(Updated: March 30, 2022)
April is Autism Acceptance Month. So I decided to write this blog about Cristophe’s and my own experiences in understanding and accepting our true selves. Discovering the neurodivergent community has been such an “a-ha” moment for the both of us. It’s been a huge relief to realize that we are not alone in our mental processing differences. It’s freed us from our conditioned fears of thinking since childhood that something was wrong with us. Being able to finally understand our qualities as gifts instead of flaws has saved us both in many ways.
What is Being Neurodivergent?
The neurodiversity movement is changing the negative view of people whose brains work differently than the neurotypical population, such as autistic people for example. It is removing the stigma that these types of brain functions are “abnormalities”. Instead, the neurodiversity movement is correcting the definition of these conditions as simply being variations of brain functionality. Meaning our brains just work differently than the general population, and that’s completely okay! These differences actually give us unique ways to experience the world around us. Ways that can be great benefits when applied in an environment of understanding and acceptance.
Neurodivergent Adults Exist!
Most of the diagnoses of neurodivergent traits, such as autism, dyslexia, and ADHD, are routinely given to and studied in children and adolescents. Because of this, many people forget about us neurodivergent adults. They think we should have “grown out of it” or have been “cured” by adulthood. Well, I’m here to tell you that we neurodivergent adults do exist! And we are proud to be different! As a scientist, I know that biodiversity is the key to prospering life. Neurodiversity is just another adaptation in the continuing evolution of the human species. And, no, I am not saying that we are “more evolved” than neurotypicals. Learn your biology, people! It’s all about diversity. True balance in Nature is more than just a black-and-white competition scale.
Medically Diagnosed Vs. Self-diagnosed
Not all of us have the privileges necessary to get a formal medical diagnosis. Privileges such as broad health insurance coverage, abundant finances, and easy access to experienced unbiased specialists. Systematic ableism, classism, racism, sexism, and other prejudices have and continue to hold a lot of us back. Neither Cristophe nor I have been medically diagnosed. Yet, through our own extensive research over many years, including comparing our experiences and traits with others on the autism spectrum, we now know we are both neurodivergent.
You may ask, “How did our parents miss it?” That’s actually not that uncommon of an occurrence, especially within our generation and older. Autism and ADHD were just beginning to become publicized when we were children. And it was often done so with negative stigmas. No one wanted to see that in their kids because everyone greatly misunderstood it, including the doctors. Most of the past studies were based on young white cis-males. Yet, there are varying traits of neurodiversity throughout all ranges of people that are still being discovered and documented to this day. Therefore, many cis-female, transgender/non-binary/two-spirit, and BIPOC people slipped through the childhood screens.
Our Personal Traits
We both have slight dyslexia, but have compensated by just being able to read up-side-down, backwards, sideways, etc, and extensively editing what we write/type. Also, we both naturally communicate in a very direct way. This makes understanding indirect language and some types of humor difficult for us. We both have hypersensitivity to sound, though Cristophe is even more sensitive than I am to it. And we both can easily hyperfocus, which is great for getting projects done! But it is hard to break ourselves out of for important interruptions, like eating, hydrating, etc.
Cristophe is also hypersensitive to light. I am also hypersensitive to smell, taste, textures, and pressures. I have hyper-empathy as well. These hypersensitivities lead to easy overstimulation in certain environments. When left unchecked, the overstimulation can cause severe anxiety, zoning-out/shutting-down, extreme inability to focus, high frustration emerging as anger and/or crying, and even physical pain, such as nausea and/or headaches.
We taught ourselves how to mask to hide our differences at very young ages. We didn’t understand what we were doing at the time. Masking just became our instinctual survival technique to avoid the negative responses of others. Some of my earliest memories are of me internally fearing my differences and blaming myself for them. I thought I was “stupid” when I didn’t understand some of the humor being used by my relatives and classmates. So I began to fake it by reading-the-room in order to portray the expected response.
I thought I was “being bad” when I would have a negative reaction to overstimulation that was considered “overreacting”. So I quickly learned to hide my pain and discomfort. One of the first times I remember doing so in school was when I discovered that shaking my leg under the desk somehow helped me feel a little better. It was an easy way for me to self-stim. And it was mostly unnoticeable by those around me. This helped to relieve my worry of someone getting mad at me for it.
We both can detect a wider range of tones and frequencies than most others can hear. This has actually come in handy for safety reasons, like when discovering leaks. My sense of taste and smell can detect subtle changes in things, like when food is starting to turn. I can tell just from one sniff, or one taste, when others eat through half of it before noticing. (As you can imagine, temporarily losing these sensitivities when I was ill in April of 2020 was a frightening experience for me.) Cristophe is a very fast reader with the ability to retain most of the knowledge from each book after just one read. He primarily reads non-fiction for his own personal continued education, and is able to coherently jump around between reading multiple books during the same period of time.
My skills at organizing, packing, and storing things to get the best use out of a space have come in handy many times over. And I have a high attention to detail, which allows me to be very thorough in cleaning, as well as in detecting and solving problems. We are both good at teaching others because of our natural directness in communication. Plus, we both can easily sympathize with and are very open to helping someone with a different learning style than our own. Because we definitely know how it feels to be the odd-one-out when it comes to understanding things. And, of course, our unique ways of interacting with the world around us only enhance our creative abilities.
Our Neurodivergent Household
Now we are living with fellow neurodivergent people in our homesteading community. And, I have to tell you, it is such a huge relief and euphoric feeling to know everyone around us gets us! No one feels pressured to mask our differences. We don’t all operate the same way, but that just means our whole group has even more strengths combined. We are proud to be a part of such an inclusive, accepting, and understanding homesteading community!