive figure.
Steve Silberman’s book Neurotribes: the legacy of autism and the future of neurodiversity, published in 2015, brought the concept of neurodiversity into mainstream awareness.
Neurodiversity expresses the idea of many different kinds of minds co-existing in a way that is analogous to bio-diversity. It therefore describes a context rather than a type of person. Neurodivergent is a term originally coined by activist Kassiane Asasumasu in 2000 to enable individuals to identify themselves as having brains that diverge from what is considered “normal”. From this perspective it has become a more explicitly political concept that expresses the idea that people with certain cognitive styles are excluded and marginalized by the normative standards of a given society. Many people who are active in the neurodiversity movement today now identify with this more politically aware understanding.
Stims is the use of repetitive sensory actions, such as rocking, humming or flapping hands, that many neurodivergent people rely on for sensory and emotional self-regulation. In this video, Purple Ella, a late-diagnosed autistic adult, looks back at the role of stimming in her life from long before she knew she was autistic: Purple Ella, Autistic Stimming Explained (You Tube)
Stimming has also developed into a form of neurodivergent cultural expression, two of the earliest examples of this being Mel Bagg’s “In My Language” video and Remi Yergeau’s “I stim, therefore I am”.
In these two articles, Ria Person and Susanna Dye talk about stimming in relation to their own dance practice as autistic and dyspraxic people: Ria Person interview, Dancing is Existing
Many neurodivergent people experience prejudice and stigma throughout their lives due to the reactions of other people towards differences in their behaviour and social interactions. In response to this, neurodivergent people often develop “masking” or “camouflaging” strategies to hide behaviours such as stimming or to copy the behaviours of “normal” people so as to fit in. Having to constantly perform in this way puts neurodivergent people under immense personal strain that can lead to significant mental health problems.
Whilst it is not gender-specific, masking appears to be more prevalent and to be adopted at an earlier age by girls and women due to greater societal pressures on them to fit in with their peers. In this video for the Autistic Girls Network, Amy Pearson and Kieran Rose talk about masking: Conversation on Autistic Masking with Dr Amy Pearson and Kieran Rose.
Monotropism is a theory developed by Wenn Lawson and Dinah Murray that describes how the forms of attention and focus that are often distinctive within autistic people can also explain many aspects of the wider cognitive style of autism as well as its strengths and challenges. It is now recognized that monotropism can also apply to other neurodivergent people as well. In this video, Fergus Murray (the child of Dinah Murray) provides an introduction to monotropism: Making sense of autism: Monotropism and the mind as an interest system.
Double-Empathy is a model for understanding how people with different cognitive styles can interact with one another in a way that does not position one side as “abnormal” or “deficient”. The concept was developed by autistic academic Damian Milton as an alternative to the prevalent “theory of mind” model that depicts autistic people as inherently lacking the ability to understand others. This comic strip by Tzipporah Johnston provides an accessible explanation of “Double-Empathy” theory: Explaining the Double-Empathy Theory.
Gender, Sexuality and Queerness
Gender and neurodiversity intersect with one another in a huge variety of ways. A gender bias in favour of the presentation of conditions such as autism and ADHD in boys has led to the exclusion of women and non-binary people from access to diagnosis and support. In this video, Chloe Farahar and Jessica Dark discuss the experiences and consequences of this for women who have only received diagnosis and support later in life: The experience of late diagnosed women: Aucademy educating, Jessica Dark with Chloe.
Studies have shown that there is a greater prevalence of trans and non-binary people within neurodivergent communities along with other minority genders. Some autistic people, for example, identify as “autigender” meaning that their sense of gender is shaped by the experience of being autistic. Sonny Hallett is an illustrator and autism counsellor based in Edinburgh who writes about their experience of being neurodivergent, trans and biracial: Sonny Hallett’s blog.
The idea of sexuality as a spectrum is also something that intertwines with people’s experiences of neurodivergence as a spectrum. The diversity of sexual identities outside of those heteronormative models are more widely acknowledged within the neurodivergent community, such as polysexuality and asexuality. Queer theory and identity have been a major influence in the development of the neurodiversity movement as is highlighted in neuroqueer identity and neuroqueering practice. In this interview, Nick Walker explains the origins and concepts of neuroqueer theory: Dr Nick Walker on Neurodiversity, Neuroqueer Theory and her Autism Diagnosis.
Just as biases around gender impact negatively on neurodivergent people so too do biases around race with people of colour being increasingly subject to prejudice, systemic violence and exclusion from support. In the USA, Morénike Giwa Onaiwu and Lydia X. Z. Brown are two activists addressing this through the concept of racialized autism and who have curated a collection of writing around the topic titled All The Weight of our Dreams. Emma Dalmayne is a UK activist who campaigns around many issues affecting neurodivergent people in this country such as improving mental health support services. In this video she talks with Chloe Farahar about her experience of being an autistic woman of colour:
Trigger Warning: Please note that Chloe and Emma discuss some incredibly distressing topics relating to the mistreatment of Black and Persons of Colour Autistics, there is also mention of rape and death threats that Emma has received for campaigning against harmful “autism treatments”.
Self diagnosis has become a controversial topic through the increased awareness of neurodiversity that has spread on social media. In this video, Alexander Avila discusses the politics and debates that surround the issue: TikTok Gave Me Autism: The Politics of Self Diagnosis.
Conversion Therapy (ABA)
Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) is a form of behavioural conditioning treatment that has become widespread in the treatment of autistic and other neurodivergent people. ABA was originally developed by Ole Ivar Løvaas who incorporated the same techniques in the development of gay and trans conversion therapy in the “Feminine Boy Project”. Whilst this work has now been discredited, the use of ABA in the treatment of autism has grown into a major commercial industry, particularly in the USA where it is often the only form of support available. In this video, the mother of autistic children who had been put through ABA describes the pressures put on families to use ABA and the damage that the therapy can do: Autism| Life After ABA.
The idea of there being “normal” and “abnormal” brains is very much a construct of given cultures and societies. A cognitive styles that is deemed unworthy in one context may well be highly valued in another. There is always a political basis towards the acceptance and exclusion of different neurotypes and what forms of recognition and support different people, and groups within society, are able to access. This has been explored by the philosopher Robert Chapman who writes about the relationships between the emergence of modern capitalism, eugenics, the idea of the “normal” brain and current forms of cognitive exploitation: Critical Neurodiversity.
Neurodivergent arts organisations & projects in Scotland
Neuk Collective – A collective run by and for neurodivergent artists in Scotland. Neuk run workshops supporting neurodivergent artists and for arts organizations working with neurodivergent people.
Autistic Artists Reasearch Group (AARG) – A group run by artists at Project Ability.
Scottish Neurodiverse Performance Network – A group run by and for neurodivergent artists working in the performing arts in Scotland.
Aimee Fletcher, University of Glasgow – Aimee is an autistic researcher looking at how museums and galleries can improve access for neurodivergent people.
Neurodivergent-led support organisations in Scotland
Autistic Mutual Aid Society Edinburgh (AMASE) – One of the first neurodivergent-led organizations in Scotland, AMASE provide support and advocacy for autistic people living in Edinburgh.
Autism Understanding Scotland – A neurodivergent-led organization based in Aberdeen.
Autism Rights Group Highland (ARGH) – Based in Inverness, this neurodivergent-led organisation provides support and meetings for autistic people in the Highlands.
Dyspraxia Scotland Adults – A Facebook group run for and by dyspraxic people to provide support and meet-ups.
Scottish Women’s Autistic Network (SWAN) – A neurodivergent-led organisation providing support for women and non-binary people. SWAN also provide resources and training to organisations.
Scottish Ethnic Minority Autistics (SEMA) – A neurodivergent-led organization for Black, Brown and Ethnic Minority Autistic Scots. SEMA provide advocacy, education and run regular webinars.
Time Out Scotland – A peer support group that runs meetings for people with depression, anxiety, bipolar, phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder.