Autism and the Neurodiversity Paradigm (or, how to not harm your autistic clients)

If you work in holistic health, this post is for you. There’s ridiculous misinformation on this topic and the easy fix is to learn about autism from autistics, like this essay I quote below, “I’m not “less autistic” when I am healthier“.

Public understanding tends to see autism as a collection of behaviors and reactions to neurological stress, but that’s just because we don’t recognize autistics when they’re not displaying those stereotypical behaviors, or when their lives are less stressed and healthier.

Autism is a lifelong, natural-born form of human diversity with a lot of beauty, that has always been part of humankind – our nervous systems and brains are hyper-connected, making for different perception, attention, communication and movement. This creates an intense world, intense enough to be disabling in the societies we’ve built. So with that extra vivid sensory wiring we experience trauma, stress and pain from things non-autistics don’t recognize as painful (and beauty and pleasure and curiosity from things non-autistics don’t experience as gorgeous too). In an increasingly fast-paced capitalist society, it can’t be unexpected that diagnoses are going up as more autistic people are disabled by structures and assumptions built for a narrow definition of normalcy.

The public points at the reactive behaviors, the attempts to cope with trauma, and calls them autism, sometimes even interpreting them as the onset of it. Not at all so. Throughout our lives, stress will make our reactions look ‘more autistic’ in stereotypical ways as other coping skills falter – it suddenly becomes apparent to others. Understanding of the inner experience of autism has been shifting from pathology-based to neurodiversity-based, with the advances in communication technology that allow nonspeaking and speaking autistics to share their voices. There will never be a ‘cure’ for autism, it’s impossible to remove something so integral to a person, most of us would never want it anyway, and trying to change our wiring kills us young. A spruce will never become a pine, no matter the setting and care.

From the essay ——–

“”Homosexuality” used to be in the DSM but we have evolved socially since then.

Health and wellness communities have become terrible places where ableist people congregate and spout hate that is masquerading as being about health. They have become places I cannot bear to be in, and there have been former friends who are no longer so because I could no longer reconcile their unapologetic ableism in the guise of ‘wellness’’ or ‘facts about health’.

It has become expected in the current social climate to see an autistic person doing better as a result of a more healthful life (in whatever way that means for them), interpreted as a “reduction” in being autistic, with “going up the spectrum” or “changing functioning level”, or even that now this person is “not autistic anymore”, or never really was. There is also the belief that autistic people don’t exist as such (but that autism is simply a bunch of physical symptoms that point to illness) and that we can cause the illusion of being autistic to disappear by healthful changes to peoples’ lives.

It is common for society generally, to lack an understanding of what being autistic means. That suggests that we are ill equipped to evaluate what autism is and isn’t. If we are going to speak about some of the ways we show hatred for autistic people and the ways this manifests even when we think we are helping; what being autistic actually means seems like a good place to begin. Most people do not know how to separate being autistic and the lived experiences of autistic people, from the list of deficits and symptoms currently used to diagnose autism. Many of you reading this, are probably considering this for the first time. But yes, autism is much more than a list of symptoms in the DSM! This is something that autistic people can show us, through their rich, complex, difficult, wonderful lives. We cannot hope to understand this from medical professionals, therapists, researchers, or by reading the things that come up when you Google “autism”.

Example: Child is identified as autistic and has problems with sleeping that there is no obvious reason for. The parents seek medical advice and realise that their child is intolerant to milk protein. After a period of time of trialling eating without milk protein, their child begins sleeping better. This has flow on effects into other areas of this child’s life. They become less irritable, are less prone to crying over small matters, and have more energy for playing. This child still acts like an autistic child, but because their parent is not very informed about autism (has not spoken to or read the work of autistic people) they think their child has become “like a new child”, and falsely link this back to their child being autistic.

Parent: Maybe my child isn’t autistic at all. Misdiagnosis is such a big problem! Don’t you dare label my child with anything!

So, how should we look at autistic kids who benefit from things like not eating food they are intolerant or allergic to, spending lots of time with supportive people, having meaningful friendships, receiving medical support that helps them, connecting with others with their disability, having calming bedtime routines that help them and their families sleep better and more soundly, or any other thing that helps them to do well in their lives? We could look at these things the same way we look at the same things in non autistic children – as evidence that all people can thrive in the right environments. If we meet the needs of our autistic community members, they can thrive and become the best versions of themselves. We do not need to be ableist while discussing these things.”

Go read the rest of this great piece, “I’m not “less autistic” when I am healthier” at Suburban Autistics

Bioregional Resources

Harvest questions beyond identification

Can I align my harvest and tending patterns with community goals and concerns for habitat? Can I gather in a way that honors the current needs and long-term balance of pollinators and wildlife?

Do I know how to gather effectively in shared connection with the plants, to be guided by their needs as well as mine?

Do I understand how and where this species repopulates, and how its population numbers stand locally and broadly?

Do I know which ecosystem and hillside is home to the plants I’m looking for? Have I been watching this patch for awhile? How does my harvest area look from last year? How’s it look over many years?  In wet and drought years?

Can I make use of an invasive? 

Can I learn enough uses of the most common plants around me to reduce my dependence on purchasing shipped, endangered, and ‘miracle’ herbs?

Do I know where the grandparents are?

Do I know which plant part and when to gather and whether to propagate intentionally, shaking seed or spore or slipping cuttings in? Or is this instead a time to take care to pluck out every last bit of root and rhizome, and protect the seeds from spreading?

Can I leave the area undisturbed with little visible sign of harvest, and ready for regrowth?

What other habitat needs should I be watching for while I’m in that area? Is my usual patch under stress this year?

Do I have a plan, materials and time set aside for processing before I go? Have I figured out about how much I’ll use in a reasonable time for the preparation form I’ve chosen?

Do I understand the legalities and courtesies of exactly where I’m gathering, whether I need a permit or permission to gather, whether it’s only ok for personal use or to sell a little of what I collect and make?

Am I ready to tune myself to the other way to listen?


Colorado’s Major Tree Species

Native Trees of Colorado

Guide to Salida Trees

Native Trees of Colorado

Wildflowers of Colorado

Colorado Plants

Berries of Colorado

Ethnobotanical Notes from the Valley of San Luis, Colorado

Colorado Native Plant Society (local resource page)

Flora of Colorado – most complete guidebook for the state

Plants of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area

Noxious weeds of Colorado

  • Cypress spurge. Euphorbia cyparissias.
  • Giant reed. Arundo donax.
  • Hairy willow-herb. Epilobium hirsutum.
  • Knotweeds. Japanese, Giant, and Bohemian.
  • Mediterranean sage. Salvia aethiopis.
  • Myrtle spurge. Euphorbia myrsinites.
  • Orange hawkweed. Hieracium aurantiacum.
  • Purple loosestrife. Lythrum salicaria.


Salida Trail Ecological Restoration Project is increasing songbird and pollinator habitat. “Our methods are simple and so far, have proved very successful. Using volunteers, and for the past three seasons, the SCC crews, we hand-pull invasive annual weeds including kochia, tumbleweed and cheatgrass, and grub out or cut down noxious perennial weeds including Canada thistle, yellow and white sweet clover, Siberian elm, and Russian olive. We plant native plants to replace these invasive weeds, either hand-broadcasting seed mix and bark mulch (the city provides the latter, which we really appreciate!), or planting nursery-grown native shrubs and trees in habitat ‘islands.'”

Drier conditions could doom Rocky Mountain fir and spruce trees “Rising temperatures have increased the rate of tree mortality across the American west, including subalpine forests in the Colorado Front Range, making it imperative for spruces and firs to establish successfully and regularly in order to replace fallen cohorts. In subalpine coniferous forests, seedling establishment occurs when large quantities of available seeds coincide with favorable climate conditions. The findings suggest that seedling establishment in Colorado will continue to decline in the coming years, given future climate predictions. Identifying the frequency of establishment events and the required conditions will be essential for land managers as they forecast how climate warming will affect subalpine forests going forward, Andrus said. “The first step is to identify the problem and give land managers a heads up that this is happening,” Andrus said. “We’re even seeing this same phenomenon occurring at lower elevations too in species such as the Ponderosa pine. The goal of our research is to characterize long-term trends in our forests that might not be immediately apparent.””

Arkansas River Report Card: C   “The upper Arkansas River valley, famous for trout fishing and whitewater rafting, is home to Browns Canyon National Monument and the longest stretch of gold medal fishing waters in Colorado. Unfortunately, the headwaters of the Arkansas River are tainted by mining pollution. There have been various reclamation and clean-up efforts that have improved the river from its previous state of severe water quality impairment, but the fight is not over, as pollution from these sites continues to impact the riverWhile much of the upper stretch of river has improved considerably, not enough water is sent downstream past Colorado Springs and Pueblo to farmers who struggle to irrigate their crops. It’s important to continue the progress already being made in the basin to improve quality and meet demand.


US Fish and Wildlife

How to Lure Pollinators to your Colorado Garden

20+ Great Plants to Attract Butterflies and Bees in Colorado

Selecting Plants for Pollinators


Herbal Allies for Sensitives


Here’s a wonderful piece from Worts & Cunning, Herbs and Essences for Empaths and Highly Sensitive People.

I’d add cedar used as an energetic or essence, for very protective boundary enforcing so you can rest, for connecting a sense of grounding (moist earth) with purpose (sky) and by doing this creating a sense of balanced, adaptive tension (gentle wind swaying). I like tincture single drop doses (yeah it’s gummy), just having it around, or closing the third eye and lower belly/sacrum with a homemade cedar oil when needing to tune out

People who consider themselves empaths or HSPs will enrich our communities and their own lives by learning about the neurodiversity paradigm. As we develop a common language and the eyes to recognize societal and built and relational enforcements of neurotypicality for the pervasive violence they are, the less traumatizing and more welcoming society will become for autistics and all divergent folk along the edges

Tending the Land

Harvest must always be in the context of a forager’s responsibility and choices in paying it forward for the longterm health and biodiversity of our region. Swelling numbers of herbalists taking from the land are bad news… but a wave of us committed to deeply learning and tending our local lands over time are exactly the medicine in moving forward.

With 80% public lands surrounding us, our concerns are different than in this article but very intertwined. Click the image for a good read: Finding a Way Towards Ethical & Sustainable Wildcrafting: Community Supported Foraging.



Deep Roots Herbal Foundations series coming up Monday!
Tap into your inner knowing and build your earth medicine skills.

Sharing a glimpse of the space I work with, and the field of consciousness we’ll be playing in with our somatobotanical practices, is a review that came in this week for my book: “It helps me to recognize parts deep inside of me, where I don’t have conscious access. I feel refueled. It encourages me to find my own words… Deeply healing for the most important part of my inner space.”

Is this class series for you? Check the Deep Roots page for signup.

ps – The day this review arrived, so did a copy of the new paperback version of Dance Through It. Fun to hold.

Dance Through It Paperback