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

Deep Roots Class Notes: Demystifying Preparation and Delivery

We began by reading Kiva Rose’s beautifully vivid and timely excerpt Enchanting Medicine Making, shared from a downloadable Plant Healer Apothecary guide that arrived just as we were to speak about it. Well worth checking out.

We toured a few menstruum bases that can be used for making herbal medicine preparations, and various forms of delivery.

water base – hydrosol, flower essence, decoction, tisane, infusion, baths, steam, homemade homeopathic, extraction temperature of constituents in steeping and uses of temperature in application

oil/butter base – salve, oil, perfume, bolus

vinegar base – liniment, dressings, oxymels

alcohol base – tincture, liniment, prep step for others

sugar base – syrups, oxymels, lozenges, honeys, glycerine tincture, fizzy drinks

gelatin base – broth, gummies, jellos, popsicles

plant base – poultice, fomentation, juice, adornment, altar, incense, powders,  fermentations

And we explored a framework for simplifying intersecting considerations – appropriate preparations at hand, compliance & investment (including support, urgency and appeal), delivery access to location including systemic/topical, layers of self to address (body, soul, emotion, cognition, environment). And practiced the logic with a couple of scenarios.

Two trusty medicine maker’s guides are Richo Cech’s Making Plant Medicine and James Green’s The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual.

And your take-home mystery herb this week was the lovely tincture of elecampane root.


Absolutely loved teaching this foundational series! It’s my hope to help you connect with the plants and deeper systems around us in an embodied, authentic way that empowers you to grow freely as an herb lover. Will refine and run it again sometime.

Deep Roots Herbal Foundations Week Three

This is the final week in our Deep Roots Herbal Foundations series ~

In our the first class of the series we experienced practical sensory ways to explore the energetics and actions of a plant. In the second we followed up with widening our view to explore the vitalist perspective and an herbalists’ role in transition, mindful of the relationships between components and systems.

In our last class, we get a fly-over tour of choosing the right preparation and delivery forms for your challenges. This is not about choosing which plant to use, which we explored in our sensing/energetics class and will more in the future, or about combining and formulation, the poetic layering of herb choices within a given preparation, which we’ll also cover in future classes.

This one’s about the overlapping considerations in deciding which preparations most practically approach the person, state and condition. We’ll talk about well-matched uses for:

This preparation form has some obvious benefits and drawbacks (:

altar offerings
steam with aromatics
first aid powders
flower waters
suppository and pessary
fermented sodas
essential oils (not for kitchen creation – we’ll just talk about their proper role in preparations and when to substitute)
you can even create low-potency homeopathics at home in a pinch

We’ll cover them individually in more depth in the future, but for the DIYer this class offers a system to organize your preparation choices, and for the budding herbalist it draws a picture of how herbs can be brought into your life.

All levels welcome

Head on over to sign up at Deep Roots if you’d like directions to join us

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 Class Notes: Widen the Circle

Teachings and concepts coming up this week include:

Paul Bergner and Lisa Ganora at the Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism, who combine rigorous scientific understanding of constituents and physiology with the systemic pattern-honoring vitalist tradition

Phyllis Light has a new book out synthesizing her years of study of the Appalachian system of folk medicine

Embodiment practices that an herbalist can use to help clients with trauma include many forms of tapping-into-subconscious, including Emotional Freedom Technique. Basics from Peter Levine‘s work are worth absorbing, and the concept of titration… edging back and forth at the boundary of tension/change… is an important one to understand in all forms of somatoemotional healing. A fundamental step is bringing the internal (interoceptive) perception into the body and the present moment as a beginning place for allowing them to gently notice and transform patterns, unless the energetic charge is too strong. At some point in the future we’ll have a class on basic somatic tools for herbalists, and importantly recognizing trauma. Judith Blackstone’s books hold some wonderful embodiment practices.

In alignment with the paradigm shifts we discussed are Didi Pershouse’s Fertile Health: Parallels between Sustainable Agriculture and Sustainable Medicine and Dark Kitchen: Making Friends with Microbes 

And to further our discussion of an herbalist’s role in transitioning times, this interview with Renee Davis is a treat







Deep Roots Class Notes: Sensory Impressions of Herbal Actions

A fulfilling beginning, thank you for connecting ~

Isn’t it eye-opening how much we can discover about the actions of a plant on psyche and soma, with just our senses?

To learn more about herbal energetic patterns in your own studies, in addition to the the classes I’ll be teaching locally there are some wonderful long-distance resources.

Rosalee de la Foret teaches her cook-friendly model at Taste of Herbs

Kiva Rose has talked extensively about energetics and actions at Kiva’s Enchantments

Matthew Wood talks about his approach at Sunnyfield Herb Farm

Jim McDonald teaches energetics, actions and tissue states with the humours at Herb Craft

And here’s a worthwhile talk that ties it all together from Sajah Popham at The School of Evolutionary Herbalism

Your Take-home mystery tasting herb was Blue Vervain.

7song talks about it here and Kiva Rose gives a write-up here

Next week we’ll look at the art of systemic witnessing, healthy harvest, concoction-crafting focus, and more foundations for this emergent path in unraveling times


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

The Strange Way They are Shaped Within

“In old traditions those who acted as elders were considered to have one foot in daily life and the other foot in the otherworld. Elders acted as a bridge between the visible world and the unseen realms of spirit and soul. A person in touch with the otherworld stands out because something normally invisible can be seen through them. The old word for having a foot in each world is weird. The original sense of weird involved both fate and destiny. Becoming weird enough to be wise requires that a person learn to accommodate the strange way they are shaped within and aimed at the world.

An old idea suggests that those seeking for an elder should look for someone weird enough to be wise. For just as there can be no general wisdom, there are no “normal” elders. Normal bespeaks the “norms” that society uses to regulate people, whereas an awakened destiny always involves connections to the weird and the warp of life. In Norse mythology, as in Shakespeare, the Fates appear as the Weird Sisters who hold time and the timeless together.

Those who would become truly wise must become weird enough to be in touch with timeless things and abnormal enough to follow the guidance of the unseen. Elders are supposed to be weird, not simply “weirdos,” but strange and unusual in meaningful ways. Elders are supposed to be more in touch with the otherworld, but not out of touch with the struggles in this world. Elders have one foot firmly in the ground of survival and another in the realm of great imagination. This double-minded stance serves to help the living community and even helps the species survive.”

— Michael Meade, Fate and Destiny: The Two Agreements of the Soul