All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there...Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul? I cannot stop asking. If I could taste one sip of an answer, I could break out of this prison...I didn't come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way. Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.

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15 November 2011

World Autism Interviews: Anemone Cerridwen/Montreal, Canada

Anemone Cerridwen is a mixture of scientist and mystic who is most comfortable around people in the performing arts - unconventional people who DO things. She's from Ottawa, Canada, and has lived in Edmonton, Calgary, Pembroke Ont, Vancouver, and now in Montreal (but would like to move again soon - preferably to Europe). She's always changing and doing new things, torn between having a home and travelling, being in the centre of things in large cities and immersing herself in nature far away from everyone. She's been on her own for a long time - having outgrown the environment she grew up in a long time ago but not having found a new niche, yet. Her life is about probably mostly about exploration, inner and outer, rather than conventional social roles.

E: I enjoy supporting authors on the spectrum. Please tell us about your project, Why it Takes Ten Extra Years to Grow Up: The Evolution of Adulthood from Prehistory to the Age of Complexity.
Anemone: I wrote this book originally as an introduction to a book I was going to write on what religion would be like in a world where people are defined by authenticity rather than by imposed rules from outside, and I was using Clifford Anderson's The Stages of Life as a starting point. My introduction got away from me, but I'm glad it did, because writing it was such a huge accomplishment. It took me 3.5 years full time - it was like writing a PhD, but without the course work or recognition.

The book looks at how the logic we use to understand the world affects not only how we do science, but also how we perceive ourselves and other people. So it affects behaviour and social systems. And right now (for the past few decades) we have been going through a shift where people no longer stick with linear logic and simple nonlinear systems (machine logic) but have expanded into chaos, complexity and emergence - the logic of living systems (and most of the universe). Well, when you start treating people like living systems instead of machines, everything changes. And it takes a while to figure it out.

People went through a similar shift in the Renaissance with the spread of literacy - a fully literate culture uses linear logic rather than the haphazard logic of preliterate societies, and social norms change as a result. And people went from starting work at around 11-12 (or earlier) to continuing in school for another 5-10 years. Some places in the world are still going through this first transition as they modernize. If you're familiar with cognitive development at all, some cultures stop at earlier stages than others do. All human societies reach a mental age of about 6-7 (the end of Piaget's preoperational period, and Kohlberg's stage 2 of social and moral development) but only literate cultures go past that point. And now we're going past the end point of "modern" literate cultures into new territory.

E: What are the core messages you are in hopes readers will gain from your work?
Anemone: That they don't have to be all grown up as soon as they finish high school or university, and that there's an actual roadmap that can help them continue to mature. It should help with getting support from families, grad schools, etc., for those whose instincts tell them not to settle down yet.

E: How do you feel the concept of it taking more time to grow up relates to individuals with developmental disabilities, such as autism? For example, I am very different in adulthood in comparison to childhood. And I am still learning new things everyday. Some individuals with disabilities are unable to develop beyond a certain point due to factors such as profound support needs, significant Intellectual Disability, and/or services and supports that do not meet the individual's needs. How does your theory apply to people with developmental disabilities who are in a situation where they are supported, self-determined, and able to make strides in regards to common life milestones?
Anemone: I don't think autism has anything to do with whether people continue to mature past linear logic or not. That has more to do with feeling like you have permission to think for yourself or not - whether you're immersed in an authoritarian environment (which doesn't allow that kind of growth) or not. And you don't have to be economically privileged either. Some people travel to Africa or Southeast Asia to visit foreign cultures - I went to the Native Friendship Centre downtown to attend sacred circles and sweat lodges. And I did an enormous amount of reading - libraries are a godsend. (And now the internet.) All you need is to be exposed to contrasting points of view (inside and outside yourself) and to be open minded enough to study their logic.

On the other hand, development past linear logic has a great deal to do with how autism, and disabilities in general, are perceived. My impression is that the medical model and the drive for a "cure" is linear logic, and neurodiversity and the social models of disability are complexity theory. There's more room for people to be different with complexity theory.

Intellectual disabilities are another matter. There are people who do not develop all the way to a mental age of 16, for whatever reason, and this puts them at a disadvantage culturally. If you raise the threshold mental age of an adult to late 20s or early 30s, then even more people will probably not make it all the way to the end, which could increase the number of people considered to be disabled. I don't know if IQ makes any difference past a certain point or not. I suspect that emotional intelligence may be more important for development into the complexity period. Regardless, this is something that will become relevant at some point down the road.

E: Have you applied your theory to yourself? If so, what strikes you as most interesting in relation to your life experiences as a person on the spectrum?
Anemone: I went through all this before writing about it. I went through all of it before seeing it described in Anderson's The Stages of Life, even. So theory came after experience.

It's possible that going through all these new cognitive developmental stages myself has affected how I perceive myself as an autistic person. It's hard to say. I wasn't really allowed to be "disabled" growing up, and it was close to the end of my development (early 30s) that I went looking for a diagnosis. (I finished the whole growing up process at age 35.) I don't know how much of that was my development, and how much of that was society not being willing to see people like me earlier.

I can say that using complexity theory to understand myself and the world makes it easier to understand myself as a person with human rights.

E: What is adulthood? And how can we define it beyond age of maturity?
Anemone: Adulthood is being able to think for yourself, determine truth for yourself, and having a sense of inner completion - you aren't missing any parts of yourself anymore. At this point, you lose the drive for inner development and shift your focus to doing things out there in the world. It comes from inside, rather than being a role we put on from the outside in.

E: What currently prevents society (e.g. collective consciousness) from adopting the views you hold about evolution and the extra time required to reach what we interpret as adulthood?
Anemone: First, this is new, so it takes a while for it to seem normal to people. It's always hardest for the first generation or two, because you can't just do what your parents did and have it work. Second, it only seems to be happening when society shifts away from authoritarianism (which suppresses conflict in systems), and there's still lots of authoritarianism around. I think what started all this in the first place is the shift away from authoritarian parenting after WWII. Researchers wanting to prevent another Holocaust found a link between authoritarianism and bigotry, and that's what triggered the shift. And the first generation to grow up under the new parenting were the ones to get involved with the second wave of feminism, the civil rights movement, the disability rights movement, plus a shift towards authenticity and away from conformity. Take the lid off and all of this stuff comes out.

E: Do you feel your experiences as a person on the autism spectrum have given you greater insight into your research? If not, why?
Anemone: I don't know if being autistic has made any difference or not. I mean, we're all different in the end. I do know that I felt a strong need to go through all this development myself because the scripts my parents gave me weren't working, but that might have been the case regardless. Certainly, I was abused, and I needed to rewrite that script. And I knew I didn't want to conform (actually, I tried, but I couldn't get it to work). At the core it was a drive to be whole and authentic, to live life from the inside out. I think that's universal, when people have permission.

E: Do you have plans to submit your work for publication?
Anemone: I submitted to Jessica Kingsley last week at your suggestion. They say 6 weeks or less for a response (which is hugely fast) so I should know before the end of the year. If they don't take it, I will need help figuring out how to get published (and promoted). Hopefully your readers can help.