Category Archives: Neurodivergence

Autism is my Superpower

So much is spoken about supporting Autistic people at home, at school and in the workplace.  This is wonderful.  Autistic people have made world altering, life changing and community saving contributions to our world.  This is often unknown or unnoticed.   I knew a man who found a glitch in a code that saved a company millions of pounds and thousands of jobs.  Most of the people he saved never even knew.

I thought for today, it would be interesting to hear from a well-supported Autistic person.  This is a young man entering college who has been given the support he needs to show up at his best.  These are his words (he had the opportunity to edit).  I hope you enjoy this interview and a glimpse into the world of an Autistic teenager.  I would like to give a bit of a head’s up to neurotypical people who do not know Autistic people.  He may sound blunt.  That’s because he is.  This is not the same as rude.  It’s just his language and we make no apologies. 

How do you feel about being interviewed about Autism?

Honestly, a little weird.  I don’t know what every Autistic person’s life is like.  So, I can only talk about my Autism.  But, if you want to know about it, that’s fine.  Lots of people have dumb ideas about Autism so at least the people reading this want to learn better.

What do you feel is the biggest misconception about people with Autism?

There are a bunch.  We are not all nonverbal or that Rain Man guy or Sheldon from Big Bang.  I mean, I know I am like Sheldon, but my friends are not.  I also hate it when people say I don’t have empathy.  It makes me seem like a sociopath.  I have all of the feelings.  I know you have all of the feelings.  I just don’t need to show it on my face and I don’t always see it on your face.  I care if you feel bad or I hurt your feelings.  I care if you hurt mine, too.  Also, I don’t like it when people say I “suffer” with Autism.  I don’t suffer from my existence.  I suffer from their stupidity and need to make me like them.

What’s one of the things people think you need that you don’t?

Growing up, people were always so concerned with how many friends I had.  I don’t know the number I am supposed to have to be normal, but it was never enough for some teachers.  I don’t want a lot of friends.  I want at most around 5.  Friends take energy which is ok, but I won’t have enough energy for the thousands of friends my sister had.  It just seems noisy and I don’t like noise.  I want people to be cordial and respectful.  But, I don’t care if they like me and I don’t want them all to be my friend.  I don’t have time for it.

What can Neurotypical People Learn from Autistic People

They could learn to be more logical.  So many people care about so many things in the same way they care about their kids.  Why?  It looks exhausting.  People cry about celebrities getting divorced.  You don’t even know them and it’s none of your business anyway.  They care more about celebrity gossip and Insta followers than about saving the planet or protecting other people from being sick and hungry.  There is no logic to this.  But I’m the weird one.  That’s fine with me.

What makes Autism your superpower?

First of all, I like it being called a superpower.  Don’t pity me, tiny humans!  But, I can see the fault in things and find a way to fix it.  If something I care about doesn’t make sense isn’t working, I will spend as much time as it takes to make it right.  It becomes a mission.  I can feel it in my body when things are wrong and putting them right makes that feeling change.  I see neurotypical people give up way too quickly.  They care about so many things that they don’t have the time to get them just right.  Because I don’t care about everything at one time, just one thing, I get it done right.  I’m also honest.  People know what I think if they ask.  Neurotypical people aren’t as honest.  I don’t get how that is supposed to be nice. 

What is one thing you could learn from neurotypical people?

I guess I could learn to change easier.  I don’t like a process to change or timings.  I can’t change my process as quickly.  I can change it.  I just need time and I need to understand why it is more logical to do it that way.  If I don’t see the whole process, I can’t move.  I also would like to know when I have been too blunt.  I don’t want people to have hurt feelings.  I just answer questions.  I would like to answer questions with the truth, but not make people feel uncomfortable.

Any parting words of wisdom?

I would not call my words wisdom, but yes.  I don’t speak for everyone who is Autistic.  This is how I see things.  Autism is a spectrum and not a line.  We have many strengths and weaknesses.  I may consider a strength what you consider a weakness.  I guess, just stop trying to make Autistic look like neurotypical people.  It won’t work.  It feels bad.  And, I don’t want to be like everyone else.  Just let me be who I am.  Let me know when I cross a line and give me a chance to fix it.  And, offer help to people who need it.  That applies to everyone, not just Autistic people.

 

No. I Won’t Outgrow My Neurodivergence

It wouldn’t be Neurodiversity Week without having to address the age old, damaging rhetoric.  It comes in many forms.  It could be well intentioned comfort words that hit like daggers in the ears of parents whose children have just received a diagnosis.  It could come from an annoying relative who thinks you are just making excuses.  It has even come from under educated professionals threatened by knowing less about how your body works than you do.    Wherever it comes from, it’s based on the outdated, debunked idea that ADHD, Dyslexia and other diagnoses are just for children.

I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.  Around this time, the common language linked ADHD to poor parenting of naughty boys who just needed stricter rules and firmer boundaries.  You can imagine my fear of disclosure…not to mention lack of research around how ADHD manifests in women.  When I disclosed, I was always met with questions I had difficulty answering.  More often than not, I was met with confusion and disbelief.  You see, ADHD is something you outgrow (insert eye roll emoji here).

As my children became diagnosed, I was met with the new version of the old bias.  “He’s just a boy with a lot of energy.”  “She’s just a dreamer.”  And the old favourite, “He’ll grow out of it.  Just give him time.”  It was difficult enough coordinating the interventions, schooling needs and environmental changes that my children needed.  I also had to justify and debate what their father, school officials, medical professionals and me all agreed upon.  I get that you watched a really well put together YouTube video and read a blog.  I’m just going to stick with the professionals.

Running that gauntlet wasn’t fun.  But, it made me take some time to reflect on why this myth won’t go away.  As I look back on my own journey, my clients’ journeys and my children, I realise where the miscommunication comes from.  Let me be clear.  It is normal to be different.  It is normal to have variance in experience.  It is normal to be neurodivergent.  It is also a life experience that is rich and varied…just like being neurotypical.

Neuro-divergent People Mask

This is the big one, so let’s start here.  From the beginning of my memory, it has been pointed out that I am not quite right.  I should be more this or do less that.  I am not typical.  Now, just like typical people, I didn’t like to feel wrong.  So, what did I do?  I spent a large amount of time pretending like I’m ok.  I pretended like I understood.  I pretended like I didn’t understand.  I pretended to like things or speak a certain way.  Masking is living unauthentically.  It’s modifying behavior and neglecting needs for the benefit of others.  Parents of neurodivergent children will see this manifest when they get home from school.  The mask comes off and the feelings come out.  Partners will see this in their relationships as well.  As you get older, you get better at masking.  Therefore, the neurotypical population is not exposed to the large amount of effort it takes to appear normal enough.  This survival mechanism often results in depression and anxiety.  We aren’t meant to be unauthentic and be able to accept ourselves.

Medication Works for Many

I will preface this by saying that I am not trained to offer advice for or against medication.  That is not my point.  However, for many people, medication makes the neurotypical world accessible.  They are able to maintain the expected level of focus and concentration for getting the job done.  Many report taking meds as life changing.  If someone is medicated, and it is working, you don’t see the traits.  Catch them on a day where the meds ran out or they forgot to take them and you would report their behaviour as odd and unnerving.  Neurotypical don’t see who takes medication to be successful.

Coping Mechanisms Develop

Do you know that guy who is always bouncing his leg?  What about the person with a bazillion alarms on their watch reminding them to do something?  Have you met the woman with lists on how to write lists for her lists?  Or the person who sings information to remember it?  These are coping mechanisms.  Coaching is all about the coping mechanisms when working with neurodivergent people.  Spell check is convenient for people who might make a typo.  It is LIFE CHANGING for people with Dyslexia or Dyspraxia.  Many coping mechanisms are learned through active investigation.  Even more are developed through trying to make the world less difficult.  Neurotypical people don’t know why we do these things that make us quirky.  They may not even notice.

Neuro-divergent People Keep the Secret

I acknowledge that I am very lucky to be able to fly my ADHD flag with pride.  I work with people who have made accommodations for me.  It’s part of what I do for a living.  I also know that there were times when I kept the secret.  I hear this from clients all of the time. If I disclose, I won’t be promoted to leadership.  Everyone will treat me differently if it gets out.  Years of being mocked and misunderstood has taught us that the world is not kind when they don’t understand.  Many people are kind and accepting…but not everyone.  You never know who is going to be the next person to reject you.

My goal in this post is not to demonise neurotypical people.  Far from it.  People should not be held accountable for information they don’t have.  I would instead like to challenge the unconscious bias in the zeitgeist around neurodivergence.  I want to bring awareness to neurotypical people about how to show up in the best way.  I want to explain a general lack of education, to offer perspective to those who have, whether intentionally or not, been hurt by the dismissive rhetoric.  Most importantly, I want to make it a safe space to be authentic.

Gwen Jones, Educating Matters Expert