It’s a Small Thing

A new set of Emoji for Apple devices was released earlier this year. While I am typically indifferent to these tech updates, the new graphics represent some wonderful breakthroughs. There’s a person using a wheelchair, a prosthetic limb, and an individual walking with the red-tipped cane that denotes visual impairment. There’s also a delicious buttery waffle that makes me hungry, and a blood droplet that makes my skin crawl, but I digress…

Screen Shot 2019-02-10 at 11.11.15 AM

It’s a little frustrating that it took almost a decade to get representations of disability as an option; Unicode Emoji were first available on US operating systems in 2010, a nine year slog to inclusivity. But, this is par for the course. Individual differences, whether social, physical, or neurological are overlooked in a culture dominated by ablest and neuro-normative concepts of what it means to be human.

One of the challenges I face as a neurodivergent individual is the invisibility of my disabilities. To be sure, I’ve done exactly what so many of my fellow neurodiverse persons have done. I’ve used every shred of self control to mask my twitchiness, I’ve beat myself up over my alternating hyperfocus and negligence, and I’ve unintentionally ghosted people very close to me who’ve been injured or are in pain. Sharing my experiences via social media and my Vox Synaesthetica blog has helped me connect with an international community of fellow neuro-weirdos, an altogether life-affirming experience. 

Yet, I find myself wondering what it would be like to have Emoji specifically designed to represent neurodiversity, not so much as a whole concept (this would be impossible…homogenizing neurodivergent folks opens up a hornet’s nest of semiotic problems) but driven instead by traits. It would be challenging to come up with one unified symbol that gets universally adopted yet holds many meanings. A contemporary example of just such a symbol is the puzzle piece denoting Autism Spectrum Disorders. It  tries to unite an incredibly diverse community despite huge variations in where one might fit on the spectrum, and ends up representing ablest perspectives on what it means to have autism.

While its unlikely we could find one single symbol to denote neurodiverse conditions, I think we could at least start with a string of Emoji, a syntax of sorts that represents various human differences that fall under the umbrella of neurodiversity.

For example, this Emoji sentence could be used to symbolize Mirror-Touch Synaesthesia, which is a form of vision->tactile syn: 


Wide eyes plus hands equals more hands. I think an actual mirror Emoji might convey this message a little more clearly. But, the Mirror-Pain (Synaesthesia-for-Pain) syntax gets straight to the point:  


We’ve got the wide eyes plus hands yielding a burst of pain. I thought about using the lightening strike Emoji, which reminds me of the electrical shocks of sensation I feel in my body when I see another person’s injuries, but the orange and red burst seemed appropriate to the idea of pain. Mirror-Proprioception could be depicted like this:


I like that Emoji has become inclusive of different skin tones, a nano-nudge toward more equal representation.

I struggle with ADHD, as do several other members of my family. It’s pretty awesome when the hyperfocus kicks in, but the general inattentiveness combined with my high degree of distractibility is maddening, not only for me but for the people who are on the receiving end of my squirrelly brain.  This sentence of symbols feels like a good fit for my experiences with ADD/ADHD: 


I just had to include the DNA segment because research points to genetic differences in people with ADD or ADHD. The upside-down smiley face is a nod to the idea that I often don’t complete tasks in the most obvious and efficient way, but I do get shit done. Maybe I should have somehow included the poo Emoji….

Misophonia! The struggle is real. There’s been some excellent research published over the last few years on the impact of this condition, which literally means “hatred of sound”. For those of us with misophonia, negative emotions, thoughts, and physical reactions are triggered by specific sounds. In my case, I run and hide in the bathroom when my partner is eating breakfast, as the sound of the spoon in the bowl and the crunching cereal makes me want to scream. 


I think a little Edvard Munch really gets the concept across!

Some forms of synesthesia are a little more fun, at least for me. I know there are synaesthetes who don’t much like the colors of their graphemes, but mine (save for the “Th” combination) are all rather pretty. I think this syntax is a fairly accurate representation grapheme->color synaesthesia: 


I’m still working on a diagnosis for my sleep issues. My older sister has narcolepsy, and it seems that this is a real possibility for me as well. I have a bunch of parasomnias….sleepwalking, hypnogogia, and vivid dreams, along with the excessive daytime sleepiness that is a hallmark of the condition. But getting my insurance to cover a polysomnograph has been a Sisyphean struggle. For now, my sleep differences leave me feeling like this: 


I’m curious to see how Emoji as a language continues to evolve to meet our expectations of semiotic representation. It’s a small thing to have a cartoon symbol that feels like a match for one’s neurologic experiences. But symbols matter; according to Carl Jung, “a primary method for making sense of the world is by interpreting its symbols”. If you have an Emoji sentence that feels like it reveals your inner world, please share it to the comments and (if you’d like) I’ll add it to this post.