Neurodiversity and Disability Related Passages from “Trust Kids!: Stories on Youth Autonomy and Confronting Adult Supremacy”

Large flowers hold up a gathering of people and a tower. Text superimposed over the flowers reads: Trust Kids! Stories on Youth Autonomy and Confronting Adult Supremacy Edited by carla jov bergman Foreword by Matt Hern

Over in the Human Restoration Project Discord community, we’re about to start our next book club selection: “Trust Kids!: Stories on Youth Autonomy and Confronting Adult Supremacy

I was happy to see some great neurodiversity and disability related passages in the book, excerpted below.

Yet the frequently uttered message “you are not broken” is more often than not an erasure of trauma. In some sense, due to their trauma, they’re all a bit broken, like most of us.

Trust Kids! (2022 edition) | Open Library

trust kids to be kids in a world that does not want them to be kids. trust kids to be kids.
to be neurodivergent.
neuroemergent.
neurodifferent.
neurofabulous.
neurodimensional.
neuroqueer.
trust kids to be.
trust (these) kids.
trust (those) kids too.
trust kids / all kids / sad kids / mad kids / happy kids / Black kids / Indigenous kids / magical kids / anxious kids / quiet kids / outspoken kids / undocumented kids / adopted kids / thoughtful kids / tree-climbing kids / naming-all-the-frogs-George kids / otherworld otherworld-daydreaming kids / mutain’eering kids / screaming kids / joyful kids / disabled kids / grieving kids / autistic kids / sick kids / scared kids / hurt kids / traumatized kids /
non-verbal kids / compassionate kids / empathetic kids / system kids / hypervigilant kids / voice-hearing kids / stimming kids / hungry kids / tired kids / ticcing kids / hopeful kids / trans kids / queer kids / intersex kids / 2SLGBTQIAA+ kids / all (and we mean all) kids. because this list is not exhaustive of kids to trust
how about
just
trust (all) kids.

Probably connected to the times in which it was created, in the world of X-Men, parents are assumed to be unable to accept the differences among their mutant children, and these mutants are only saved through the hand of a non-parental other, and the state-like institutions they are part of. This assumes that a parental figure can never truly come to understand the differences among their children and that what the kids need instead is to be warehoused in some kind of “alternative” institution, one that supports the colonial state, so they can be molded and turned into good citizens.

How does this relate to our worlds? We think that “mutants” can be read not only as a metaphor for the alienating feeling of being young in an adult world, but also as a metaphor for neurodivergence and madness. The number of people—of all ages—who are being diagnosed and self-diagnosing as neurodivergent has proliferated in the last two decades. We see part of this breaking open of differences as correlating to the immense degree of hyperstimulation, global catastrophe, and isolation that has escalated in the last twenty years. We aren’t necessarily saying “that this correlation is evolutionary, but that, for many reasons, we are now seeing that more and more people have been revealed to be on the margins of contemporary society than before. To us, “t is also the result of years of activists breaking down barriers, our increased access to information, and the dissemination of personal stories. As well, it’s often easier to place blame on the individual for not fitting in (to school, etc.) due to their differences, rather than critique schools and other intuitions as the places that are not working. For this essay, we’re interested in talking about “mutants” in the contemporary context: those who have started to transform away from/shed the veils and masks of the oppressive environments in which they and their recent ancestors have lived.”

“I think it’s important to remember that people’s behavior always exists within their own social context. The ways that teenagers are—the supposedly immutable patterns of behavior culturally ascribed to teens—exist within a society in which they are oppressed, stripped of power, surveilled (by parents or other guardians, schools, and by police), criminalized, and controlled. I would suggest that basing our understanding of teenage behavior on a population existing under oppression, shut away from the rest of society in schools, with very little power or freedom, does not represent an accurate picture of what teens are innately like. I would also suggest that much of what is cast as “bad” behavior is not inherently bad; it’s simply inconvenient or dangerous to power.”

CW: ableist language

“Within the western developmental paradigm, any failure to escape childhood—that is, to achieve and maintain the complete form and abilities associated with adulthood—is considered a tragic and lamentable failure to become human. Thus, disability is defined as an interruption in the “normal” and “natural” fulfillment of the ontogenic telos of human development from infant to mature adult. A childing lens rejects the notion that adulthood is an achievement and recognizes it simply as a different way of being fully human, which exists alongside other modalities of human agency associated with care and interdependence, which are neither unnecessary nor inferior to adult forms of agency.

To address disability, we must understand that it is structured according to a degraded notion of childhood as a stage closer to animal than human. We see this expressed in the way levels of intellectual or cognitive “disability” are indexed against alleged stages of childhood development. Not only is IQ an age-based metric of intelligence, but the terminology of cognitive disability itself (i.e., fool, moron, idiot, imbecile, etc.) are all defined with reference to the child’s progression through various intellectual benchmarks. The “moron” is someone whose cognitive development is that of someone between the ages of ten to twelve years old. The “imbecile” has the mental age of someone four to ten years old. The “idiot” has the mind of someone three years old or younger. Historically, these classifications have corresponded to distinct forms of labor—the labor deemed suitable for children of different ages, as well as adults who cognitively or intellectually remain children, mired in a world of necessity and immediacy rather than freedom and transcendence. And so, IQ and “feeble-mindedness” become a way of designating adults to the labor normally designated “to children.

To be intellectually disabled, then, is to be fixed or arrested at an arbitrarily designated stage of childhood development. Likewise, to be physically disabled is to require assistance to move, walk, grasp, or eat in the way we must assist an infant or toddler. In general, disability is shorthand for the dependence of the child and their ethical demand for care, which we already view as a regrettable impingement on the exercise of adult freedom. Without the concept of the adult as a being who defines what it means to be fully human vis-à-vis their abilities to think and act, which is posed in contradistinction to the developing child who is unable to function as fully human, there is no basis for the idea of arrested development or disability. Childing disability entails the elimination of the teleological framework of human development from child to adult, and a recognition of different forms of human as fully human irrespective of age or capacity. This also bears on the participation of differently abled folks in political life.”

Stephanie told me that her autistic child, Zachary, was in a constant state of distress at school, and that he would bring that distress home to the family each afternoon. Stephanie first tried to advocate for accommodations at the local public school, and when that did not work, she enrolled him in the most progressive school she could find. Yet she still found herself physically prying his fingers from the door frame each morning to go to school, and trying to find ways to ameliorate the compounding symptoms of physical illness that seemed to stem from the stress. Zachary felt trapped in environments where he was expected—so adults could feel comfortable—to contain his emotions, ideas, and movements.

When young people are in distress, adults often attempt to help the child manage through it. This rarely benefits the child, as the causes of the distress are usually external. Depending on their identities and places of being, young people can be impacted by the wide variety of social, economic, and legal forms of oppression that adults also face. Other than those who are incarcerated, no group of people are more routinely denied autonomy over their bodies and minds than young people. Autonomy is a basic human need, and distress in response to violations of that autonomy is not a defect of the child. We can change the context for these young people by removing the oppressive practices and structures that are placed upon and inhibit the autonomy of children.

“As a result of Stephanie’s decision to move Zachary from an environment that disregarded his personal autonomy to one that openly acknowledged it, many of Zachary’s struggles quickly disappeared, and the quality of his life and that of his family improved substantially. For example, the tussling each morning at the door disappeared, and Zachary and his family avoided a stressful event at the beginning of the day, which helped head off a cascade of follow-on crises.”

It began when some teachers and schools wanted to drug and kick Zach out of mainstream spaces for his difference, which is autism—despite the school system wanting to label his behavior as ADHD. Instead of complying, we sought out radical and alternative spaces, for both education and community, finding communities where folks were trying to think about how kids can be fully part of a community in liberated and autonomous ways. The key word here is radical because broadly speaking, in the youth liberation movement, there are many permutations of ways that adults work to create better spaces for (or with) youth to exercise their autonomy and power.

Trust Kids! (2022 edition) | Open Library

“Trust Kids!” is currently 50% off at publisher AK Press.

Related reading,

Published by Ryan Boren

#ActuallyAutistic retired technologist turned wannabe-sociologist. Equity literate education, respectfully connected parenting, passion-based learning, indie ed-tech, neurodiversity, social model of disability, design for real life, inclusion, open web, open source. he/they

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