Book review by Katie Munday (they/them)
I was so eager to read Nick Walker’s new book Neuroqueer Heresies that I was gifted it as an early Christmas present, and I was not disappointed.
Neuroqueer Heresies: Notes on the Neurodiversity Paradigm, Autistic Empowerment, and Postnormal Possibilities collects Walker’s essays, originally shared through her website (neuroqueer.com), as well as her new pieces on terminology, language and disability models. The book is split into three sections: The Neurodiversity Paradigm; Autistic Empowerment; and Postnormal Possibilities.
The first section defines the pathology and neurodiversity paradigms, advocating for a shift in language and understanding on both an individual and cultural level. Here, Walker shares a thoughtful commentary on the importance of language on perception, culture, and identity of both Autistic persons and wider society. Walker suggests that Autistic liberation should start with throwing away the master’s tools – stigmatising narratives, exclusion, and oppression – so that Autistic people may be recognised and treated as an important part of human diversity. Within this section, Walker also challenges ideas of functioning labels, asking the very important question: “who gets to decided what the proper ‘function’ of an individual human should be?” (p.27).
The second section – Autistic Empowerment – sets out a critical definition of autism based around the neurodiversity paradigm and takes a closer look at the ideas which inform the use of person-first language. Walker observes that using the word “disorder” for Autistic people and Autistic experiences is based on stigma not scientific knowledge. In my favourite chapter: Person First Language is the Language of Autisphobic Bigots, Walker uses her finessed approach to argue against the use of person first-language (“people with autism”). She suggests that being Autistic is a fundamental and inseparable part of a person, and that those who use person-first language are doing so to fulfil their own normative fantasies. Walker finishes the chapter by suggesting that these people need not explain themselves, just simply “do better”.
The third and final section challenges ideas of hetero- and neuro-normativity, highlighting their absurdity by exploring how they dampen humanities beautiful weirdness. In this section, Walker outlines neuroqueer as an “intentional noncompliance with the demands of normative performance.” (p.175). As a multiply Queer Autistic person I find this idea astounding delicious. It speaks to me of a Neuroqueer anarchy – over throwing oppressive systems that would have us all be the same.
The only issue I had with this book is that it was repetitive in parts, but this is not uncommon in anthologies, and it does not retract from the content.
Overall, Neuroqueer Heresies is an interesting, thought-provoking, and well thought out book. The love for her subject is apparent and the format makes the most of the topic, allowing Walker to contextualise and then reflect on her older work, interspersed with her more recent ideas. This book is a triumphant call to arms for all of us to be more beautifully weird.
Happy Neuroqueering, folks!
Katie Munday (they/them) was diagnosed Autistic in their late 20s. They have worked with Autistic and Disabled children since 2012 through nursery work, social groups and sports clubs. Katie is currently studying an MRes in Gender Studies – their research aims to collect and represent first-hand experiences of transgender and / or non-binary Autistic people. Sharing these stories has been a long-term passion of Katie’s as they appreciate that they are an important part of human diversity. Katie reviews books for Routledge Publishers and also contributes to an LGBTQIA+ Autistic blog called AIM for the Rainbow. They are also a new mum and in their spare time (!) they enjoy anything to do with wrestling, drag, D&D, fantasy and comic books. They can be contacted on Twitter and Facebook under the name Autistic and Living the Dream.