Hyper-plasticity predisposes us to have strong associative reactions to trauma. Our threat-response learning system is turned to high alert. The flip side of this hyper-plasticity is that we also adapt quickly to environments that are truly safe for our nervous system.
The stereotypes of meltdowns and self-harm in autism come from the fact that we frequently have stress responses to things that others do not perceive as distressing. Because our unique safety needs are not widely understood, growing up with extensive trauma has become our default.
Because of our different bio-social responses to stimulus, autistic people have significant barriers to accessing safety.
“Autistic people have significant barriers to accessing safety.”
“We also adapt quickly to environments that are truly safe for our nervous system.”
That really resonates and calls to mind this passage of mine from “Classroom UX: Designing for Pluralism”:
Since reading NeuroTribes, I think of psychologically & sensory safe spaces suited to zone work as “Cavendish bubbles” and “Cavendish space”, after Henry Cavendish, the wizard of Clapham Common and discoverer of hydrogen. The privileges of nobility afforded room for his differences, allowing him the space and opportunity to become “one of the first true scientists in the modern sense.”
Let’s build psychologically safe homes of opportunity without the requirement of nobility or privilege. Replace the trappings of the compliance classroom with student-created context, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), and BYOC (Bring/Build Your Own Comfort). Let’s hit thrift stores, buy lumber, apply some hacker ethos, and turn the compliance classroom into something psychologically safe and comfortable to a team of young minds engaged in passion-based learning. Inform spaces with neurodiversity and the social model of disability so that they welcome and include all minds and bodies. Provide quiet spaces for high memory state zone work where students can escape sensory overwhelm, slip into flow states, and enjoy a maker’s schedule. Provide social spaces for collaboration and camaraderie. Create cave, campfire, and watering hole zones. Develop neurological curb cuts. Fill our classrooms with choice and comfort, instructional tolerance, continuous connectivity, and assistive technology.
In other words, make space for Cavendish. Make spaces for both collaboration and deep work.
There isn’t much psychological or sensory safety to be found in schools or workplaces. I spent a lifetime trying and ended up helping start a fully distributed company built on written communication so I could work from home in a sensory space and communication culture curated to my needs.
Create Cavendish space in our schools and workplaces. Create safety accessible to autistic people. Neurological pluralism makes for good, universal design.
- Design for Neurological Pluralism with Caves, Campfires, and Watering Holes
- Positive Niche Construction, Differentiated Instruction, and Neurological Pluralism
- Dandelions, Tulips, Orchids and Neurological Pluralism
- Comfortable Niche Construction
- A Triptych of Triptychs for Designing for Neurological Pluralism
- Bring the backchannel forward. Written communication is the great social equalizer.
- Democratizing Text: Multiplicities, Bicycles for the Mind, and Neurological Pluralism
- Projects, Teams, and Psychological Safety
- Affinity Groups, Psychological Safety, and Inclusion
- Opportunity but Not Pressure
- Autism, Trauma, and Stress
- Autism, Stress, and Flow States