As someone who has spent most of their childhood and early adolescence with undiagnosed ADHD and Autism (AuDHD), it was difficult to understand why I was always on edge, confused, anxious, and unable to perform tasks that the people around me were able to complete without much effort. As a child I was very hyperactive and talkative at home but nonverbal at school. I was socially anxious and only talked to my best friend. I performed really well in academics to impress my parents. I didn’t know it then, but I had been masking the majority of my life to meet expectations that the people around me had set for me. I behaved as well as I could to get appraisal from others but it was always draining. Since I created this image of myself as a hardworking, well-behaved child, nobody knew I was struggling and needed accommodations—I didn’t really know either since I wasn’t able to comprehend my emotions or needs.
It wasn’t until my early 20’s when I learned more about neurodiversity, and my recent diagnosis. If it wasn’t for my special interest in mental health, my awareness of my own neurodivergence would have been delayed. Now, I am working in the field of mental health which has taught me so much about my AuDHD, and other neurodivergent types. It has also given me the opportunity to teach others and spread awareness of neurodiversity.
What Does it Mean to be Neurodivergent?
Neurodivergent: This term is used to describe someone whose brain processes differently regarding learning, behaviors, and emotions from what is considered “typical.”
Neurodivergence is an umbrella term for anybody whose brain functions differently from neurotypical brains.
Neurotypical: Refers to an individual’s brain processing, functions, and behaviors as standard or “typical.”
Types of Neurodiversity
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Tourette’s Syndrome
- Down Syndrome
To learn more types go to https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/23154-neurodivergent
Masking: also known as “camouflaging” is done by neurodivergent individuals who suppress certain behaviors that may seem “odd” to others. This includes copying and imitating behaviors to be perceived as socially acceptable or appropriate.
Unmasking: The process where neurodivergent individuals non-conform to neurotypical standards by allowing themselves to perform behaviors, express emotions, and talk about what they are interested in way that natural and comfortable.
Stimming: Repetitive behaviors, noises, or movements that are self-soothing, such as shaking legs, flapping hands, saying a word out loud repetitively, twirling hair, pacing around the room, etc.
Nonverbal: A nonverbal individual conveys information and expresses their needs without the use of verbal communication (speaking out loud).
Sensory Issues: Processing information through the senses can be sensitive for neurodivergent people.
A few examples:
- Clothes feeling too tight, loose, or scratchy/itchy.
- Noises being too loud (Buses, trains, music, talking, etc.)
- Not being able to eat certain foods because of the texture.
- Reacting negatively to quick sudden movements.
- Being comforted by compression (weighted blankets, tight hugs, hats or headbands around the head).
Meltdown: When levels of distress and anxiety are increased and can be demonstrated by storming out, tantrums, panic attacks, or dissociation (checking out).
Executive Dysfunction: The lack of ability to manage, plan, or start tasks.
- Getting distracted when having to focus on one thing.
Focusing too much on one thing can make someone lose track of time.
Delaying the start of a task.
Being unable to physically move your body to perform tasks.
Misconceptions about Neurodivergence
Neurodivergent people are bad at communication.
Communication can be verbal, written, or demonstrated by body language. Just because someone may be nonverbal does not mean they are bad at communicating—it is a different way of expression. It is also important to understand that all neurodivergent individuals have their own way of communicating, whether that is sign language, body language, verbal communication, or written (text messages, letters, etc.).
People with neurological differences are broken.
Many neurodivergent types are labeled “disorder” or “syndrome” which can give anyone the impression that there may be something wrong with themselves or their loved ones. Yes, our brains work differently, but that doesn’t mean we are broken. If we are able to receive accommodations, have our needs met, and be allowed to express ourselves, then we will live fine!
All neurodivergent individuals are similar.
If you read about the different types of neurodivergence, you will find that the characteristics of each one are very different from one another. Even if two people are diagnosed with ADHD, their symptoms vary from one another considering age, race, ethnicity, culture, and their environment.
Someone can “look” neurodivergent.
There is no uniform for neurodivergence. If someone tells you they are Autistic, it is not helpful to say, “really, you don’t look or seem Autistic.” We don’t live the lives of others and who are we to tell someone they are not who they tell us they are? We all come in different shapes and sizes.
Neurodiverse individuals can’t succeed in school, work, or in relationships.
We can’t ignore the fact that thousands of neurodiverse people struggle daily with overwhelming tasks, responsibilities, or navigating relationships—but that should not prevent them from achieving those goals or obligations. There is a lot that can be said about the inaccessibility of many workplaces and schools. Deadlines, timed assignments, seating arrangements, teaching/management styles, and dress codes are often rigid and not accomodating for those who need time to process material, need additional time to complete a task, have sensory issues that make them sensitive to light, sound, textures, etc. If you are reading this as a neurotypical, you may find yourself thinking, “I never really thought about those things” but for neurodivergent folks, those details matter and impact our ability to do certain things.
How can I support myself or someone I know who is Neurodivergent?
- Learn more about the type you or someone else has, Youtube videos, Instagram threads, TikToks, online articles, and books are great resources!
- Allow time to digest new information and accept that you or another person are neurodivergent.
- Finding out your neurodivergence doesn’t change who you are or the person you know, instead it allows you to understand yourself and the other person better.
- Acknowledge strengths and needs that need to be met.
- Be patient with yourself. Be patient with them.
- Connect with other neurodivergent individuals online or in your local community.
- If possible, surround yourself with people who will support you in your self-discovering journey!
Written by Nathaly Diaz