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.
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.
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‘.
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.
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!