Art, Ecology and Autism

In case it hasn’t become clear through my recent posts Neuroqueer and Shedding Skin on the Queer River site, and Masking on here, I’ve recently discovered that I’m Autistic.

It’s been a massive thing to process. I haven’t had an official ‘diagnosis’ yet as I write this, as I wanted to write a post about my own thoughts and feelings before I deal with the ‘medicalised’ version. I’m expecting the assessment/diagnosis process (update on that at the end) to focus on disorders, delays and abnormalities, but I don’t see it that way.

So how do I see it? Well that’s a work in progress. To discover you are autistic at almost 50 is pretty mind-blowing. Looking back at your life and realising why you are the way that you are – the good bits and the more challenging times. But basically if I wasn’t autistic I wouldn’t be me, and I like me, I like what I’ve achieved in my work over the years and the friends and family that I have gathered along the way, and none of that would exist without autism.

A paddle in the River Avon – photo: Leigh Chalmers

Autism isn’t something you can take away, something you can heal or mend or cure. It’s genetic, it’s neurological, and it is an integral part of who you are.

‘Autism is a genetically-based human neurological variant. The complex set of interrelated characteristics that distinguish autistic neurology from non-autistic neurology is not yet fully understood, but current evidence indicates that the central distinction is that autistic brains are characterized by particularly high levels of synaptic connectivity and responsiveness…’

Nick Walker, What is Autism?

Collected stones

There’s so much rubbish out there about autism, some of it by people that should really know better, and I’ve learned that the most reliable insights come from other autistic people, who are the experts on their own lives. I’m currently reading Neuroqueer Heresies by Nick Walker, hence all the quotes included here (thank you to Nick for her insights), and have been bingeing on videos from a range of autistic Youtubers and researchers (including Yo Samdy Sam and the Aucademy network).

As my autism is an inherent part of me, it’s also an inherent part of my arts practice. I am extremely empathic, which is sometimes tricky when other people’s emotions are overpowering, my mirror neurons work on overdrive (I’m assuming that’s what’s happening – see this article), which can be intense, but it’s also what has made me such an effective connector and communicator when working within education and health settings.

I am also drawn to explore the relationship between the parts of a system, whether an ecological, social or cultural system, and the interconnections between them, which informs my work on people’s relationship to place, and the climate/ecological crisis.

Mixed-media artwork in Savernake Forest

My artwork maps and makes sense of individual experiences, focusing on embodied and artful ways of knowing the world, exploring what we can learn from such processes, and how each of our individual experiences interconnect to form the whole. I don’t as some assume about autistic people, miss the bigger picture by focusing on the details, but build the bigger picture through an exploration and piecing together of those details. Questioning established/inherited ways of seeing the world, with their inherent assumptions about which experiences/perspectives are of value.

As I’ve written before in relation to Queer perspectives (see A Queer Path to Wellbeing for Climate Cultures), when you don’t fit in, you have to find your own ways of relating to the world of which you are a part, from the bottom up.

Hyper sensitivity to sensory information can also be a part of autism. Walking, drawing and making provide me with ways to process these high levels of sensory information that I experience, the emotional cues I pick up fom other people, and the connections that my brain and body find between them.

Walking Pages (detail)

I’m very much at the beginning of my autism journey, and these are my initial thoughts. I’ve begun a deep dive into the world of neurodivergent people, and the neurodiversity paradigm, I’m learning from other ND (neurodivergent) artists and researchers, and am passionate about using my own research to learn what neurodivergent people can offer the arts, environmentalism and a different kind of future.

The social dynamics that manifest in regard to neurodiversity are similar to the social dynamics that manifest in regard to other forms of human diversity (e.g., diversity of ethnicity, gender, or culture). These dynamics include the dynamics of social power inequalities, and also the dynamics by which diversity, when embraced, acts as a source of creative potential.

Nick Walker, Neuroqueer Heresies

So there it is, it’s ‘out there’ now, which is exciting and a little bit scary, not because of autism, but because of the outdated and stereotypical images/ideas that spring to most people’s minds when they hear the word Autism, and the assumptions they make about us.

The idea that there is one “normal” or “healthy” type of brain or mind, or one “right” style of neurocognitive functioning, is a culturally constructed fiction, no more valid (and no more conducive to a healthy society or to the overall well-being of humanity) than the idea that there is one “normal” or “right” ethnicity, gender, or culture.’

Nick Walker, Neuroqueer Heresies

My planned next steps are to keep reading about and listening to other ND people’s perspectives, to draw and write about my own way of seeing the world, and to include walks with other ND people as part of my Queer River research (see here for a recent post on a walk with Geographer Joe Jukes).

If you’re interested in being involved, or commissioning me as part of this work, please do get in touch.

PS. I wanted to emphasise that this post is about me and my feelings and research, I’m not claiming to represent any other autistic people. Since writing this I’ve had my assessment interview (and met all the criteria for autism), which was made so much easier by how warm, kind and supportive my ‘interviewer’ was. The questions are still problematic I think, in their wording and focus, but we found our way through them together. Thank you Kim

2 thoughts on “Art, Ecology and Autism

  1. Reblogged this on and commented:

    Reposting this new blog post that I originally published on the Art, Ecology and Learning site, ahead of new planned Queer River walks exploring Neurodivergebt perspectives


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