Saturday, 3 July 2021

Neuro-di-What?? (Why and How to navigate the brain workings that make me who and how I am)

So, as noted in various places in my profile and other pages, I have "non stock factory options" in my brain wiring. They have official names, but I often refer to them as my alphabet soup diagnoses. 

Any one of them puts a person into the "neurodivergent", or, "neurodiverse" (ND) category, and, interestingly, most of them can be managed in really similar ways, both by the individual, and by those with whom they interact. They are also all frequently co-morbid conditions, meaning, two or more of them often occur together.

Any or all of them can occur in people of any intelligence level. Being smart doesn't keep you from having a differently wired brain. In fact, many studies suggest that a high percentage of ND people have higher than typical intelligence.  

Any and all of them also come with some quirks that are often difficult for neurotypical (NT) people to understand, and may well be annoying, distracting, confusing, or otherwise discomfiting.   

What follows is a not necessarily complete list of my own ND diagnoses, and my experiences, observations, and notes for NT people on navigating them.


ADHD (Combined, severe)

If you know me, even at all, you'll likely recognise almost ALL of traits and symptoms on this page

If you don't really know me, well...that all describes me pretty aptly. To the point that I'm not even bothering to write out most of the things I do associated with this one, as it would be redundant. Just read the page and then come back. 

So, yeah. I do/experience pretty much all that stuff. Yes, it can be terribly annoying. It's not on purpose, and I can only minimally control bits of it. 

Some of them, like organising and remembering tasks, appointments, and routines, I cope with the aid of computer programs and apps that remind me, automate certain tasks, and help me keep track. I still need reminders to stay on task, even with all the tools I use to try and manage. Some of them, interestingly enough, are mitigated my some of my other "conditions". Cool, huh? I think so. 

Anyway, moving along...

I need to multitask most of the time in order to focus my brain on a particular thing. Otherwise, it wanders off too easily. I usually can't just focus on ONE thing except in really extreme situations. I'm almost always listening to (loud!) music when I'm studying, working, doing homework, writing, etc. That occupies the parts of my brain that try to wander off, so I can use the other parts to pay attention. I understand that it might not make sense to you, but that's just how some brains work. When watching a film or listening to a lecture, or anything similar, like a presentation, class, workshop, etc, I'm drawing, fidgeting, fiddling with something, and/or frequently looking around or away from the speaker. That doesn't mean I'm not paying attention. 

If I am sitting still and appear to be looking at you with rapt attention the entire time (often after being chastised for not doing so), you can almost guarantee that my mind and thoughts are a million miles away, and I'm not taking in anything you are saying/showing. It takes up too much of my attention to focus on arranging my face and body to look like I'm "paying attention", and I don't have enough left to actually pay attention.

If you are not sure I am paying attention, ask me, politely. Like, "Hey Khaos, are you still with us?", in a non-accusing/sarcastic tone. If I say I am, or nod, or thumbs up, or any other "yes" indication, then I am. If you decide to challenge or "test" me, by asking some question(s) about what you were saying, don't get all pissy when I recite it back to you, possibly verbatim. You are the one who chose not to take me at my word, and risked being shown up. That's on you - NOT me. Own it. 

If I'm tapping the desk, clicking a pen, making a repetitive noise, etc, you can ask me to stop or just ignore it. If you ask me to stop, I will, but I'll probably start doing it again soon. Sometimes, you can suggest a using a different (non clicky) pen, for instance, or using some other (quieter) fidget thing to keep me occupied without bugging people, but sometimes it just can't be helped. I cannot control the impulse. It is not about willpower any more than I can will my diabetic pancreas to produce insulin, or a quadriplegic person can will themselves to get up and dance, or someone with bad allergies can keep from sneezing. It's not happening. It's outside of our control. If you try to insist I stop, or kick me out of a class or whatever for it, you are just as much as a butthole (and are breaking the law just as much, if it's any kind of official/public thing) as if you kicked out the quadriplegic person for not standing up when everyone is supposed to do so. Don't be a butthole. 

ASD

The term autism was changed to autism spectrum disorder in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association. ASD is now an umbrella term that covers the following conditions:

   • Autistic disorder.
   • Pervasive developmental disorder — not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).
   • Asperger syndrome.

[Quote Source]

 I am on the autism spectrum. I am what is commonly (informally - it's not medically recognised) known as, "high functioning", meaning I am able to read, write, speak, and manage life skills without much assistance. 

Of course, that is referring to life skills needed to survive - not necessarily the ones needed to thrive in society, school, the workplace, relationships, using the phone etc. those are a little tricker. 

It's a really common misconception that there are clear cut "levels" of functioning autism, or that most people on the autism spectrum have one or two "super gifted" areas, and are severely developmentally delayed everywhere else. The truth is that a person can be really "high functioning" in some areas, and positively dismal in others, and there is no "norm". That said, there are a great many commonalities - things that many or most on the spectrum experience at least to some degree. 

 In my case, that includes:

Random hand/arm flapping, weird noises I don't know I'm making, singing stuff instead of saying them for no apparent reason, taking things too literally, not understanding subtext or non-verbal cues, not knowing things that are "obvious" or, "everybody knows", or the flip side of that, thinking that things are obvious to everyone, when they are not. 

I say things in straightforward ways, often lacking in tact. If I say something, that is generally exactly what I mean. I don't use subtext any more than I understand it, most of the time. Sometimes my apparent or actual emotional reaction (or lack thereof) to things is not the expected one. 

If you say something that is not exactly, PRECISELY what you meant, in clear wording, or that could be heard or read in another way, and I don't seem to understand, or I seem to understand differently from what you mean, I am not being deliberately obtuse.

Do not say, "You know what I meant", to me (or anyone!), when I ask for clarification or misinterpret something you said. If I asked, then I am straight up telling you that I don't know what you meant. I REALLLLY dislike being called a liar. Most people do. Would you like it if I insisted that you meant something different than what you did, because that's how I "heard" it? No? then don't assume I "heard" something the way you meant. It's rude. Speaking of rude, people on the autism spectrum frequently have very different ideas of what is or isn't rude (or "normal") than neurotypical people, and I am no exception. If I get it wrong, just tell me plainly. Like, "[Thing] usually is/isn't considered rude by most people". Unlike, "Everybody knows [X]", it actually tells me something in a factual way, rather than an untrue, illogical, and unhelpful statement. There is NOTHING in this world that everybody knows. That is a fact. 

Oh yeah. ASD folks tend to be really caught up in facts and technicalities. That goes along with the taking stuff literally or nitpicking minor details. We don't do it to annoy you. We don't necessarily even know it will annoy you until after the fact - no matter how many times it has annoyed you or others in the past. The information just resets. That happens with all kinds of information. 

That, or I (we/other ASD peeps) will apply rules learned in a specific encounter to all future encounters that are the same or very similar. 

So, if I approach you and you say, "leave me alone", without specifying an end time or specific condition, I'm probably going to leave you alone until you tell me to stop leaving you alone. We can be kind of like computer programs. You have to be very specific, cause we are likely to do EXACTLY what you said. No more and no less. That's another place where, "You know what I meant" is worse than useless.

It's worth noting that lots of these overlap with symptoms of other things listed on this page. I'm pretty sure that isn't a coincidence. I will not be in the least bit surprised if, some point down the road, science determines that all or some of these "separate" conditions are, in fact, just parts of a spectrum of their own, along with a variety of other frontal lobe issues. But that's another post entirely!

I'm sure I left out some things, and I will probably edit this post in the future, as needed.

Dyslexia/Dyscalculia

While I have been previously diagnosed with dyslexia, the current definitions are a bit different from what they used to be, and this may well be symptoms of something else, but I'm just going to put it here anyway, until/unless I find a better place to put them. 

I transpose or otherwise scramble letters, numbers, and words. I can read and re-read it a bazillion times and still not see the mistake until it is specifically pointed out to me. My brain auto-corrects for me, and I see it correctly. That means that I can read very quickly, even when there are typos, but that I may take a little longer to correctly type or write something, or may have to ask someone to repeat a spelling or sequence of letters or numbers multiple times, and STILL might not get it right. It isn't because I'm stupid, nor does being smart in any way guard against it.
  

Chronic Motor Tic (similar to Tourette's)

 I randomly shake my head. It looks like a "no" head shake, most of the time. It isn't. Even if the timing seemed way too coincidental to be anything but, it isn't. If I disagree with you, I will politely TELL you, not do some ridiculous, passive-aggressive thing that makes me look like a spazz. If I tell you it is a tic, it's a tic. Accept it and freaking MOVE ON and just try to ignore it! Yes, it can be distracting, off-putting, annoying, and lots of other adjectives with negative connotations. And yes, when I notice it, I can sometimes keep from doing it for a while. Of course, as with the "looking attentive" thing described above, it takes the majority of my concentration, and eventually, the ... whatever it is in my brain that makes me do it will win and I'll do it anyway, usually even more than I would have if I didn't try to control it. And, like the earlier examples, I will not have been able to pay attention to anything else the entire time, as all my attention was devoted to not shaking my head. And why, again? Oh yeah - To keep you from being uncomfortable and/or feeling like I wasn't paying attention.

OCP/D

There are differing views on whether it is considered a "disorder", if it does not significantly impair one's activities of daily living. Newer schools of thought use the term, "obsessive/compulsive personality", if a person has enough of the traits, but they do not unduly interfere with their life. I'm on board with that! In fact, I prefer the term one clinician offered several years ago: "detail oriented". That reads more like a resume skill than a defect! I like it! And, despite the fact that those of us who have an especially high degree of attention to detail can truly be annoying to those who don't, there is no denying that it truly IS also a valuable skill in the right situations!

In summary:

I can dial back on many of the traits associated with my various "conditions", but it isn't my first instinct or impulse. I need reminders and often have to make a concerted attempt to do so. That is MUCH more true when I do not, personally see a benefit to or logic in doing so. The fact that someone says I "should" is NOT a logical reason, to my mind to make the often immense efforts to change something that works just fine for me. This isn't about me being selfish or self centred. It is about how my brain is wired, and how I process information. That means that I tend to need things having to do with emotional sorts of things spelled out to me at the base level in order to see the reason in them, even if they are not strictly logical. I don't routinely do illogical things just to make my self have fluffy feelings, so it does not occur to me that I should do so for anyone else either. Not because I'm an egotistical jerk, but because I don't feel any lacking for these fluffy feelings myself, and I have difficulty remembering that other people do. When I am reminded - nicely, in a non-accusatory manner, I am almost always happy to make the effort. And I'll already feel bad for not remembering (yet again), when reminded nicely. So you don't need to rub it in. No, really, DON'T fucking rub it in! It won't help me remember the next time. It will just make me feel like the most worthless and horrible person on the planet until I forget again. And if that is something you feel ok about doing, well, we cannot be friends, because you're a jerk.


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