Dungeons & Dragons & Neurodiversity: The Transformative and Life-Enriching Effects for Neurodiverse Adults by Caleb Valorozo-Jones
Historically, autism has been considered a condition that requires treatment or curing. The standard therapeutic treatment for neurodiverse folks, especially autistic people, is Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) (Keenan et al., 2015). ABA is controversial because it typically aims to intervene or change neurodiverse behaviours, and instead condition people to perform Neurotypical ones. In ABA a behaviour is selected to be analysed and measured (usually by a child’s parents or caregivers). Once the behaviour is measured, therapists choose and implement therapies to intervene or change the behaviour, and evaluate the outcomes resulting from the interventions (Keenan et al., 2015).
Instead of teaching and emphasizing neurotypical people to accept and be inclusive of neurodiverse behaviours, the onus is on the neurodiverse community to train neurodiverse people to change their behaviour through therapy (Devita-Raeburn, 2016). Adults with autism who underwent ABA therapy advocate against it, describing it as harmful, and encourages masking and other actions which are harmful or mentally taxing for neurodiverse folks (Dellinger, 2019, p. 18).
Masking and these other strategies can be draining, resulting in burnout and other negative physical and mental health outcomes. Historically, therapy and studies about autistic people do not include or co-create with autistic researchers, and operate using a medical model of disability. Because of this, research about the neurodiverse community lacks understanding and nuances of autistic culture and needs of the autistic community.
Because research and treatment focuses on the medical model of disability, research on the unique abilities of autistic people is under researched (Woods et al., 2018, p. 977; Grove et al., 2018, p. 766). Critical Autism Studies builds on Critical Disability Studies theory, and applies the social model of disability.
The #ActuallyAutistic hashtag and movement aim to center autistic voices, experiences and scholarship. #ActuallyAutistic started because the autism hashtag and autism organizations are dominated by friends and family of autistic people, instead of autistic people themselves. This aligns with the “Nothing About Us, Without Us” approach to disability and autism research, including autistic ownership of and participation in scholarship.
Special Interests are an intense focus or passion with different topics or hobbies (Grove et al., 2018, p. 766; Dellinger, 2019, p. 18)
There are large research gaps about autistic culture, special interests, and neurodiverse affirming therapy. However, Critical Autism Studies researchers Grove, Roth, and Hoekstra (2018) conducted a study on how special interests motivate and affect the subjective well-being of autistic adults. This study indicated that there is a significant and under researched relationship between the lives of autistic adults and their special interests. The study also indicated that special interests have a positive impact on autistic adults, especially in specific areas of their life (such as social contact, leisure, and extrinsic and intrinsic motivation), and that there are commonly reported special interest subjects. Among the commonly reported Special Interests include gaming, science-fiction, and fantasy, which overlap with Dungeons & Dragons.