a person with long brown hair holds a red fidget spinner

Things I Didn’t Realize Were Related to Being NeuroDivergent (Autistic and ADHD or AuDHD) Before I Was Diagnosed “with Autism” and ADHD

I’m creating a new community outside of social media on Substack (where I can have more control over my space), and I hope you’ll join me as a free member (but I also have paid subscriptions if you want access to bonus content).

Hey, Humans, Lyric here, the NeuroDivergent Rebel, and as many of you already understand, I didn’t know I was Autistic for the first 29 years. I’ve always been Autistic. My ADHD wasn’t discovered until a few years later when I was in my mid-30s. 

I am multiply NeuroDivergent. Specifically, AuDHD, short for having an Autistic and ADHD combined NeuroType. My combination of NeuroTypes (I’m also Hyperlexic and have an anxiety disorder) influence my experience of the world around me. 

Before I dive into this list of things I didn’t know were related to being NeuroDivergent, I feel obligated to note that this is my PERSONAL list related to my specific combination of NeuroTypes, meaning these may not be accurate for every NeuroDivergent Person or NeuroType or even for every Autistic ADHDer out there. 

These things are true for me, but each person is an individual, and we are all unique and have vastly different experiences (even if we have the same NeruoType or combination of NeuroTypes).You may relate to some things on my list if you are Autistic and ADHD. You may also not connect with my list (because we are all unique individuals). 

This list, based entirely on my experience as ONE NeuroDivergent Person, should NOT be used to diagnose or disqualify anyone from any NeuroType. (If you relate strongly, it could cue you to dig further into why you connect to my words so strongly.) If you’re a NeuroTypical reader, please do not consider this a definitive list.

Let’s dive in now that the disclaimers are out of the way. Looking back at my life as an undiscovered NeuroDivergent Person, one of the first things I realized was that all of my struggles in school were because of my undiscovered Autism and ADHD growing up – without a doubt.

That’s because the school systems (like most systems in society) cater to and are set up to support the neuromajority and those with the “average” NeuroTypical learning style (if such a thing exists). 

These structures are often harmful to those in the neurominority (NeuroDivergent People – those whose brains diverge from what is considered “typical” for the culture they live in) because our needs are not considered.

Historically, NeuroDivergent people haven’t had much opportunity to give input when developing these systems because we are often pathologized and told that our ways of doing things, thinking, and experiencing the world are wrong and we are broken. Over and over again, we are asked to try harder to fit into these broken, outdated systems instead of flexing the systems so that we may evolve and find solutions that work well for everyone. 

Systems and structures that favor the majority will often miss, exclude, and harm the outliers. 

If you struggled in school, this could be one clue that your brain type may be one our society’s systems don’t cater to, as this system is often one of the first systems NeuroDivergent people will struggle with starting at a young age. 

My Autistic thinking, and my ADHD, made the classroom experience a nightmare for me (and my teachers). It also explained why the classroom gave me sensory overload, another thing we’ll get to in a minute.

a person with long brown hair spinning a red fidget spinner with white text overlaying it that reads text that says 'NEURODIVERGENTREBEL.SUBSTACK.COM NEURODIVERGENT Things I Didn't Realize Were Related to Being NeuroDivergent (Autistic and ADHD or AuDHD) Before I Was... You may relate to some things my if you are Autistic and and ADHD. You may also not connect with my list (because we are all unique individuals)

Another thing I experience but didn’t know was related to being Autistic before being diagnosed as an adult is situational mutism (sometimes called selective mutism).

I hate the term “selective” because there’s nothing selective about it, which is why many of us call this phenomenon “situational mutism” instead.  People who experience situational mutism sometimes lose the ability to speak when anxious or overwhelmed.

This verbal shutdown happens due to anxiety and overwhelm. It is NOT a refusal to speak

It is an incredibly frustrating feeling, wanting to communicate and not being able to or not being heard – especially when you know what you want or need to say. Frustrating because even if I know exactly what I want to say, my brain forgets where my mouth is and how to make words.

Autism explained all the times I became trapped inside myself over the years, knowing EXACTLY what I wanted to say (screaming on the inside) but could not move my mouth to make the words come out physically.

One of the first times this happened to me was in elementary school. Nervous about speaking in front of other children in the class, I could not read what was on the paper before me when my turn in circle reading time came. My mouth could not move to make the words come out, despite knowing exactly what words I wanted to say.

It did not matter that I could read far above my grade level and knew the words and their meanings or that I got in trouble for “not reading” when my teacher requested it. 

The fact that I was Hyperlexic made it worse. 

Being Hyperlexic, teaching myself to read at age one and a half, and having an advanced vocabulary, reading at college level in elementary school, is related to being Autistic.

Hyperlexic kids often can read far above grade level and can read and write at levels far above their spoken abilities. We are often gifted in this one area but need help and can struggle significantly in other areas. 

Also, I should mention when we’re talking about Hyperlexia and having advanced reading ability, being related to being Autistic, Autistic People are also likely to be Dyslexic or have Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia, or other learning differences in it as well, so not all of us are advanced readers. Some of us do struggle with reading. It depends on how we process communication and information.

Because I’d already proven in standardized testing that I COULD read (at an advanced level), my inability to read with an audience (due to anxiety) was perceived and treated as a behavioral problem – a REFUSAL. 

No matter how much my teacher scolded me for it, I still could not read aloud (in fact, her scoldings and punishments only made the anxiety that prevented me from speaking worse). In general, due to my advanced vocabulary (thanks to my Hyperlexia) and my tendency to speak like a little professor (another cue someone MIGHT be Autistic), people thought me to be wise beyond my years and more mature than I actually was.

Expectations were higher because of this (often out of reach). This over (or under) estimation didn’t happen just in circle reading time but in many areas and activities of my life.

Because people lead with NeuroTypical expectations (even for those of us who are NeuroDivergent), people often want more (or expect less) from me than I’m capable of – which is why I’ve experienced a lifetime of reoccurring burnouts starting in elementary school.

You can read more of this post (for free) on Substack.

Do you do any of these? I would love to hear about your experience.

In addition to Substack (because I STRONGLY believe educational resources should be affordable), I also offer subscriptions on Patreon, where I always offer a pay-what-you-can subscription (starting at $1 a month – less when you subscribe annually).

One thought on “Things I Didn’t Realize Were Related to Being NeuroDivergent (Autistic and ADHD or AuDHD) Before I Was Diagnosed “with Autism” and ADHD

  1. School was torture for me from the beginning. I am hyperlexic, anxious, bipolar, and possibly autistic. I didn’t like school from the beginning but Montessori was better than public school. I went to Montessori School until I was 13. When I transferred to public school, all hell broke loose. Some of the teachers were kind, but some were strict and had no idea about autism and bipolar. Most of the students were mean. The friendly, kind students were few and far between.
    College was easier socially, but even though I chose my major, I wasn’t interested in the majority of my class subjects. I was only interested in one of two classes.
    The job search was worse. I hated interviews with the heat of umpteen-zillion suns. I only looked for a job so that Mum would not kick me out of the house and have me “committed”. But I hated writing resumes, reading the want ads and seeing the same garbage about “seeking a confident, hard worker who thrives in a challenging environment”. When I eventually got a seasonal job doing data entry at a distribution center, I hated it because most of my coworkers were too “average” in their interests. They didn’t bully me, but I found them tedious and boring. That went on for several years on a seasonal basis.
    Eventually I got an ongoing job, at Circuit City, which was nothing short of living hell. My coworkers were more sophisticated and I liked that, but they hated my “emotional problems”, as they called it. They overworked me and even made me multitask, which I hated so much that I preferred to be unemployed. But Mum didn’t want me sitting around the house like a “bum”. She just didn’t understand that I could NOT get a job unless it was doing the same tasks all day, whether data entry or filing (or my favorite, proofreading). My fights with Mum about unemployment got worse after Circuit City fired me. Of course I was glad when Circuit City went bankrupt. They deserved it for being neurotypical ableists!
    From then on, I kept going on interviews with no success. Finally in 2009 I’d had enough. I told Mum I was moving out so I wouldn’t have to conform to her (bleep) demands of me. She wanted me to be “successful” and “happy”. Wrong on both counts! I’m not a happy person and never will be because adversity just tortures me and has no value. As for being successful, I wanted a single-task job that would be easy, especially proofreading. There were no jobs that required proofreading all day or filing all day. And the data entry jobs involved doing spreadsheets, which I (bleep) hated and always will.
    So I started looking for a “for all ages” facility to move into. Two years later I finally moved out of Mum’s house and I’ve lived here ever since. But of course there are neurotypical ableist bullies, homophobes, transphobes, and religibigots there too. I just can’t win. Society is sock-eye-ety! It socks me in the eye (figuratively) with all its ableism.
    I’m glad I’m allowed to be unemployed, but socially, life will never be easy for me, because of so many neurotypical ableists. And Mum won’t stop thinking like a prude about “what she raised me to be”. Dementia has made her even more hard-headed, although she was hard-headed to begin with. And Papa has been gone since March 1986, so I feel all alone in the (bleep) world. I don’t have siblings. That doesn’t help matters. Mum isn’t a bad person. But she inherited her father’s Type A, strict, authoritarian personality. That’s not good, regardless of the fact that she’s not a bad person. Kindness is important but I also need to be “handled with kid gloves”. I don’t like strict people, even if I’m related to them.
    I wish I had an aide, or that adult adoption was common in Virginia. Then I could get the support I need while continuing to live at Climping Independent Living Apartments.
    Neurotypical ableists are a form of torture, and society needs to shape up!!!
    Claire Dixon

Leave a Reply