I’m Getting Too Old For This Shit: Aging and Neurodivergence

This kind of sums up the whole post but if you stop now, you’ll miss all my stellar, sweary prose. And, that would so sad.

So, I said last week that I want this to be a place where I talk about what it’s like to be a neurodivergent adult. Unfortunately, it’s turning out that’s harder than I thought it would be. You see, while awareness of neurodivergence is growing, that awareness is generally focused on kids; cisgender, white boys to be precise. You’re pretty much shit out of luck if you’re not white, not cis, not male, or not a goddamn kid. While most of that stuff is outside of my experience, the last — not being a kid — is something I know about. Today, we’re gonna talk about aging and neurodivergence, So, listen up, bitches.

I Am Familiar With This Issue

I started digging into this and found something interesting: we really don’t know shit about aging and neurodivergence. There’s just not a lot of research on the subject. And a lot of what I could find on the subject was about how much we don’t fucking know. And, then I remembered that I work at a college and have access to the library and all its related databases (side note, I won’t be able to link to these sources since many are behind paywalls. But I will provide a handy dandy MLA-style Works Cited page at the end of the post so you can find them yourself if that’s your jam). That search was more fruitful and I found… more. But the fucking issue persists. As Dr. Amanda Kirby of Do It Profiler, a UK-based neurodiversity training and support group, wrote just last month, “[w]e know so little about the secondary impact of having neurodivergent traits as we get older.” And, that is a goddamn problem. But, it’s one we older NDs are very familiar with.

10 Years and We Still Don’t Know Shit About Aging and Neurodivergence?

The worst part is that this fucking pathetic lack of knowledge exists despite years of calls for more research on the subject (Kirby). Especially when you consider that neurodivergent folks have been around as long as humans have been a thing. But there just isn’t a lot of data since the majority of research has been focused on children (mostly boys). The thing is, this is happening while we know that more and more people over 40 are being diagnosed. Not to mention all those people who were diagnosed as kids and are closing in on their senior years. Yet, we still know very little about neurodivergence in people over the age of 30. That’s insane. But, there’s not much we can do about it, so let’s take what we do know and work with it.

What the Research Does Say

As I said, there’s not a lot out there. But, what there is, well, it isn’t exactly comforting. In an article for the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders titled “Strategies for Research, Practice, and Policy for Autism in Later Life: A Report from a Think Tank on Aging and Autism,” Stephen M. Edelson et al. write that autistics face many of the same health and cognitive issues that older people deal with. Since ADHD has a fuck ton of stuff in common with autism –they are comorbidities, after all– the fact they share many of the same issues in this respect isn’t a surprise. As Dr. Kathleen Nadeau writes in an ADDitude Mag article, symptoms of ADHD “may flare and grow after midlife — especially when mixed with normal age-related cognitive decline, worsening physical health, and the lack of structure that often comes with retirement.” Those symptoms really are just more of the same: i.e. an intensification of the general cognitive and executive dysfunction I’ve dealt with my whole goddamn life. In other words, having both autism and ADHD means I get a double dose of this shit. Neurodivergence, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. And, by “giving”, I mean “shitting all over me”.

Being an Old Geezer With Autism and ADHD

So, what does aging and neurodivergence look like in real life? The health stuff is a bit of a concern but I’m doing what I can about that (I work out regularly, try to eat decently, and do my best to get enough sleep, etc.). The issues connected to executive and cognitive function are a different story. Those are a little harder to deal with. I’m trying, but it ain’t easy.

I Remember That. Maybe. Or Maybe Not

You may have read in other posts that the executive that lives in my head is a goddamn slacker. He drops the ball a lot. And, when it comes to memory, he does it in some really weird ways. Like, I can remember utterly useless shit, like my childhood address (Rt. 8, Box 172). But when it comes to important stuff (appointments, meetings, a great idea for some piece of writing I’m working on)? That shit will be lost in the mists of fucking time if I don’t write it down, put a calendar alert in my phone, or ask someone to remind me. So, memory’s already a big fucking problem as you age, and according to the research, it’s only going to worse. Yay.

All Over the Goddamn Place

Okay, we all know the stereotype that people with ADHD are easily distractable (Squirrel!/Ooh, shiny!) and I try to do my part in maintaining it. The general public doesn’t get the full brunt of this because I mask, like a whole fucking lot. But when I drop the mask, it can get a little hard to follow a conversation with me. I mean, tend to have whole sections in my head and don’t realize I’m doing it. Then, I’ll say something that sounds perfectly normal in my head only to have the person I’m talking to give me one of those “what the fuck?” looks. It’s so bad that the only person who can follow my insane shit is my son, who is also neurodivergent and has spent enough time with me unmasked that he can decipher it. Now, you might be thinking, “Joel, what does this have to do with aging?” Really? I mean, have you ever talked to an old person for more than 5 minutes? Since I’m already doing this shit, can you imagine what it’ll be like at age 80?

There’s an Answer and I’m Not a Fan

According to Harvard Health, there are some things that will keep this shit from getting worse. Some of them — like exercise, getting quality sleep, mental stimulation — which, as I said, I’m already doing. Others? Well, not so much. The article says that a Mediterranean-style diet, which is heavy on fruits, vegetables, and fish/poultry/dairy products but light on red meat, will help. While I don’t hate the things that diet emphasizes, I do love me some red meat. It also says, without recommending, that folks who drink an average of one alcoholic beverage every day. So, the one thing I’m not already doing that wouldn’t be awful isn’t “recommended”. Fucking great. But, I saved the best worst for last: social fucking contact. That’s right, one of the things that I hate most, the bane of my goddamn existence, is something that will keep me from becoming a doddering old fucker who doesn’t know where is at any given moment. Sometimes, I hate my fucking life.

It’s the Shittiest Venn Diagram Ever

So, let’s sum up the shit sandwich that is aging and neurodivergence: There is an almost criminal goddamn lack of reliable, fact-based information on getting older as a neurodivergent person. This is due to the fact that the psychology community, in all infinite fucking wisdom, has focused on children –white, cisgender boys, to be exact — to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. Until recently, at least, because there does seem to be a growing knowledge base on aging and neurodivergence. Unfortunately, what we’re finding out isn’t pretty. There is an unnerving degree of overlap between the issues facing both neurodivergent and older folks. This means that aging as a neurodivergent person is probably going to look a lot like being young as a neurodivergent person, only more-fucking-so. Think of the shittiest possible aging-related Venn diagram (like the one on this post) and you’ll get it. I say in the title that I’m getting too old for this shit, but apparently, I am not. Fuck.

Works Cited

Edelson, Stephen M, et al. “Strategies for Research, Practice, and Policy for Autism in Later Life: A Report from a Think Tank on    Aging and Autism.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, vol. 51, no. 1, 2020, pp. 382–390., https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-020-04514-3.

2 thoughts on “I’m Getting Too Old For This Shit: Aging and Neurodivergence

  1. Liz Reply

    1. You forgot *wealthy* in the list of adjectives for people who have informed what we know about ASD. Wealthy, white, male, gender-conforming, child.
    2. Does “more-fucking-so” need hyphens? Interesting.
    3. Love you Joel!

    • Joel Rieves Post authorReply

      1. Good point about *wealthy*.
      2. I don’t know if it *needs* commas, but I like the way it looks.
      3. Love you too.

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