If there’s one thing I’ve learned related to mediated grieving since starting my PhD program in media and communication, it’s that academic literature tends to lag behind any one trend by at least two or three years. This may not seem grieve-worthy on the surface, but I would contend that there are few things more grieve-able and mediated in our digital and increasingly algorithmic world than a loss of scope. And few events have brought this imperfectly mortal human issue into the forefront more overtly than the COVID pandemic. For better or worse, from virtual disconnections to the death of loved ones, our lives have been irreparably mediated and full of grief since early-March 2020.
On one hand, our social-distanced virtual limbs have provided us endless opportunities of revealed malfunction and deaths to what we once knew as a “normal” human existence. And the last thing any of us need right now is to be reminded of what we have lost in these medias. So, instead, what I would like to offer readers, theoretically and virtually, is another story. One I’ve watched unfold recently on social medias like TikTok, Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter about those who, prior to the pandemic, lived internally mourning their own life-long struggles of not being seen as “normal” or “typical”. And those who have since, in droves, begun a process of accepting their own -- very alive -- human divergences.
Whether due to COVID-induced social separation, digital divides, or pandemic self-reflection, the platformatized communities I hope to shed brief light on today are certain neurodivergent (ADHD [Attention-Deficit Hyper-Activity] and ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorder]) spaces expanding on social media during this pandemic. The latter of which being my main focus throughout this post. (For more info regarding the more encompassing vastness of the terms "neurodivergent" and "neurodivergence", please check out this twitter thread)
For those who don't know, over at least the last year (some much longer), these spaces have seeded and grown exponentially, flourishing into something quite beautiful and socio-politically life-changing for many folks.
And, not only that, but members of these communities have rich contributions to make regarding traditional understandings of neurodivergences, like ADHD and ASD, thus far. I write this today because, as an unofficially-diagnosed neurodivergent non-binary person navigating academia myself (Long story short: I was explictily told by a therapist that since I was far along in my PhD, social stigma from an official diagnosis would only work against me), I know first-hand that academic literature is not only too laggy to catch this grieve-ground-breakingly mediated present-COVID phenomena, but would most likely misrepresent the range of neurodivergent folks, if and when it tried.
I know this because, thanks to a recent editted collection written entirely by autistic folks (Spectrums), and after speaking with other users on social media platforms like these, I have witnessed first-hand how many long-overdue conversations are finally being generated over the mortally mediated woes regarding the young white cisheternormative masculine-oriented autism diagnostic criteria.
And, from doing so, over at least the course of the last year and some change, these disclosures have led to countless more, catalyzing personal breakdowns, breakthroughs, and bonds between (especially the most under-diagnosed Black) feminine neurodivergent people whose lived experiences did not happen to man-i-fest in ways these incredibly narrow traditional criteria depict. And to mention, official diagnosis is time-consuming and expensive as hell (costing sometimes up to $5000).
A couple of examples of these community breakdowns as breakthroughs include discussions about the problematic linguistic history of referring to someone on the autism spectrum as having "low" versus "high" functioning autism, and the sociohistorical problematization of the term "aspergers" (coined by nazi Hans Asperger to determine which people on the spectrum were worthy of not murdering to keep as labor).
You may be asking yourself, what does any of this have to do with grieving and mediation? Allow me to bridge the neuro-logical connections.
In recent years, my research has fallen (joyfully and carefully) into an interdisciplinary field called “media ecology”.
For those of you unfamiliar, the theory and practices of media ecology mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But, to make myself more deadly and mediatingly clear, media ecologists study the ways in which the introduction of any type of media make differences in our lives, that make other differences, environmentally. In other words, we observe and document what happens when -- any type of -- technology, from the biggest to the seemingly most insignificant, is introduced into our overall interlocking ecologies. Then, we wait to see if we were onto something.
Perspectively, what distinguishes media ecologists from other researchers is a view that any one “medium” or “media” is an (and inclines other) environmental process. Thus, when taking advantage of this approach, you can focus on just about anything you want. However, in a more traditional sense, you would do so by questioning, breaking down, and reporting on the ways in which any one mediation of your choice inclines users (physically, structurally, and more...).
Since 2019, some colleagues and I "added a little spice" to this lens, and began what has since been referred to as the wave of “gender and media ecology” (Most recently, I've argued that this term is too limited, and that "critical media ecology" would more appropriate). As such, in efforts to advance the field, we began marrying feminist concepts with the more traditional approach. And we continue to do so, balancing out the range of traditional approaches with vastly rich insights of gender (and now race, sex, ethnicity, class, etc.) studies, that had been missing from the field, except for a few inspiring scholar's work, like Dr. Sharma.
With that theoretical lovechild now in your mortal mind, my argument here is that certain neurodivergent diagnostic criteria, based upon the young white cishet masculine person's symptoms, are one such media.
And, despite our very human inclinations toward a loss of overall technological scope, we are now currently living through a monumental time where this fact is finally -- dead-ass -- being revealed to us, for the first time in human ze-story, her-story, they-story, or even, his-story.
To be most gravely specific, we need to continue autopsying the medical body politic, and peel back the traditionally slathered and, usually, caked on claims of these “objective” and “universal” diagnostic criteria.
When one compares them side by side with the tidal-wave of online disclosures, cascading out from never-diagnosed 20-to-end-of-life-something femme neurodivergent folks, it becomes clear our human-designed scientific appendages have been poisoned with grief.