Imagine a world in which you had no friends. No one liked you. And nothing they did made any sense. The intense feeling of rejection and loneliness that results. Yet you keep getting told that everything you do is wrong, but you don’t understand what you’ve done. And the constant stress of living apart from who you really are just to fit in.
Now imagine being in a room filled with excruciating noise. The bright, flashing lights hurt your eyes. The heat or cold is so palpable that it is almost unbearable.
Is this a world that is warm and friendly? Inviting? Encompassing? Compassionate? Welcoming?
That is the world of the neurodivergent. A world which is lonely, uninviting, unaccepting. It is a world made up of people who don’t embrace differences; where everyone must conform to uniformity and, in many cases, mediocrity.
A world that excludes anyone who isn’t like them.
Neurodivergency and human dignity…
There has been a lot of recognition lately concerning the brain and how it functions. The understanding of these differences has grown in awareness over the past few years. Terms such as “Autism”, ADD, ADHD, HSP, etc. – mnemonics for various brain functions – has begun to become household names.
But the stereotypes of such individuals has skewed society’s perspective on who these people really are. And it is frustrating. Not everyone is Forrest Gump.
A few decades back, hyperactive white boys were considered “dysfunctional” and having a “disorder”. The solution was to immediately develop chemical substances to cause these children to behave like all the other little boys and girls in public settings.
For some, it helped. For the majority, it caused them to become individuals who lost who they were, shrouded in fog and feeling strange in their own skin.
Girls and other races were not considered having these “disabilities”, and remained undiagnosed or unrecognized. They just were told to “conform”.
Jumping on the bandwagon?
The modern world is intolerant of differences. Those who do not conform to the norm are to be forced to do so if they want a job or just survive. Even if it meant great cost to their self-worth. Acceptance hasn’t been an option.
I went shopping at a local retailer the other day and was faced with a giant yellow sign at the entrance. “Sensitive Friendly Shopping Hours”, it said. And many passed by not having a clue what it was for. But I was excited!
You see, like many households, I live in a very neurodiverse universe. Boys who jump off the walls; girls who don’t seem to pay attention; babies who don’t sleep; moods affected by approaching storms; understanding the world around them in a different light; speaking one’s mind. That, for us, has always been perfectly normal.
It never seemed to matter a hundred years ago how people acted, unless it was a public safety issue. People accepted others for who they were. If they were different, they still had friends. Some built their own businesses. Others worked in businesses that accepted their performance rather than their quirks as the driving force behind their employment.
But increasingly, tolerance has become politicized. Living outside those prescribed boundaries make a person automatically shunned. Being written up for not being a “team player” is commonplace, even though their work excels. Seeming bluntness, short attentions spans, inability to cope with long hours and demands from work or coworkers, etc. all seem to draw attention to their differences. Keeping employment because of such things is difficult. Many are fired. Others choose to go out on their own if they can find a way.
Others, especially women, have succeeded in working within an unfriendly world by use of something called “masking”. It is a technique that they develop. It is as a sort of coping mechanism, allowing them to hide their differences behind a mask of “normality”.
But it comes at great cost.
I have lived behind such a mask for decades. It was unacceptable to be bluntly honest in the workplace, even though my job was to check work for quality. Pointing out mistakes “hurt feelings”. To me, it was just data – facts, not feelings. It made me considered to be a bad team player.
Crowded, noisy team activities or company parties unravelled me. The lights and noise only added to the stress I wasn’t recognizing.
When asked my opinion, I gave it. After all, isn’t that why people asked? But that wasn’t why people asked, I learned later on. People didn’t want honesty. They wanted affirmation, correct or not.
The end result of all these years of masking resulted in burnout. At the first opportunity, I jumped ship. But not without discovering that it will take many years of recovery time to undo the damage caused.
Worst of all, I realized that I lost who I really am.
And I am not alone…
Tell-tale signs such as a lack of energy, no motivation to do anything, the dread of having to go to work, and the noticeable difference between the feeling of overwhelm at the office versus semi-relaxation while on vacation away from all the stress.
Adrenal gland fatigue and burnout is finally being recognized as a legitimate issue. Cortisol levels constantly raised is the cause of many cancers and serious diseases. It is a result from decades of unrecognized or unmanaged stress.
The body simply isn’t designed to live in a constant state of fight or flight.
Yet those in the neurodivergent camp live it every day. Just as described in part at the beginning of this post.
Human dignity lost…
In a world where everything must align to conform to a single vision, those in the “different” camp are labeled as having “disorders”. But with the hundreds of thousands being diagnosed with such differences, that label is quickly wearing thin.
It isn’t a “disorder”. It is a “difference in processing information”.
Labeling people who don’t fit within a specific mold only serves to deny their humanness. We were not created to be the same. We were made to be different.
Like a puzzle piece, each one of us fits in a slot uniquely designed for us. And if we didn’t, but were forced to behave like “everyone else”, that hole in humanity would still exist. No one else could fill it. No one else should.
When my mother grew up, there were no “disorders”. People accepted each other, no matter how quirky they seemed. There was a level of understanding that allowed for the variations of personality and perceptions. Understanding another person’s background, culture, perspectives, and beliefs served as the backdrop of that acceptance.
Seeing the sign at the retail store reminded me just how far off track we have come. It is no wonder that there are millions of people flocking to the few who are boldly standing up saying what few want to hear.
It isn’t helpful that the world of psychology is run by neurotypical individuals. They have never experienced life in the other lane.
Finding those who have been shunned by the world at large is to find a connection. They can finally accept themselves and their differences. And they can finally understand that they are normal – not “disabled”.
They have support from those who are just like them.
That retailer’s sign shows that the people who have been pushed to the outside are now being recognized. While their contribution to society isn’t fully understood, at least this is a step in the right direction.
Even if, for now, people with hypersensitivity are only under the mistaken label of “disabled”. That understanding still must be changed.
Just because thinks differently shouldn’t automatically label them as “disordered”, or even “disabled”. Differences don’t mean someone is ill or dysfunctional. If that were the case, Elon Musk and others would not be allowed to showcase their genius and business dealings that are outside the norm.
Perhaps it is time to embrace what our grandparents and great grandparents knew. People are people. The variety those differences bring to the table are an asset, not a problem.
In a world built only for those who are neurotypical, it is time to restore to those outliers to their rightful place in society. It is the human dignity that all of us rightly deserve.