Being Neurodivergent In a Neurotypical World

If you’ve ever wondered what neurodivergent folks think about neurotypicals…

If you’re neurodivergent, you understand one thing above all others: the neurotypical world is fucking weird. From the odd social conventions (shaking hands? What is that all about?) to chit-chat (they talk at length about absolutely nothing! And, expect you to do it, too!), to the mind-bogglingly figurative way they think, neurotypicals often seem more like aliens than fellow humans. Unfortunately, there are more of them than there are of us which means they get set up the conditions of our shared world. And, it’s nearly inscrutable to us neurodivergent types.

It’s a Neurotypical World. Neurodivergents Just Live in it.

Living in this neurotypical hellscape isn’t easy. I mean, how can it be when you’re dealing with the illogicality that characterizes neurotypical thinking? The hidden meanings, unspoken contexts, and arcane social conventions they’ve set in place make very little sense to us. What is a poor autist to do in such a nightmare world?

Neurodivergent=Wearing a Mask

To navigate this neurotypical shitshow, an ND has to resort to tricks: aka, coping skills and masking. Over the 60 years of my life, I have built up a set of these skills through trial and error, therapy, and exchanging notes with other neurodivergent folks because community–irritating as it can be for people like us–can be a big help in navigating the hard stuff. Knowing that this isn’t really an option for some folks, I called on a few friends and put together a list of the things we do to make life slightly more bearable.

The Tips:

I’m going to break these hints down into two categories: Actual-things-you-can-do and Not-much-you-can-do-but-this-will-keep-things-from-sucking-so-bad. The first set includes things you can do things to make life easier/better/not quite as sucky. The other category, I believe, is pretty self-explanatory.

Actual-things-you-can-do tips

  • You’re probably already doing this without even realizing it, but recognize that this world isn’t built for brains like yours, it’s built for neurotypical ones. This is important as everything else flows from it. If you don’t acknowlege a problem, it’s hard to do anything about it.
  • Understand your needs and know your limits. And, don’t let anyone push you beyond them. Because they will. And, all too often, the person doing the pushing will be you.
  • Find your “support person”. This is someone who understands your particular situation and is willing to help carry the load. It can be a spouse, a parent, one of your adult kids, a friend… you get the picture.
  • Don’t be afraid to say, “Fuck societal norms.” I mean, if we’re living in a world that doesn’t take our needs into consideration, why should we give a shit about its standards? The fact that this is the one of the most freeing things you can do as a neurodivergent is a definite plus.
  • Headphones, ear buds, whatever you call them, are life savers. They block out extraneous noise, stifle distractions, and let the world know you aren’t open to conversation. Although that last one depends on neurotypicals paying attention and picking up on another person’s obvious signals. So yeah, it’s really hit or miss. 
  • Exercise helps. It’s not a panacea but it is beneficial. As long as you do it alone and away from other people who, if we’re being honest, are usually why we need to exercise in the first fucking place.
  • Lean into the weird. It’s not like you can stop being odd, so just say “fuck it” and let your freak flag fly. Not only is this as freeing as saying “fuck societal norms”, it will also save you a ton of energy. Because trying pretend to you’re “normal” is exhausting.
  • If medication works for you, take it. If it doesn’t, don’t. Everyone’s brain chemistry is different and that is okay. Also, ignore the fuck out of NT’s who try to tell you medication is bad and all you need is (insert whatever “science woo” bullshit is making the rounds at the moment) to function. The same goes for an NT who pushes you to medicate when you don’t want to. It’s your body/brain and you get to decide what goes into it.
  • By now, you’ve probably figured out that dealing with the neurotypical world will drain the fuck out of you. So try to have a plan in place whenever you know you have to do it. And, make sure your support person knows the plan.
  • NT’s rarely say what they mean, so know that “How are you doing?” is not an invitation to for you tell them how you’re actually doing. They most likely don’t give a shit, so just say “Fine” and move on. Yeah, I know it’s irritating but believe me, it’s not worth the hassle of pushing back.

Not-much-you-can-do-but-this-will-keep-things-from-sucking-so-bad tips

  • Prepare yourself to be told you’re wrong. A lot. Constantly and in a million little ways. In general, neurotypicals have an overweening need to be right and they have no problem with making you out to be wrong to do so.
  • As I said in the intro, NT’s fucking love chit-chat. Of course, we neurodivergent folks would rather crawl through a mile of broken glass than talk about the goddamn weather. Unfortunately, there’s not a tip or a trick to deal with this. The best I can tell you is that, if you find yourself cornered by a chatty NT, just smile and nod. And, get the hell out of the situation as quickly as you can.
  • Socialization/community are overrated. Sure, they’re necessary but my God they’re hard. And quite often, the benefit doesn’t outweigh the cost. Sadly, it’s like small talk: there’s not a lot you can do about it. We’re outnumbered and can’t expect our (often weirdly) specific needs to take precedence over others. That said, it would be nice if our needs were even fucking considered once in a while.
  • Know that there are people who will derive great enjoyment from fucking with you. They will use your difference against you because it’s “fun” for them. While you should never hesitate to tell these people to piss off, do so with the understanding that it probably won’t do much good. Your best bet is get the fuck away from them as soon as possible.

This Isn’t Over

That’s it for now. This will be an ongoing list and will be revisited on a regular basis as learning how to live in this world is not a one-and-done deal. We learn new tricks/tips/skills every day and we should share them with each other. Because, as I said earlier, community may suck but it’s our best bet at navigating the dystopian shitshow that neurotypicals have created.