TW- internalised ableism, trauma, mentions of gaslighting
Neurodivergence isn’t seen as a spectrum with individual experiences by “experts”. Diagnoses of neurodivergence in general are ableist in themselves because these tests stick to very rigid categories and understandings of neurodivergence as a disorder – as something that “hurts” people and that needs to be cured. An official diagnosis is also given mostly to children and very few adults get diagnosed (mostly on their insistence). Amongst the adults who do get a diagnosis, most of the statistic comprises cis men. The diagnosis is mostly based on how inconvenient or “abnormal” the person’s behavior is in the context of society, like the lack of eye contact, echolalia (repetition of words), lack of attention, stimming, being sensitive to stimulation, and so on, which is a very ableist way to look at neurodivergence.
Apurupa (@inapurupriate on Instagram) shares their thoughts on being neurodivergent and an adult. Apurupa is a sexuality educator and they got their autism diagnosis about a year ago. While sharing their thoughts on Pride celebrations, they talk about how although Pride is a wonderful celebration, it leaves them overstimulated which leads to a shutdown at the end of the day. Most of the celebration is spent with them masking their autistic traits and a lot of times, they don’t even realise that they’re doing it. And this happens even in online spaces so they suggest re-envisioning Pride celebrations to make them more neurodivergent friendly.
Speaking of masking, Apurupa recounts their experience of masking and passing as neurotypical. She says that she takes pride in the fact that people can’t tell that she’s autistic and people also say that they don’t “appear” neurodivergent. I understand where she’s coming from because there is so much stigma and shame associated with being neurodivergent, and neurotypicals have an almost rigid expectation of what being neurodivergent “looks” like, as if they experience it themselves. Some days, it becomes safer to mask around neurotypicals.
Another problematic label assigned to discourse around neurodivergence, or even mental illnesses for that matter, is the binary of “high” and “low” functioning. You might be familiar with terms like ‘high functioning anxiety’ or ‘high functioning depression’ or ‘high functioning autism’. ‘High functioning’ is a fancy way of indicating that people are better at masking their neurodivergence and are able to appear “normal”. It’s a dichotomy created by neurotypicals which again fails to understand the spectrum of neurodivergence.
Recounting their experiences with their body and their identity, Apurupa talks about how it was harder for her to accept her neurodiversity compared to her queer identity and it took a long time for her to come to acceptance with her neurodivergence. She also says that at times, she feels like her body is strange for stimming, but then realises that it is normal and that she is allowed to soothe herself.
Talking about their experiences with dating, she talks about how because of her caste privilege, because she looks a certain way, and because she “passes” as a neurotypical, her dating life hasn’t been impacted much. But it has impacted her authenticity in her relationship as they recall one experience of being gaslighted for their emotions and reactions without the other person taking any personal responsibility.
It’s not always easy to diagnose neurodiversity. The checklist that psychologists use is just that. It’s a checklist, and it does nothing to begin to explore the diversity even in the experiences of neurodivergent people. A lot of neurodivergents go through a major chunk of their lives without learning that they are autistic or have ADHD or are neurodivergent in other ways. Partly because there is a lot of shame and stigma for not being “normal” and also because a lot of research and study comes from (mostly cishet, white) neurotypical people (mostly cis-men). Being neurodivergent is also not always visible or obvious and so people are shamed for being different. A good step to take to understand neurodivergence is to learn about the breadth of experience from neurodivergent people themselves on social media, and not solely from people who claim to be “experts” on the subject.