Neurotypical vs Neurodivergent: It’s a Different World Pt. 2

Okay, sometimes they do offer you a pill but it’s not red or blue.

Last Friday, I started delving into how neurotypical and neurodivergent people are different. So very fucking different. In that post, I talked about the fact that we are different, that neurodivergents acknowledge that difference, and how understanding that we are different impacts the way we interact with others. I also said there was so much shit that it would take multiple posts to cover it all. This is one of those posts. In this one, we’re gonna talk about empathy, adaptability, anxiety, and emotions. And, again, there may be some hurt feelings. Also again, sorry, not fucking sorry. Anyway, let’s get into it.

Neurotypical vs Neurodivergent: Empathy Is Different For Us

The perception among many neurotypicals is that NDs, especially autistics, don’t feel empathy. Which isn’t true. We feel it, we just show it in a way they don’t understand. Some of this misunderstanding may stem from something called “flat affect“. This is where one’s outward demeanor doesn’t reflect whatever emotion they may be feeling. It can make it look like we don’t feel empathy even though we are generally hyper-empathetic. But when you don’t do something in a way that NTs understand, they just assume you’re incapable of it. So, why is this a thing? Well, Dr. Amanda Kirby writes in an article about burnout that empathy is influenced by multiple factors. Among these factors is executive function. And, guess who has issues with executive function? Uh-huh. So, it makes sense that our interaction with empathy is different from that of neurotypical people. The point is that ours isn’t “bad” or “wrong”, it’s just fucking different.

This little bit of neurotypical fuckery may also happen because, as Janae Elisabeth says in her Trauma Geek blog on Medium, NDs have generally been studied more like animals than humans, that any research has been done to us, not with us. And, that has led to the assumption that we are less empathetic, less aware of others, less social. That we are more robot than human. She also says, and I agree whole-fucking-heartedly, that they haven’t bothered to understand the things that made us the way we are. Instead, their focus has always been forcing us to act more neurotypical. Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t a situation that’s going to lead to us feeling more goddamn empathy.

Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome: SOP for Neurodivergents

I know that’s the Marine Corps unofficial motto but it’s part and parcel of living as a neurodivergent. Full disclosure, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of research available on this topic, so a lot of what I’m going to say is anecdotal. Much of it coming from personal experience. But, I believe that NDs are more adaptable than NTs, if only because we have more practice. I mean, we live in a world that does not take our needs into account, one that constantly forces us into neurotypical ways of doing things. And, that requires a fuck ton of adaptability.

I did find something that backs this up. In a Harvard Business Review article about communication and neurodivergent folks. Author J. D. Goulet, speaking of career advice on the internet, writes, ” More often than not, it puts the onus on ND individuals to adapt and conform to neurotypical (NT) expectations of communication . . . .” And, that’s not the only place it happens. If we’re in public, we’re masking. Why? Remember that bit in the previous paragraph about how research into neurodivergence has been focused on forcing us to behave more neurotypically? Yeah, that. I mean, get your ass kicked often enough and you’ll learn to hide the shit that’s bringing on those ass-kickings. I.e. we adapt.

Feel My Feelings? I Don’t Even Know What They Are

NDs are different when it comes to emotions, too. Many of us, like me, have something called alexithymia. Click the link for a more in-depth description but the short version is that I have issues understanding and expressing my emotions. And, when I say issues, I mean that I really don’t. Understand or express them, that is. Until my emotional dysregulation kicks in and I completely fucking lose it. But, really, this inability to understand and/or express my emotions is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a curse because I feel like I’m constantly groping around in the dark when it comes to this stuff. But it’s a blessing because, in white culture, a public show of emotion is… not good. So, I’ve got that going for me, which is nice. Unfortunately, though, neurotypicals don’t get any of this. And, instead of attempting to get it, they just brand us as emotionless robots and move the fuck on with their lives.

You’ve Got That Anxious Feelin’. Whoa, That Anxious Feelin’

Okay, let’s get this out of the way right up front: I’m not saying that only NDs have anxiety. Anyone can have that shit, both neurotypicals and neurodivergents. What I’m saying is that neurodivergents tend to have it more. According to Dr. Amanda Kirby (same doc, different article), rates of anxiety disorder run higher among neurodivergent people. In fact, she points out that about 1 in 7 people with anxiety disorders also live with ADHD. And, it makes sense if you think about it. We all have a baseline level of anxiety, living in a dystopian shitshow like we do. Add to that all the extra stuff neurodivergents deal with–social awkwardness, sensory overload, executive function issues, imposter syndrome/RSD, etc., resistance to change (even though change is fucking inevitable), and the general lack of society’s acceptance of all this–and it would be a goddamn miracle if we didn’t have anxiety. In fact, coming up with that list has me feeling all antsy. So, excuse me while I sit in the corner and rock for a while.

Neurotypical and Neurodivergent People Are Different. And, That’s Not a Bad Thing

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that being different shouldn’t be a bad thing. But anyone who’s neurodivergent can tell you that is not the way things work in this chthonic hellscape (yes, chthonic is an actual word) that neurotypicals have created. Many of us have spent our lives as square pegs that have been repeatedly jammed into round holes without a thought given to what that does to our psyche. That leads to a lot of different reactions (remember, we’re not a fucking monolith). Some people respond by getting anxious, others by getting angry. But I think the most common reaction, by far, is to just stop giving a fuck. Not about everything–although that is an option–but about what neurotypicals want us to do. It’s also the most healthy option, and we aren’t known for choosing the most healthy option so score one for us. If this causes you neurotypical types a little angst? Well, now you have a tiny bit of insight into our world. You’re fucking welcome.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *