Neurodivergent in a Neurotypical Narrative5 min read

I am plagued with mis­un­der­standing and igno­rance. It wreaks havoc on my way of life and on who I am as a person.

I am forced every day to wake up to a world that wasn’t built for people like me to people who are stuck in their ways and who don’t seem to realize how harmful they can be to people like me.

I am forced every day to suc­cumb to the pres­sures of being “normal” so I don’t exhaust my mental resources com­pletely in the first hour of my day.

I am forced every day to sit in class and behave like everyone else because “equal oppor­tu­nity is key,” though I learn nothing from sit­ting in a class­room and from being forced to share my thoughts, as “valid” as those thoughts might be. Opening my mouth in such a set­ting causes the train of thought in my mind to derail com­pletely, leaving me vul­ner­able and prone to embar­rass­ment. 

I am forced to stand up in front of my peers and give speeches even though every word that comes out of my mouth is the only thing keeping me from throwing up, and the fear of acci­den­tally making eye con­tact with someone in my audi­ence or losing my place in my notes or losing my train of thought and sounding like an “idiot” and someone who doesn’t know what she’s doing plays in my head on repeat. No one has to say these things, but they’re always there. The con­stant reminders of my social anx­iety impairs me in these sit­u­a­tions.

I am forced to make small talk and ini­tiate con­ver­sa­tion and make eye con­tact, even though those three things make me want to take the nearest flight to a place across the globe where no one else exists and stay there in iso­la­tion until people realize those three things are basi­cally Hell to someone who is autistic.

I am forced to keep my hands quiet and to stop doing things that help me cope with sen­sory over­load and melt­downs because it looks strange to the average onlooker and I would hate for people to stare and make me feel like my coping mech­a­nisms are invalid.

I was forced to sit in ABA therapy and was ingrained to believe that being nice and having good social skills and making eye con­tact is key to having friends, and every­thing I feel and every­thing I hate about being social is wrong, and going against what you feel com­fort­able with is the only way to not feel alone in this world.

I am forced to sit and hear, “Autism is what you have, not who you are,” and “Social anx­iety is just a bar­rier to a better you,” and “Don’t be defined by your dis­abil­i­ties,” but that is all just made up pro­pa­ganda to make those of us who have these things more normal to the public eye. People are embar­rassed of us. They don’t have to say it, but it’s true.

I am autistic. It is who I am, and I wear that badge with pride. It does define every­thing I do and say, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in some­thing that is intrin­si­cally wired into my DNA and was passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion in my family tree.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to con­nect with other like-minded indi­vid­uals and wanting to spread the idea of accep­tance to those who abuse and manip­u­late their autistic chil­dren simply because they don’t under­stand them.

I do have social anx­iety. It stems from a long his­tory of being made fun of because I am autistic (though I didn’t know it at the time), and a his­tory of not feeling like I could be fully myself. If I didn’t have social anx­iety, would I be a better person? Maybe. But right now, I’m still trying to grow in being self-aware, and maybe someday I’ll take steps to be more social, and maybe I won’t. And people have to be okay with that.

I dropped out of uni­ver­sity after one year because I felt like the “normal” col­lege expe­ri­ence wasn’t the right fit for me.  I felt pres­sured into doing what everyone else was doing, and without con­sid­ering the con­se­quences, I jumped in, pur­suing a career I myself wasn’t 100% com­fort­able with. It brought me thou­sands of dol­lars in debt and two semes­ters of feeling mis­un­der­stood and very much alone, as I had no idea how to be someone other than I had been in high school, and I couldn’t con­nect with others because I simply didn’t know how.

Yes, this world is fragile and breaking and people grow up believing things that aren’t actu­ally true and make their lives all about them and their com­fort, but I wish people could wake up and realize that not everyone can fit into the mold of the ideal person. Not everyone wants the “American dream” of get­ting a degree at a four-year col­lege, get­ting mar­ried and pur­suing a career that really loses its touch after sev­eral years.

Not everyone can func­tion in a set­ting where you’re forced to be social and to make friends. Not everyone appre­ci­ates envi­ron­ments where you have to get in groups and share your feel­ings. Not everyone can feel safe in a bustling city or feel like their voice is being heard in the sea of opin­ions when it comes to being open.

Especially not people like me.

There’s nothing wrong with being dif­ferent. There’s nothing wrong with learning and growing in dif­ferent ways than most people.

What is wrong is assuming that just because someone is dif­ferent, they can accom­mo­date them­selves into your per­fect idea of what they need.

Autistic people don’t need to be fixed.

Anxious people don’t need to be thrown into the metaphor­ical lion’s den to be cured of their anx­iety.

Depressed people don’t need to be “cheered up” to be sud­denly cured of their depres­sion.

What we do need is to be lis­tened to. To be respected. To be cared for and cared about.

Smashing us into the mold of a per­fect learner/student/friend not only hurts us, but it hurts you because you’ve dam­aged your rela­tion­ship with us.

Listen, learn, and grow from us.

The world will be a much kinder place if you do.

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4 Comments

  1. Thank you for this article 🙂

  2. Great article, I see me in all your words and find myself agreeing with all you say.

  3. Thank you so much for this article. I love the way you described every­thing, and I can def­i­nitely relate. 🙂

  4. Oddly enough, the same people love to talk about being who you are, self accep­tance, diver­sity, flex­i­bility, adapt­ability, not being selfish, not being self cen­tered and ego­tis­tical, etc don’t them­selves exem­plify but rather woe­fully fail to dis­play the very values they espouse. Many people who have been forced into iso­la­tion such as mail order brides in the recently set­tled Midwest went mad from the lack of social con­tact. And now some are dreaming of long trips into outer space and set­tling other planets.

    In biology species are defined by a dense cluster of indi­vid­uals that group around a point in a field of common char­ac­ter­is­tics with all mem­bers sim­ilar but dis­tinct with fewer out­lying mem­bers. But it is this diver­sity including the out­liers that makes the species viable. Because this diver­sity including the out­liers allows for adap­ta­tion whether for changes within the cur­rent envi­ron­ment or to move to another envi­ron­ment.

    If sci­ence, reason and reality ruled our society would value indi­vid­uals and their dif­fer­ences. Instead an ide­alogy of the ideal, con­for­mity and the con­ve­nience and effi­ciency of a fac­tory mod­eled utopia rules. As with most ide­olo­gies, it seems that the minority and the less pow­erful are held to a more rigid higher stan­dard than the more pow­erful majority.

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