It has been distressing me how many people think you can only believe in one framework for understanding an issue - if you believe in one, that means you think it is the only framework necessary. This is deeply incorrect & I want to help you break out of that way of thinking.
This might verge on patronizing, I don’t know, and if so I’m sorry, but critical thinking skills are *skills* that must be taught and practiced and it doesn’t make you stupid if you’re not good at it - it means your education system failed you. You can get this if you want to.
A theoretical framework or model is one way to look at data, categorize it, and derive meaning from it. It is a social construct. The data is not. In the context of autism - autism is a social construct, autistic people are not. Autism is a way to describe what we have in common.
There is some real thing that autism IS - the epigenetic mutations that create it or whatever it turns out to be - but nobody knows what that is so all we have is data and social constructs. The medical model of autism takes that data and categorizes it into traits.
Those traits are compared to other social constructs of data sets - developmental milestones of neurotypical kids, social skills, normative ranges of sensory acuity, etc - remember, those are all social constructs made of more constructs built around data - and differences found.
Those differences are labeled as symptoms, deficits, etc., and put all together in the social construct of “developmental disorder.” This disorder is a disability - a medical deficiency that limits someone’s abilities. That is the medical model.
Now let’s try a different model - the social model. We have the same data - autistic people and everything we do and experience. This time, we measure and categorize the data in a different way. Instead of an outside observer doing it, we ask the autistic people to do it.
Autistic people also observe data about how they socialize, but instead of categorizing it in the social constructs of symptoms and deficit, they come back with categorization of “communication style.” They also notice hindrances to their abilities - same data, new categories.
Instead of sensory processing disorder, they describe lights that are too bright, sounds that are too loud. The social model of disability says that the light is disabling them with its brightness, and if we change the kind of lamp, they will not be disabled by it.
The social model aims to find these disabling factors in society and change them, so they stop disabling people. It changes the definition of society as being created for one kind of person, to being created for all kinds of people. Society has the deficit, not the people.
So these are two ways to look at the same data, decide what they mean, and try to fix a problem. But are there only two ways to look at data? Are there only two possible models? Did all the data get included in each model? Does either model solve every problem? No.
The medical model did not solve the problems and left out a lot of data - everything autistic people saw as a problem. It only focused on the problems from the outside observer’s perspective. Did the social model’s changes mean autistic people have no more health problems? No.
Many of the autistic people’s problems were solved by the social model, but some remained. This requires a different model, or maybe several different models. Think of a physical object. Does it have two perspectives? No, it has 360 degrees of perspectives all the way around.
Looking at the object from a 90 degree angle does not invalidate the perspective from 270 degrees. In fact, both must exist. All data sets will have many, many ways to categorize & interpret them. That’s life. It’s complex. So now we create a revised medical model.
We take the data the autistic people categorized as problems that we couldn’t fix with the social model. We find that they fit data into very different categories than the old medical model. There isn’t a disorder of autism anymore, but there are experiences of GI issues.
Those are categorized in terms of symptoms - nausea, pain - and given names. Now medical research can focus on treating or curing these problems with medicine, surgery, lifestyle change, whatever it may be. Some autistic people may no longer be disabled at all.
Some autistic people may continue to be disabled by these medical issues, but they receive the care they want for the things they see as problems. If more problems remain, we use a new model. And so on. Now autistic people can live the full lives they want to.
Models like these are theoretical frameworks meant for understanding data and solving problems. You do not need to only believe in one model for any given data set, that’s honestly ludicrous. That’s like painting a picture of a vase and insisting it is the vase. It’s not the vase
Frameworks for looking at data should be used or not based on if they’re helpful, if they work, if they cause intentional or unintentional harm, if they provide people the opportunity to consent. The problem is, society presents social constructs as immutable fact.
Society pretends there is no other way to look at data. It uses its categorizations and labels to make it very hard for you to see what the data actually is - because you might categorize it differently than society wants you to. It can be hard for people to deconstruct models.
The way my autistic brain works is I start from the data end - not the model end. I don’t need to deconstruct models, I need to plug data into them. The data is real, the constructs are just lenses to look at it with. Try to see the world that direction. Start with the data.
Don’t let yourself use labels and categorizations. Just the raw data. What do you see? What categorizations solve your problems? What model might make sense to you? What model would you create?
This was just one example, but every model and social construct in the world looks like this. Don’t let anyone convince you there is a binary choice to be made. The social constructs aren’t real, they’re just helpful or not. Use them or not. The data is what’s real.

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More from @erikaheidewald

9 Apr
I was a very existential kid so I don’t remember a time before this & it’s been the biggest struggle of my life. eventually i found a few ideas and ways of thinking that helped me - they’re very specific to me but if any of it helps anyone feeling this way, they’re worth sharing
If nothing matters, then everything matters. it’s the same thing. Every moment of joy for me or someone else matters. every moment I learn something and I like it, that matters. Every time I help someone, that matters. It doesn’t have to go anywhere. I’m detached from the results
there really are no rules. I do not have to listen to ideas I don’t respect and people I don’t respect. This is my one life and I will not let it be limited by people who think the rules of this society mean something. how I feel and what I think about myself are always up to me.
Read 31 tweets
9 Apr
i remember when i was in high school and i very much wanted a diagnosis to describe what was going on with me because without it, that meant everyone was going through what i was going through and i was just worse at handling it and i KNEW that wasn’t true. i needed to prove it.
the problem is we’ve given people only one option besides erasure - diagnosis. there’s only one “get out of conformity free” card and it’s that biologically, medically, you are incapable of doing so, and you have had that affirmed by an authority trusted by the ruling class
THIS IS SUCH A FALSE FUCKING BINARY. the answer isn’t to play their ableist, classist, racist, misogynistic, transphobic, deeply cruel game. we need to refuse to play and start validating and recognizing each other without an authority telling us we have to.
Read 7 tweets
9 Apr
pretty sure this system just sucks and instead of fixing it we pathologize people for the misery it puts us through
i know this society is very resistant to admitting that anxiety and depression might ever be happening for a reason but feeling the immensity of how much the world sucks and that most people don’t give a shit has definitely always played a big part in my depression
i know society has trained everyone to be reactionary, binary thinkers (gee, wonder why) but the fact that external factors might have something to do with depression doesn’t make depression not real. you don’t need a context-free chemical imbalance to be valid
Read 6 tweets
8 Apr
something a lot of neurodivergent people would do well to remember is that not everyone can thrive in this society even with accommodations, & not everyone can live in their brain if they hate it. it’s not a coincidence that most people i see opposed to the social model are white
the specific kind of opposition i’m talking about is white people who see any argument in favor of the social model of disability and any argument for systemic change and shout it down or dismiss it as toxic positivity. systemic change is needed to end white supremacy.
white supremacy is inextricably tied to ableism. ableism is the justification for other kinds of oppression like racism, misogyny, and classism. calling people incapable and inferior makes oppression look natural and unavoidable. do not mock the need for systemic change.
Read 22 tweets
8 Apr
if we really wanna have some fun let’s talk about how fucking traumatizing gym class can be for neurodivergent kids 🙃 i think gym class is a secret neurotypical plan to break the young neurodivergent spirit. make it illegal
the most pitiful moment of my high school experience might have been when we had to do a skills test in volleyball that involved setting the ball off the wall four times in a row. i could not do this and kept sending balls flying around the gym as i begged them to let me stop
people kept telling me that eventually i’d find the sport i was good at so i tried every single sport & i can confidently report back that i am bad at every single sport. i don’t think my body was designed with any physical skills in mind. maybe it’s made for hibernating
Read 4 tweets
8 Apr
the only good thing about homework for me is it gave me something to do in class. that’s the only reason i wasn’t super disruptive bc i definitely couldn’t just pay attention so i did all my homework. any bigger project that i had to do at home i just .. did not do
i would completely forget about the existence of these assignments as soon as i was out of school which ended up in things like me inventing a book to do a book report about bc i forgot that assignment existed until the night before. pulled that one off
it did not go well when we had an assignment of building a musical instrument in science class, which i was supposed to be doing over the course of about two months and i only remembered the weekend before it was due so i built one & it didn’t work. had to play it for the class
Read 8 tweets

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