When a diverse group of individuals have a meeting, and a senior person (not openly autistic) dominates the conversation, clueless about how and why to be inclusive to introverts, who may have their own interesting backgrounds, ideas, stories to tell, but can only react politely.
Don’t preach diversity and inclusion if that’s the best you can do.
You wouldn’t believe how many senior leaders, HR professionals, EDI professionals etc get this absolutely fundamental basic so wrong.
Inclusion is not just a word or a sentiment. It requires conscious effort.
Is this an uncomfortable truth? Yes, and it should be, when you’re in a role in which diversity and inclusion should be the golden thread running through all your working practices.
Will I feed this back anyway? Yes. In the words of Chloe Hayden, “I don’t exist for the comfort of others”.
An interesting debate from a LinkedIn group I’m in. Apparently there’s a TikTok trend from people with Cluster B personality disorders to identify as neurodivergent. Some people in the recognised neurodivergent community, with lifelong neurodevelopmental conditions such as Autism, ADHD, dyslexia, are not sure how to feel about it.
Here’s my personal view. Caveat – I’m not a neurologist, I only did Biology to A-level. I do consider myself neurodivergent due to C-PTSD as well as Autism and suspected ADHD.
There is no standard typical brain, but anybody whose neural pathways differ substantially from typical may be considered neurodivergent. Some were born neurodivergent. Some have acquired neurodivergence. This could be due to brain damage from an accident or a stroke. It could be due to thought processes treading new neural pathways over time, due to trauma responses or compulsions or something else.
In my opinion, anybody with mental health conditions may identify as neurodivergent, if that is helpful to them. Their brains are wired differently from typical.
It’s easier to understand if you pick one condition and research it. Anxiety disorder is one example.
Take this analogy: Sometimes a person may feel compelled to tread a different path from others through a muddy field because they perceive it to be safer than the main path. The path they compulsively tread becomes more like a major path the more often they tread it.
Neural pathways are similar. When the brain keeps making the same detour, it forges a neural pathway. Sometimes this is reversible, for example, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) may help redirect the negative automatic thoughts or catastrophising thoughts of the anxious mind. Anxiety is therefore acquired neurodivergence, but not necessarily lifelong?
But why gatekeep? Anxious people do not think in a typical way, and if they want to identify as neurodivergent why not? They may need reasonable adjustments, especially for job interviews and onboarding. They certainly need understanding and compassion.
The brain is a wonderfully diverse and unique thing. I’m all for promoting understanding and acceptance of differences in the brain, and see no reason for gatekeeping here. If someone identifies as neurodivergent, they know their own mind.
My reflections for World Mental Health Day 2022 by Charlie Hart (Ausome Charlie)
“It’s OK not to be OK”, so the well-meaning slogan goes. That slogan bugs my daughter, who suffers from moderate depression and severe anxiety. She cannot access treatment through CAMHS (apparently, she does not exhibit anxiety over and above what can be expected in an autistic teenager) and would feel uncomfortable talking about her feelings anyway. She cannot get prescribed antidepressants due to her age. She does not consider it “OK” to suffer and struggle like she does.
As a late-diagnosed autistic adult with alexithymia (problems recognising my own emotions), I don’t always know when I am not OK. “How are you?”, people ask, but often I don’t know the answer and just shrug. The well-meaning copy/paste sentiment that bugs me is “It is good to talk, my door is always open, the kettle is on” because that is not enough; I need those who care to notice something is wrong and actively reach out to me.
Since my son ended his life in April 2019, aged 15, I get asked “how do you cope?” My answer: “I wasn’t given a choice”, or, if I am feeling facetious, “oh you know, hanging in there”. Sometimes, I can even talk calmly and bluntly about what I have been through, not just the loss but the horrors of how it happened. Well, I may appear calm on the surface, but the tell-tale signs are my words tumbling out too quickly, my breath quickening. Often with alexithymia a tidal wave of emotion is starting to swirl under the surface, gathering force ready to sweep me away as soon as I stop rushing from one activity to another and notice it’s there.
Yes, we all have bad days and low moods, but if you are often full of dread, if you often have a low mood, or plagued with intrusive thoughts, or lying awake ruminating into the small hours, having panic attacks… it is important to learn to take a breath and consciously tune in. Most of us will experience mental distress at some time in our lives and yes there are documented typical signs, but our brains are unique, and the symptoms or warning signs are personal and individual. Anxiety to me, for instance, feels like a writhing bag of snakes in my belly, so I struggle to eat, my sensory sensitivities worsen. I notice the physiological effects before the feelings.
Learn when to practice self-care and what works for you, when and how to lean on your support network, and when to seek professional treatment and/or medication. Self-care for me might look like getting out in the fresh air and putting one foot in front of the other with changing scenery, or maybe taking some time to blog about my spiralling worries and nagging doubts, taking the sting out of those what-ifs and maybes.
Actively seeking “glimmers” helps too; those little things that bring a little spark of joy, kind of the opposite of a trigger. For me, glimmers can be literal. I find it uplifting to look at reflections of bridges and trees in lakes or rivers, especially when the sunshine or moonshine is reflecting in the ripples on the water. My daughter is uplifted by adding a new plushie to her collection (usually a Fuggler), or baking cookies. What are yours?
“A relationship is referred to as being ‘straight passing’ when even though one or more people in it are queer, their romantic and sexual identities are often perceived by others to be heteroromantic and heterosexual. This can occur, for example, when a cis, bi man is dating a cis, pan woman or when a cis, queer woman is dating a cis, straight man. While the social perception of being in a ‘straight’ relationship does give couples and individuals access to certain privileges, the mass media myth of your sexuality being defined in terms of the other- who you love, or desire, or are different from, for example- can make navigating this relationship space tough when you are queer”. Khushi, 2021 https://gaysifamily.com/lifestyle/navigating-straight-passing-relationships/
Personally, as a bi, pansexual, gender nonconforming female, married to a man, I may be perceived to be in a straight relationship. However, I’m still queer, and I still need Pride month 🏳️🌈
Conscious I have not been around much recently here, I thought it’s time for an update.
At New Year of 2021, I somewhat foolishly decided that I have lots of free time due to working from home, so I resolved to update my professional qualifications (as HR has evolved in 20 years). 15 months of study, and eight long assignments later, I have finally finished my Diploma in HR Management (CIPD level 5) hurrah! Although motivated and interested in the topics, I have had significant issues with attention and focus, and many days where I have been too frazzled to take anything in or write anything down, so I am very glad it is over (I cannot help but wonder whether ADHD medication may have helped, but I do not have an ADHD diagnosis).
My daughters, particularly my teenage daughter, have needed me a lot recently, and my day job (HR Systems Analyst) has been demanding and draining.
Exercise features heavily in my life, it grounds me and stops me from being pulled under. I always fit in a run or bike ride or long walk every day, and a weekly yoga class.
Basically, I have had a long period of rushing headlong from one thing to another, often frazzled, often overwhelmed, not always coping, and social media and blogging have taken a back seat.
The good news is, I have now passed the final assignment on my HR Diploma, my new resolution is to stop working extra hours and practice self-care and spend more quality time with my husband and daughters, and I now have time to breathe and just be!
Autism is a common neurotype. Forget all those misleading stats – the majority go undiagnosed.
I wasn’t diagnosed until my early forties, after struggling for decades. Many families with one diagnosed autistic have many more who unwittingly camouflage and fly under the radar. Yes, autism runs in the family. Don’t assume you’re neurotypical.
Society must learn that we all have different strengths, preferences, challenges, and HUMAN needs (not special needs)…
and END discrimination and bullying!
We must make the world a more inclusive and hospitable place for our neurodivergent children, so they can live and thrive as their authentic selves!
Before my autism diagnosis, I didn’t understand why I kept getting depressed.
I did notice a link between juggling conflicting priorities e.g. a pressurised project at work at the same time as problems at home (e.g. my eldest was a frequently unwell baby), or two big work projects at the same time.
Every time it was diagnosed as depression and treated like depression: a month off work, SSRIs, counselling, talking therapies and I did a lot of soul searching, theorising (e.g. is it because my first long-term boyfriend eroded my self-esteem, or because I was bullied at school, or because of traumas like my two missed miscarriages), and self-care like long country walks.
Every time I’d bounce back strong, positive, and highly productive. Hyper-productive, even.
After fourteen years of this, I asked my doctor for a referral for bipolar disorder. I felt “crazy”.
Eventually, I was told this couldn’t be bipolar, because that is apparently cyclical, and what I was experiencing had a specific trigger… being stressed beyond my ability to cope, and crashing.
Only after my autism diagnosis, which only happened because it was picked up as the underlying cause of my son’s anxiety when he was fourteen, did I realise this was autistic burnout.
Only then was I was able to identify the triggers, and start self-advocating to avoid it happening again… Successfully!
What a shame the medical profession didn’t pick up on my autism sooner! All the signs were there, even the family history (my brother). I could have been helped so much earlier!
When I was growing up, I was never average, standard, typical… and that should have been fine.
But I was bothered at school by the cruel taunts of bullies, who mocked me, calling me “square”. I strived to prove them wrong, that I was not a “square”, getting myself into trouble.
By my teens and early twenties, alternative was cool to me. And yet still I strived, too hard, to fit in, to be accepted, losing sight of myself, drifting off course.
In my thirties, it dawned on me that all the people I admire are somehow weird and unique. That normal is over-rated.
“I’d love to stay here and be normal, but it’s just so over-rated”. Yes, song lyrics often spring to my mind, and they must also spill out of my mouth.
After floundering for years, I was finally diagnosed autistic, aged 42, which was life-affirming and validating for me. Finally, there was a solid reason that I was different, a mitigation for the things I struggled with in life that seemed to come more easily to my peers.
I started to think, “So what? I’m different and that’s cool”. Then I started to take pride in those quirks that make me stand out, to take joy wherever I can find it, however weird and uncool it may seem to the standard typical person.
I made the conscious decision to stop being concerned that others might find me weird or “square”. I embraced my weirdness, let my guard down, and started to think about my authentic self, about what makes me tick. I had nothing to hide anymore. This was surprisingly liberating!
So what if it is not cool to be interested in, for example, folk music or bird watching, to spend hours singing harmonies with Simon and Garfunkel or the Beatles, scrapbooking about my favourite band in high school, painting rocks?
If you don’t get it, that just means your mind is just wired differently from mine. But guess what? Every brain is unique, like a fingerprint. We are all wired differently.
Some things about how my brain works are awesome.
Like, I have a vivid memory. For anything. Provided it sparks my interest, then anything – music, lyrics, quotes, images, events, whatever … my mind retains the details.
I could entertain myself for hours just by playing songs in my head. All the parts – the bassline, the drums, everything. Especially the harmonies.
There are many books I read to my kids that I still know off by heart – not just the words, but often the pictures as well. I can hear the words in my head and picture the pages in my mind’s eye, often in detail.
“That very night in Max’s room a forest grew… and grew—and grew until his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around…”
One thing I love about being autistic is the euphoria I often experience. Things that others may consider unremarkable, or weird, can bring sheer unbridled joy to me.
Running down hills, splashing through muddy puddles, seeing a bird I haven’t seen before, watching newborn lambs in the fields, or spotting deer… these things give me a real buzz.
My mind enjoys certain visuals, like bridges reflected in canals and rivers, or misty fields getting increasingly faint into the distance.
At school, I loved to stand in the middle of a field on a foggy day. A perfect hemisphere of fog around me, a circle of dewy grass beneath my feet. Invisible and untouchable.
My message to young people who get bullied for being weird and different: I urge you to stick around, to grow older, to give yourself time to get more comfortable in your skin, to shake it off, as I have. You are exactly who you were meant to be. You may be weird, but weird is awesome, and “your time will come to shine, all your dreams are on their way”.
And my message to the bullies: Our weirdness doesn’t hurt anybody, so don’t let it bother you. Don’t begrudge us the things that bring us joy. Different is OK. Don’t be such a meanie.
I’m at a gig with my husband (he’s in a bunch of bands). I’m sitting or standing or dancing on my own, but I’m not a pity party, I’m fine.
My evening is getting ruined by a pissed woman (presumably neurotypical) who keeps constantly coming up to me and asking me if I’m ok. She even gave me a hug, for fuck’s sale, despite the signs everywhere reminding people about social distancing.
Yes I’m fine 😬 This is my normal face 🤷♀️ Leave me alone 🙄
Don’t do this, people. I do not owe the world a constant forced smile. This is my face, deal with it.