Neurodivergence And The Benefits Of Thinking Outside The Neurotypical Box

I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome(High-functioning Autism) at the age of 41. I remember being called into a small room by a nurse in the Psychiatric Ward and being told that a psychiatrist wanted to speak to me. Thinking it might be something regarding my recent failed suicide attempt, I went along but slightly confused as to why I tried to commit suicide in this first place. For this reason I had no idea that this conversation would change my life.

man in black sweater sitting on brown wooden chair
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Sitting in a chair opposite a man whom I believed to be a psychiatrist, he asked me if I knew what Autism meant? While telling my life story after sharing a play-by-play recap of the past 24 hours, my previous life would become clearer as I was about to enter a 2 week journey to receive my diagnosis. I was still unsure as to what this new label meant for my future, my career, my life.

After a few more questions, it was explained to me that Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurological difference that affects how we process information and interact with the world around us. It was explained to me that while people with Asperger’s may not always think or act as ‘normal people do, many of us have abilities, skills and talents that neurotypical people don’t. This is what is known as neurodivergence.

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Neurodivergence can be seen in different ways and can affect different parts of our lives. For example, I might have excellent recall of facts and figures, be able to hyper-focus on tasks I’m interested in and have incredible attention to detail; but I struggle with social interaction and making small talk. This is just one example of how neurodivergence can look.

After learning all of this, I was relieved. Here I was, being given a new label and a new understanding of why I struggled in certain areas of my life but also being told that I had strengths and abilities that people without Asperger’s Syndrome might not have. It was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

Since then, I have embraced my neurodivergence and have learned to see the benefits it has brought to my life. While there are challenges, I wouldn’t change my neurology for the world.

If you are interested in learning more about neurodivergence, here is a list of some common conditions and their symptoms:

Common Neurodivergences include:

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – Difficulty with social interactions and nonverbal communication, narrow interests and repetitive behaviours; this can be accompanied by exceptional skills such as excellent attention to detail, hyperfocus on tasks or strong memory.

PTSD – A mental health condition that can develop following exposure to a traumatic event that results in feelings of intense fear, horror or powerlessness. Symptoms normally begin within three months of the trauma but sometimes appear years later.

ADD/ADHD – The inability to focus on one task for an extended period of time, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

Depression – A feeling of persistent sadness or emptiness, loss of interest in activities normally enjoyed, feelings of guilt or worthlessness and thoughts of suicide.

Bipolar Disorder – A mental health condition characterised by extreme mood swings from high (mania) to low (depression). The highs can include symptoms such as excessive energy, decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts and reckless behaviour. The lows can include symptoms such as fatigue, lack of energy, insomnia, poor concentration and suicidal thoughts.

Schizophrenia – A mental health condition that affects a person’s ability to think clearly, make decisions and relate to others. It can cause hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there), delusions (believing in things that aren’t true) and disordered thinking.

Anxiety Disorders – Excessive worry, tension and fear about everyday situations. Physical symptoms can include breathlessness, nausea, chest pain, headaches, excessive sweating and trembling.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – Obsessions are repetitive thoughts or urges, while compulsions are repetitive actions carried out to try and ease the obsessions; they often build up to a ‘compulsive ritual’. Examples of people with OCD would be someone who has frequent intrusive thoughts of violence that leads them to perform compulsive acts such as washing their hands repeatedly in order to ease their anxiety resulting from these thoughts.

Dissociative Disorders – The feeling that your mind is disconnected from your body, preventing you from acting or feeling normal. Causes can include trauma, abuse and intense stress.

Psychosis – This is normally described as losing contact with reality. Symptoms can include hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there), delusions (believing in things that aren’t true) and disordered thinking.

Borderline Personality Disorder – This disorder involves extremely unstable moods, behaviour, relationships and self-image; up to nine in ten people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder attempt suicide at least once.

Neurodiversity advocates – These individuals use the internet to communicate their ideas about neurodiversity through websites such as ‘Neurocosmopolitanism‘, ‘Autistic Hoya‘, and ‘The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism‘.

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So, what is neurodiversity?

Merriam Webster defines neurodiversity as “a variation in human wiring that makes everyone unique”, while the Oxford dictionary defines it as “the diversity of human brains and minds.” The Neurodiversity Movement defines it as “a natural, human variation. It is a concept where neurological differences are to be regarded as normal, natural and valuable variations within the species, akin to biodiversity in plants and animals.” In simpler terms, neurodiversity is the idea that everyone’s neurology is different, and there is value in this difference.

There are many benefits to thinking outside of the neurotypical box; the first, and probably most important that people often forget to list, is that it creates more acceptance for people with different neurology. There are many reasons why someone would be neurodivergent (i.e. not neurotypical), but there should never be any reason to discriminate against or invalidate them. If we can gain acceptance of our differences, then perhaps one day, society will understand how big of an impact these differences have on the world around us.

One benefit is gaining a better understanding of other cultures by trying to see life from their perspective rather than looking at your own experiences as normal because you view everyone else’s through that same lens which makes these experiences seem normal because they’re familiar to you. This only scratches the surface of what is possible when we explore different ways of thinking and opens up a whole new world of knowledge, creativity and potential.

When we step out of the neurotypical box, our view of the world changes, and we become more open-minded. This can lead to a better understanding of others, increased creativity and innovation, as well as a greater appreciation for the beauty in differences. We are able to see that there is value in everyone’s unique way of thinking, regardless of how ‘normal’ it may seem to us.

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Nota Bene

It is important to note that neurodiversity is not about ‘fixing’ people or making them ‘normal’. Neurodiversity is about accepting people for who they are and valuing their differences. There is no right or wrong way to think, and everyone has something valuable to offer. We should never try to change someone’s neurology because we think that it is wrong or defective; instead, we should celebrate it for the wonderful and unique thing that it is.

In a world that is constantly trying to make everyone the same, neurodiversity is a breath of fresh air. It reminds us that there is beauty in difference and that we should embrace our uniqueness. So the next time you find yourself thinking, “I don’t fit in because I’m not neurotypical”, remember that this is what makes you special and valuable; there is no one else like you, and that is a good thing!

The Neurodiversity movement states: “Neurodiversity is a natural and valuable form of human diversity. There is no “right” or “wrong” kind of brain. Brains are as varied as faces, fingerprints and snowflakes.”

Neurodivergent people should not be limited by society, but instead accepted for who they are, which will, in turn, lead to greater self-acceptance and improved quality of life for them; it can also help you learn more about yourself since we aren’t confined to the same way of thinking that others are. It’s about seeing that neurotypical isn’t better than other types of neurology, so don’t think any different just because someone has a different type of brain.

People who think differently, whether they are neurotypical or neurodivergent, offer a unique perspective that can help to solve problems and come up with new ideas. We need people who are willing to think outside the box in order to make progress and innovation possible. So the next time you feel like your way of thinking is ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’, remember that there is value in your uniqueness and that it is essential for creativity and innovation. Thank you for reading!

Dating on the Autism Spectrum: Neurotypical Partners Open Doors Therapy

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Dating on the Autism Spectrum: Notes for Neurotypical Partners

August 30, 2020 by 

unhappy couple who is dating on the autism spectrum in palo alto. They get online autism therapy in California at Open Doors Therapy

Hello! Welcome back to my blog series: Dating on the Autism Spectrum. In my clinical experience, this is a topic that interests many of my high-functioning autistic clients. So far, I’ve shared dating tips for autistic individuals and how to handle conflict. Today I want to touch on what it’s like to be neurotypical and dating someone on the spectrum. I understand that every individual relationship is unique, but there are some common challenges that occur in this situation. 

Understanding Autism and Emotions

awkward couple on the bench in the bay area. They go to autism therapy in Palo Alto, CA at open doors therapy to learn more about dating on the autism spectrum

One of the most Googled questions neurotypicals ask about dating on the autism spectrum is “can autistic people fall in love?” To be honest, this question always catches me off guard. Of course they can! They’re human! It’s a common misconception that autistic people cannot feel or express emotions. In fact, they are some of the most empathetic people I know. Some autistic people hyper-empathize to the point that they feel very intense emotions. The difference is that they may not show these emotions on their face or they may have trouble expressing them. 

Sometimes, the lack of emotions displayed by an autistic partner can really anger their neurotypical partner, because they misinterpret that as not caring. Then, a cycle begins because a person with autism will often withdraw to avoid conflict and the trauma triggers it brings up. When an autistic person is faced with conflict and an upset or hostile partner, they often withdraw or leave the scene because they feel unsafe. 

Relationships can be an autistic person’s special interest

Many autistic teens and adults are very passionate about a special interest. So, they invest an intense amount of time and energy into it. They can talk on and on about it. Often times, this extreme passion and interest extend to their relationship as well. Have you ever joked about a friend who recently fell in love and can’t think about or talk about anything else? Well, that’s similar to how an autistic person feels about their special interests and their love life. 

Romantic relationships can be difficult to maneuver when you’re dating on the autism spectrum.

Romantic relationships are complex and confusing for neurotypical people. But, for autistic people, romantic relationships are even more complex and confusing. Many people with autism crave intimacy and love. But, they don’t know how to achieve it in a romantic relationship. They can feel blind to everyday subtle social cues from their partner. This can cause conflict and hurt feelings. 

There’s an old saying: Marriage is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. And this really applies when you think about being in a relationship with an autistic partner. Most autistic adults that I work with tell me they are trying incredibly hard to be a good partner. I believe this! They are exhausted by the perplexing signs that their partners are giving them. It can feel like reading a book but you only get to see every 5th word. Your goal is now to understand the whole book, but you can’t when you miss most of the story. Sometimes you might get the gist, but you still feel confused. 

As a neurotypical dating someone with autism, you may need to play the role of an interpreter

Does this mean people with autism can’t become better partners? No, that’s not the case, they can grow a lot. But, as a neurotypical partner, it’s important to acknowledge you can grow, too. Your autistic partner is spending most of their waking hours in a world biased for neurotypical people and trying to interpret your neurotypical messages. However, their brain was not wired to process neurotypical messages easily. So as a neurotypical partner, you can help by playing the role of interpreter and explain what you’re trying to tell them by saying what you mean.

Try to see the world through your partner’s eyes and understand their perspective.

When conflict occurs, try and empathize with your partner and their struggles. Then, it will be up to your partner to share with you. Usually, there was a misunderstanding and your partner was not intentionally trying to make you feel abandoned, dismissed, or insignificant. They simply did not understand what you were trying to communicate with them. Many people with autism do not readily pick up on non-verbal communication, so ask yourself: was I direct in telling them what I needed or wanted? If the answer is no, then try and understand their confusion. 

Learning how to listen to your autistic partner and not make neurotypical assumptions is a hard task. But, really listening to your partner and trying to understand their pain and their perspective builds intimacy. You will get to know them probably deeper than anyone else in their life.

Self-awareness holds the key to dating on the autism spectrum

It is up to your autistic partner to also become more self-aware. If they don’t understand their own feelings, beliefs, and intentions, they won’t be able to share them with you. Individual counseling or couple’s counseling can help your autistic partner become more self-reflective and self-aware.

Self-awareness on both sides of the relationship is important. When your partner understands their feelings, beliefs, and intentions, then they can share them with you. But, as a neurotypical partner, it’s important to learn more about yourself, too. What drew you to your partner? Now, what causes you to feel unloved, insignificant, or abandoned? Is this a pattern in your relationships? If you’re both struggling with this, then consider counseling. Couples counseling with a therapist who specializes in helping neurodiverse couples can really help you both become more self-aware and understand each other’s wants and needs. 

Learning about each other never stops, especially when you’re dating on the autism spectrum

Lastly, learn about your autistic partner’s unique needs and honor them. Common situations that may be challenging for your autistic partner include:

  • Social settings: Many people with autism have a need for alone time and time to engage in their special interests. Crowds, family gatherings, or going out with a group of friends can feel overwhelming. 
  • Group conversations: Many people with autism feel more at ease in 1-on-1 interactions. In group settings, it can be draining and tedious for an autistic person to make conversation and stay engaged. Robbing the autistic person of the joy of the interaction and getting to know someone. 
  • Sensory sensitivities: Becoming overstimulated is common. Sometimes they don’t even know it at a conscious level, but it dramatically impacts the way they feel and behave in certain situations. Sounds, textures, smells, vibrations can overwhelm their nervous system, especially if their senses had been assaulted earlier in the day. This can wear them down and drain them. 

 Put yourself in their shoes for a moment

Imagine running 10 miles during the day. Then, you come home, and your partner won’t even acknowledge that you ran 10 miles. Now, how do you feel about that? It probably would hurt your feelings. Remember this analogy the next time you get upset with your partner when they say no to doing something or go along with it but become overwhelmed. They metaphorically run a marathon every day but aren’t often acknowledged for their efforts. Furthermore, they are asked to change or try harder and that can cause them to feel so sad. So, it’s important to think about what really matters to you, and be reasonable in your requests of your autistic partner. Recognize how hard they are trying every day to make you happy. It will give you the compassion and understanding to be reasonable with them while respecting your own needs too. 

Begin Autism Therapy in California:

gay couple sits outdoors after learning about dating on the autism spectrum from an autism therapist in palo Alto at open doors therapy

Navigating romantic relationships with autism can be challenging, but we have services for you that can help. You don’t have to go through this alone. I offer a wide range of services for autism including help in romantic relationships. There are a few steps you can take to get more information. 

  1. Contact Open Doors Therapy and schedule a free 30-minute consultation call
  2. Find me on Facebook and like my page to stay connected with our social community
  3. Sign up for my newsletter and get news about neurodiversity and living on the autism spectrum

Other services at Open Doors Therapy

At our autism therapy clinic located in Palo Alto, we offer other services for those with high functioning autism, Aspbergers, and undiagnosed autism characteristics.  Due to the COVID- pandemic we are using online therapy. I offer services including individual counseling for teens and parents, adult counseling, and group therapy. If you’re interested I also offer a wide range of social skills groups including neurodiverse working professionalscollege students with autistic traitsgifted youth & caregiversautistic adultswomen who identify as neurodiverseautistic teens transitioning to college (summer only), teens & caregivers, and a mothers groupContact me today for your consultation. Share on Facebook Tweet

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I always felt like I didn’t fit in – How autism feels when you don’t know you’re on the spectrum

I grew up in a small town.

I have 3 brothers and 1 sister. I am the 4th child.

Ever since I can remember I was alone. I was labeled as a weird kid. I remember that I was confused about the fact that I was not allowed to be in the same company as my siblings. They were always of the opinion that I ‘should play outside’, so that’s what I did. I would imagine the most wonderful adventures with dragons and warriors and magic!

I recall the first time I saw a Hollywood movie, I was 6 years old. I live in a country where we drive on the left side of the street and we grow up learning to speak a second language, English, in school and with a British accent. So when I watched the first movie I was absolutely amazed at how fantastic it was that they drove on the right side of the street and spoke with a totally different accent! I remember thinking that the filmmakers had a huge imagination!

You can imagine how my brothers laughed at me for not knowing that America was a real place…

I was ridiculed but I was also determined to visit this magical place one day!! My number 1 item on my Bucket List is to see New York city!!!

I was mesmerized with movies and I started a lifelong journey that year, I started to watch each and every film I could find!

Now, I also felt excluded from everyone and everything by that age. I never understood how to communicate with others my age since they were not interested in movies like I was… It seems that not everyone memorized the dialog and knew the names of the actors and the characters in the film. They also did not know who the director was or they didn’t know what other movies he directed. They were more interested in playing with a ball or tackling each other. I didn’t like physical touch so I was shunned very quickly.

I remember that when my mother told me that I had to go to school the next year that I didn’t really want to. I got dressed on the first day in my new uniform and I recall it was very itchy. Material on my skin feels foreign and I have only certain pieces of clothing that I wear. Anyway, on the first day of school I walked into the classroom, took a look around and told the Teacher : ‘Good morning, Miss. Thanks for inviting me to come to your school but I don’t think I want to join your class. Have a great day!’ and I walked out of the school yard and started heading home.

The local Doctor happened to pass me by on my way home and stopped by the side of the road. He offered me a ride to my house and he was very impressed with my choice not to attend school. He explained to my mother what I had told him and he left.

She took me right back to school and told me that unfortunately school was not optional and I had to be there. I asked why and she said that if I didn’t go that I would get a hiding.

My father was very strict and it would not have been my first time getting a hiding either.

I didn’t understand what you were expected to do at school but I didn’t want to feel his belt on my butt either!

So there I was with 26 other kids in a classroom and I was never allowed to tell them or the teacher about movies and the wonderful magical place called America!!!

I was told to keep quiet and to pay attention or else I would have to be sent to the Headmaster and he was then going to give me a hiding…

So I did what I was told…

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If you enjoyed this post, feel free to buy me a virtual coffee! By doing this you are joining me on my adventure! I only visit Normal, I don’t get to stay there…

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1000 All Time Views!!! – Thank you for taking the time to read this narrative about me and my attempt to master high-functioning Autistic Savant syndrome with co-morbid ADHD and OCPD

Thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings. I am not sure where this journey would lead to but I am taking you with me!

Thank you for the donations so far, you help me more than I can imagine :

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7 x small donations

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Introduce Yourself

Allow me to…

I am writing you this first post of mine to inform you of an event that happened a while ago.

Please read this with an open mind, I hope to provide as much clarity as I can at this point in time. It does have a happy ending 🙂

I was admitted to a Psychiatric Hospital on Sunday 14 June 2020 after a failed suicide attempt. I was also surprised!

After consultation, with the Psychiatrist and Psychologist it turns out that I am on the Autism Spectrum at Level 1. I always knew I was a bit different, but never suspected this.

In addition, after days and days of psychotherapy it was revealed that I also have:

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Allow me to explain.

Theory of Mind in Specialized Treatment Programs for Level 1 Autism

One of the most effective ways to treat level 1 autism is through utilizing the Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind and adaptive skills-based treatment that targets executive function, emotional regulation, cognitive flexibility, social communication skills, and anxiety reduction. These are all critical aspects in the field of Level 1 treatment.

Theory of Mind is the ability to accurately predict or attune to the thoughts, intentions, feelings, and perspective of another person. Individuals with autism have delays in this particular development. As a toddler, a neurotypical child will transition into a phase of cooperative play in which theory of mind begins to develop. Ideally, the child begins to be aware of the needs and feelings of those around them.  When theory of mind does not develop, early adolescence is marked with delays in social maturation, social/emotional problem solving, and cognitive flexibility all of which play a crucial part in adaptive function.

It came out that I have a rather high IQ, and started to develop my own Theory of Mind from a very young age when I noticed that I didn’t fit in. It was my coping mechanism for my survival. I would study human behaviour and emulate the behaviour of others in social interactions in order to fit in. I would learn to memorise various acceptable responses to millions of social ques that others were sending in order to map the correct response in each situation. I managed to create a public persona over the past 3 decades in order to live my interesting life. However, this public persona started to drift away from my own personality. I also started to ignore ego-states that were detrimental, malevolent or hampering my social standing and success. This caused these ego-states to dissociate from my personality, be destructive and almost form their own personality. They started surfacing when I consumed alcohol. I started losing the ability to recall certain memories over the past couple of months, and I was about to split up into various personalities and ego-states.

The battle for control between my public persona, the good me and the bad others in me ended up with an attempt on my life by myself?!

Apparently, people with similar symptoms to mine don’t often make it past 15 years of age and die by suicide.

It is astounding that I have made it this far in life without ever being diagnosed or without any medication.

My intellect and creativity helped me in laymen terms to recognise that I was different and figure out quickly which skills I needed to function as a human. It also assisted me in using my afflictions to my advantage.

My ADHD assisted to help me pick up multitudes of social cues and map them to acceptable behaviour patterns. It also kept my serotonin and dopamine levels in check by figuring out how to self-regulate and top-up these chemicals in my brain until I couldn’t anymore.

My Obsessive-Compulsive disorder helped me with understanding order and hierarchical structures and using them to my advantage in order to reach high levels of accomplishment.

My depression gave me the darkness and hopelessness to activate my fighting spirit which I used to slay all these dragons. Again, I just thought life was one big adventure! Never knew others didn’t have it this bad…

My left and right hemispheres are both dominant. I am as analytical as I am creative. This probably saved my life!

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What now?

I am extremely relieved that I am sitting here typing this post to you, where there is life there is hope.

I am thankful that I have answers to questions I have been asking since childhood.

I am not a danger to myself or others. I am now only one person and a better version of me.

I am on chronic medication for:

  • ADHD so that I can focus at work.
  • Anti-depressants to regulate the serotonin in my brain.
  • Anti-psychotic mood stabilizers to regulate the dopamine in my brain.

I am in therapy to reintegrate all the ego-states into my one personality.

I am high functioning with Autism (previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome) so I can cope with a healthy balanced life.

I am not allowed to have alcohol ever again.

I have a scar on my wrist that might freak people out, but I am comfortable to explain the significance.

I have mental illness and I have received help.

I am okay.

This is the beginning of a whole new adventure!