As I say at the beginning of most pieces I write (in case new people are reading): I am Autistc. I am also an ADHDer.
Since birth, I’ve lived in a world that wasn’t designed to consider (and frequently looks down on me for) my needs.
Because I am incompatible with the world, I have two options regarding how to deal with the compatibility issues I face daily.
Option 1 (the option I was FORCED into for most of my life, and it almost killed me):
Modify MYSELF to fit into the world (because the world expects me to conform and doesn’t have compassion for my NeuroDivergent brain).
Option 1 is NOT for me. I tried Option 1 for 29 years. It didn’t work out well for me.
Many of us conform to survive this violent and hostile system that frequently sees NeuroDivergence as only a weakness and tends to stigmatize anyone who doesn’t fall neatly in line with society’s expectations and systems.
There are several problems with Option 1:
- Denial of my feelings and needs (and identity) is required to force myself to fit into the systems that won’t flex and give me the emotional (or physical) safety space to speak my truths/get my needs met. Before learning about my various forms of NeuroDivergence, I was entirely out of touch with myself, my needs, and what I wanted in life – because I’d been told repeatedly that my feelings and needs were unreasonable and that other people knew what was best for me.
- Depending on how many NeuroTypes and additional co-occurring health conditions a person has, they may be unable to flex themselves to fit the world, and the expectation that they do so may be setting them up for failure. Some of us may NEVER be able to blend in. Some of us may only be able to conceal ourselves partially, and others may lose our ability to camouflage at various times and life stages. I dream of a world where those who can’t blend in will be embraced for standing out.
- NeuroDivergent People who can camouflage their distinctions may not always be able to hide (due to the dynamic nature of many neurodevelopmental differences and co-occurring conditions and disabilities).
- NeuroDivergent Camouflaging is often taxing on the individual (especially if they have multiple traumas and NeuoTypes to hide) because the constant self-monitoring and moderation drains energy and focus away from being engaged in the world around us.
- Additionally, when we camouflage ourselves (to keep us safe from abuse, harassment, and bullying – which doesn’t always work), we are essentially cloaking the most authentic versions of ourselves. It isolates us, preventing us from finding people who will accept us for who we are. Instead of growing a community of people who will give us emotional safety to be ourselves, we find people who only take us when we show them what they want to see from us, resulting in conditional “love” (that may dry up if we ever get to a point where we can no longer hide our NeuroDivergence anymore).
I was diagnosed Autistic in adulthood when I had a mental (and physical) health breakdown resulting from years of being expected to mold myself into the world.
Suddenly, I found myself exposed, as the complex mask I’d built over the years to hide my differences began to fall apart.
When I couldn’t keep it all together anymore, and my weaknesses were on full display, the people in my life (who only knew the version of me crafted to fit the expected social norms of the group) were unempathetic to my struggles, viewing my collapse as a moral failure (or was from lack of effort).
Option 2 (the option that only occurred to me after I was diagnosed Autistic at the age of 29):
Changing my environment and the world around me to better suit my needs instead of changing (and breaking) myself to fit into the world.
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