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Taking neurodiversity into account in social communication: "Be more autistic!"

Taking neurodiversity into account in social communication:

Holly Sutherland, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, begins her webinar by emphasizing the scientific basis of neurodiversity. “Neurodiversity is the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning in our species," she explains. This concept underscores the vast differences in how brains function and process information, challenging the notion of a 'normal' or 'healthy' brain. Sutherland also shares some practical advice: "If you want to take neurodiversity into account in your practice: be more autistic!"

The invisible demands on autistic individuals

A significant part of Sutherland's discussion revolves around the invisible demands autistic individuals face in daily interactions. Sensory differences, executive functioning challenges, and the exhaustive effort of 'masking' to appear neurotypical are major barriers. “Every time this autistic individual who was one of our respondents has a social interaction, she checks her body language, her facial expressions... monitors her eye contact... keeps track of how much she's been speaking... remembers not to interrupt... and tries to actually follow what's being said,” Sutherland illustrates, highlighting the immense effort involved in a simple conversation.

Understanding and self-advocacy

Sutherland advocates for improved self-understanding among autistic individuals and the creation of environments where they feel empowered to advocate for their needs. She shares a quote from a participant, who says, "Now that we all know I'm autistic, my non-autistic friends don't mind when I accidentally interrupt." This understanding and acceptance from peers significantly reduce the social pressures on autistic individuals.

Bridging the double empathy gap

Sutherland touches on the concept of the double empathy problem, which explains the communication difficulties between autistic and non-autistic people due to different experiences and expectations. She suggests that non-autistic individuals should strive to meet autistic individuals halfway to bridge this gap.

Holly Sutherland offers three key action points:

1. Identify invisible demands: Recognize and reduce strains on autistic individuals, like sensory challenges and executive functioning difficulties.

2. Improve understanding: Foster environments where autistic individuals can learn from each other and feel comfortable advocating for their needs.

3. Be more autistic: Encourage non-autistic people to adopt behaviors that are more in line with autistic preferences, such as honesty, routine, and predictability.

Her call to action is clear: society needs to acknowledge, embrace, and adapt to the diverse ways in which people perceive, process, and interact with the world.

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