BLOG ASSESSMENT 2: Cognitive (Dis)Embodiment

How do the ways that autistic’s, bipolar’s, schizophrenic’s, and other ‘neuro-tribes’ (Silberman, 2015, Jaarsma and Welin, 2012) experience the world provide insights into more-than-human lives? To begin to engage with this, it is important to first understand the embodiment and disembodiment of neurodiverse experiences.  Immediately, I want to clarify that such an understanding can only be introductorily generalised, since each person’s experience is profoundly unique and lived (Davidson and Henderson, 2010b), and rarely English-able*.

Cognitive experience is deeply embodied (England, 2016, Bergenmar et al., 2015, Chouinard, 2012, Davidson and Henderson, 2010b, Parr, 1999). The entire physical-ness* of a person blooms from the realities interpreted by their mind (Parr, 1999). Generally, minds happen in a similar manner – neurotypical – with slight variations in each mind allowing for individuality. Some minds operate in vastly different ways – neurodiverse ways – that are sometimes difficult to comprehend given the more severe variations that extend outside the accepted boundaries of ‘normal’ (Jaarsma and Welin, 2012, Parr, 1999).

For some, our cognitive experiences involve disembodiment (Chouinard, 2012). To ‘lose one’s mind’, a common description of the experience of hallucination and delusion, can be a deeply exposing tearing away from the body as the mind spills forth uncontrolled, unbounded (Parr, 1999). Embodiment returns when the mind is once again contained, but the process of psychosis can leave us feeling vulnerable, confused, frightened or for some, empowered and inspired (Chouinard, 2012). Reality becomes something that you are told you are detached from, and yet the experience of psychosis is profoundly real for you (Chouinard, 2012, Parr, 1999). It changes the way that your body knows and relates, becoming embedded in flesh and senses (Parr, 1999).

Delusional disembodiment is often experienced as part of the high’s and low’s of bipolar, as expressed here.

 

For others, our neurodiverse experiences remain embodied, but not necessarily contained. The sensuous world of autism can be simultaneously rapturous and excruciating as the world is experienced brighter, louder, encompassing and drowning the mind with overwhelming bombardments of bodily sensation (Davidson and Henderson, 2010b, Jones et al., 2003). The blended world of synaesthesia (Robertson and Sagiv, 2004), where senses collide and entangle so that we see see scents, hear colours, feel sound, and so on, embodies a perceptual experience of experience!

An interesting example of the embodied sensory experience demonstrated by a simple comparison of a neurotypical and autistic perception of walking down the street.

 

There can be no doubt that neurodiverse experiences cause immense suffering and present significant challenges (Chouinard, 2012, Jaarsma and Welin, 2012, Davidson and Henderson, 2010b). However, the growing body of autobiographical accounts and empowering modes of autonomy are revealing an increasing number of neurodiverse voices that also believe in the great benefits of their embodied and disembodied experiences (Bergenmar et al., 2015, Savarese, 2013, Chouinard, 2012, Jaarsma and Welin, 2012, Davidson and Smith, 2009, Jones et al., 2003). This is our world, this is how we know and do, and sometimes it’s hard, but sometimes it’s really good too.

Unfortunately, neurodiversity occurs in a dominate social paradigm that does not have a good history of accepting difference (Davidson and Henderson, 2010b, Philo, 2005, Wolfe, 1994, Monk and Hanson, 1982). Some studies suggest that much of the difficulty experienced by the neurodiverse is connected to stigma and lack of inclusion and support in society that if amended may make life more accessible to us (Chouinard, 2012, Jaarsma and Welin, 2012, Philo, 2005). The dominant paradigm is, however, being challenged across disciplines that engage with neurodiversity (Savarese, 2013, Jaarsma and Welin, 2012, Davidson and Henderson, 2010a, 2010b, Parr, 1999, Wolfe, 1994).

The courageous disclosure of neurodiverse researchers (England, 2016, Horton and Tucker, 2014, Grandin, 2009, 1992, Prince-Hughes, 2004, 2002) encourages me, as a neurodiverse student, to be a voice for my ‘neuro-tribes’ and our fellows. The decision to disclose is difficult, but empowering (Horton and Tucker, 2014). My embodied ways of knowing and doing give me a particular understanding of the world that is mine alone, yet my privileged academic position also bestow both a platform and responsibility to share something of that understanding towards building a better world. In the case of my contribution, the better world I hope for is a more-than-human one, and so lending my abilities toward a sharing of neurodiverse insights of and with the more-than-human is something worthwhile.

*A characteristic of my neurodiversity is a variation in perception of words. As a result, I derive greater understanding and expression of ideas through self-constructed terminology that is not always correct or ‘legitimate’. However, I would like to start including some of this terminology in my writing as a way of introducing and advocating for the academic inclusion of other ways of knowing and doing associated with neurodiverse worldviews.

 

References:

BERGENMAR, J., ROSQVIST, H. B. & LÖNNGREN, A.-S. 2015. Autism and the Question of the Human. Literature and medicine, 33, 202-221.

CHOUINARD, V. 2012. Mapping bipolar worlds: Lived geographies of ‘madness’ in autobiographical accounts. Health & place, 18, 144-151.

DAVIDSON, J. & HENDERSON, V. L. 2010a. ‘Coming out’on the spectrum: autism, identity and disclosure. Social & Cultural Geography, 11, 155-170.

DAVIDSON, J. & HENDERSON, V. L. 2010b. ‘Travel in parallel with us for a while’: sensory geographies of autism. The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe canadien, 54, 462-475.

DAVIDSON, J. & SMITH, M. 2009. Autistic autobiographies and more-than-human emotional geographies. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 27, 898-916.

ENGLAND, M. R. 2016. Being open in academia: A personal narrative of mental illness and disclosure. The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe canadien, 60, 226-231.

GRANDIN, T. 1992. An inside view of autism. High-functioning individuals with autism. Springer.

GRANDIN, T. 2009. Thinking in pictures, Bloomsbury Publishing.

HORTON, J. & TUCKER, F. 2014. Disabilities in academic workplaces: Experiences of human and physical geographers. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 39, 76-89.

JAARSMA, P. & WELIN, S. 2012. Autism as a natural human variation: Reflections on the claims of the neurodiversity movement. Health Care Analysis, 20, 20-30.

JONES, R. S., QUIGNEY, C. & HUWS, J. C. 2003. First-hand accounts of sensory perceptual experiences in autism: A qualitative analysis. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 28, 112-121.

MONK, J. & HANSON, S. 1982. On not excluding half of the human in human geography. The Professional Geographer, 34, 11-23.

PARR, H. 1999. Delusional geographies: the experiential worlds of people during madness/illness. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 17, 673-690.

PHILO, C. 2005. The geography of mental health: an established field? Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 18, 585-591.

PRINCE-HUGHES, D. 2002. Aquamarine blue 5: Personal stories of college students with autism, Ohio University Press.

PRINCE-HUGHES, D. 2004. Songs of the gorilla nation: My journey through autism, Crown.

ROBERTSON, L. C. & SAGIV, N. 2004. Synesthesia: Perspectives from cognitive neuroscience, Oxford University Press.

SAVARESE, R. J. 2013. Toward a postcolonial neurology: autism, Tito Mukhopadhyay, and a new geo-poetics of the body. Foundations of Disability Studies. Springer.

SILBERMAN, S. 2015. Neurotribes: The legacy of autism and the future of neurodiversity, Penguin.

WOLFE, C. 1994. Learning from Temple Grandin, or, animal studies, disability studies, and who comes after the subject. Mars, 27, 12.

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