Rallying a battle cry that echoes throughout the abyss.
That was the title of the first diary entry I wrote after completing Mixed Face. I detailed my hopes, fears and aspirations for the future, with an optimism that sustains my momentum in the face of insurmountable odds.
An epistolary is a novel created from letters or diary entries. I only discovered this word a few weeks ago, yet this is exactly what I had spent last year creating. This blog was a way to share the thoughts, ideas and feelings that I do not record in private. These ideas are the type I am likely to discuss with anyone who will listen. The problem is – not many people are willing or able to converse with me in this way.
Verbal conversations are a minefield. I never seem to say what I mean and forget to say what I need. Often, hours after a conversation has ended, it still plays in my mind. Most of the time, the thoughts just flow without bothering me too much. Quite frequently, I perceive something hours later that I ought to have noticed at the time – it’s exasperating despite the fact I tend to respond with humour.
Today I was asked a question that I have been asked many times before. I seem to lack the capacity to verbalise why I am working towards an academic career. What am I going to do with a PhD?
The same work that led me to the word epistolary helped me understand the qualification I have just completed. MRes – Master of Research is an advanced postgraduate qualification that specialises in the humanities and social sciences. It is designed as a preparation for doctoral research and is equal to a Master of Philosophy.
The purpose of a PhD is to generate new knowledge. The purpose of science is discovery. To answer the unanswered questions that are still equivocal is the ultimate goal.
My purpose in pursuing a PhD is to combine my artistic potential with scientific research – not only to produce innovative knowledge but creatively disseminate it. A decade ago I gave up dance – now I am resurrecting that musical essence from within me. I will create an epistolary of autism with a new epistemology of the mind. I maintain that people like me are human. Not broken.
Neurodiversity is the idea that Autism Spectrum Disorder is a natural variant of the human mind. My PhD will explore the possibility that autism is akin to other natural differences such as gender and ethnicity. Intersectional aspects of human existence must be considered in relation to the lived experiences of people who are different. We do not need a cure. We need understanding.
The idea of ‘neurological pluralism’ can be traced to a journalist named Harvey Blume who observed back in 1997 that the internet was enabling people with autism to communicate their own perspective. He compared it to the importance of sign language among the deaf – “By filtering out the sensory overload that impedes communication among autistics, the Internet opens vast new opportunities for exchange.” This is why I choose to openly express these ideas. This is my language.
A better understanding of the mind will help more than people with autism. Many studies that have been published in the last three years that appear to connect knowledge about anxiety, depression, Dementia, PTSD and Schizophrenia. We can barely define what the mind is – how can we determine when one is broken?
I have come across some truly distressing research and news stories relating to the tragic life experience of autism. One study suggested that the life expectancy for even high-functioning autistic people is only in the mid-fifties. The number one cause of death? Suicide. The same can be said for people who suffer from depression and PTSD. Some autistic children are murdered by their parents because they believed that death was better than an autistic existence.
My understanding of philosophy is that the subject is concerned with unveiling the hidden questions that arise from the consequences of knowledge created by all the subjects that are derived from it. Knowledge itself is the central concern. Not just what we know but how we justify how we know it.
Science has determined that autism is a disease that causes disability. My research will establish that this may not be the case – at least not all the time.
In the past, I have advised people who were looking for guidance to simply go with what feels right. This is what feels right to me. What would be the purpose of this insatiable curiously if I fail to do something positive with it?
The work I am producing through academia is important. My phenomenological knowledge enables me to give voice to the silenced autistic perspective.
I am an autistic philosopher and social scientist researching the neurotypical world.
This is more than an original contribution to academia –
It is just the start.