Sometimes, I feel like using the word “neurodivergence” hides how common place and really relatable it really is. So, I’m adapting a Twitter thread I recently made to show what neurodivergence sometimes looks like in an adult’s life because contrary to popular opinion, autism does not go away when you hit 18, neither does ADHD, dyslexia and all the many neurodivergent presentations. There’s the high chance that coping strategies have developed, that masking is at an epic high, that you’re fast heading towards burn out from the sheer effort it requires to appear “normal“, but it’s still there, and the earlier you embrace this and lean into available help, the saner you would feel (not to mention being a better person, and a lot more productive).
At least, this is how I felt when I planned this article, and started to write it. But I have returned to add this paragraph, because halfway through, it has become a list of traits that I stopped hiding away in 2020, and things I discovered on my journey to a diagnosis. Enjoy:
What’s something you’ve always done that you only recently realized is a neurodivergent thing?
— Structured Success (@StructuredSucc) December 2, 2020
Oh boy, this Twitter thread was a buzz, so if you want more information than my own answers, please feel free to delve in. But the first thing I shared in response to this tweet was Time blindness (or as we are starting to call it, Time Agnosia)
Not feeling the passage of time. Not seconds/minutes/hours/days/ months or even years. It’s not until this year that I learn that some humans feel and can gauge the passage of time without need, for example, to equate the time needed to get dressed to many times a track has played. I always had trouble with gauging how much time has passed, and would often (for example) burn food because I did not think that 5 minutes has passed. I trace longer time lines by events and sort of memorize time spans based on what people around me are saying. I only feel seasons by paying attention to what has changed/ is changing.
For some, this is a little different. Other factors like memory problems and aids (like being surrounded by analog clocks, or time-conscious people) may offset the weight of how this affects them. Some don’t feel time linearly
I really want to read more about ND perception of time. I think mine is weird, but can’t quite figure out how.
Closest I can get is that time doesn’t feel linear exactly, but more interconnected. If I had to visualise it, it would look something like this… pic.twitter.com/RJPhPUhnDl
— (Alex) Designy. On the Suspectrum. She/her. (@BFutureDesign) December 2, 2020
Some feel time like several independent loops or chains woven together. Some have an elliptical view. But in the second-to-second, minute-to-minute flow, I’m lost. I can usually trace related events sequentially. But, non- related events would throw me off the loop, cos I’ll need to first find a common time anchor that they all relate to, then make my deductions from there.
However, like many other members of the neurodiverse community, I have learned to translate.
This is similar to my understanding of time. I don’t feel time passing, but I can see a (mostly) linear series of events or intense feelings
If I have to communicate time to other people, I have to translate but my natural mode is ‘it was when I do [x]’
— Structured Success (@StructuredSucc) December 2, 2020
For example, I can only give distance in numbers if I look it up on a map. I’ve always used landmarks to describe distance and routes. That’s translation in action. Or like the previous example of using music tracks to keep a semblance of consciousness of the flow of time (alarms don’t work quite the same way, because they’d only let one know when the time period ends, and not how the time is flowing).
Time exists as a “Now-Not now” seesaw. Everything else is a blur (I can almost swear that this is at the core of a huge chunk of the anxiety that I feel going through life on a day-to-day basis). I fought this for a long time as it messed with my productivity and reliability until I developed the strategy for using people around me as external reminders/timekeepers, and learned to supplement with gadgets.
Other stuff I recently came face to face with as ND traits:
- Having a collection. Or should I say collections? I like them very detailed and precise. Books, stationery, shoes, spices… my every obsession; my vast fabric stash and the calming nature of some of these fabrics
- Motion sickness: how (especially short) road trips get me feeling so sick and nauseated, it takes up to an hour after arrival to recover my balance, and my stomach to calm down. (So if I wasn’t very communicative after arriving at a place, it’s not because I hate you, it’s just because I need to recover so I don’t throw up).
- The settling effect of solving perfectly complex algebra. (this did wonders for my anxiety-riddled brain growing up)
- Logophilia: my love for words. It grew into a love for books, and reading, and writing but it was really a love affair with words, and how you could paint imagery by stringing letters into words, and words into phrases and sentences. Ask my language teachers (they all think I’m an absolute delight).
- The hypersensitive (termed anger) issues. The irritability that came with sudden noises and touches (especially from people I wasn’t feeling very comfortable with at the time).
- Weighted blankets. For a long time, I thought it was the thickness of blankets that helped me sleep better. Then I discovered that it’s the weight, and I would double and triple layers to achieve that weight, until I discovered weighted blankets.
- Echolilia, and how I used it to acquire whole languages, accents and to communicate. I can literally reproduce any sound I hear, regardless of whether I understand it or not (if you think I was a musical genius for being able to score songs to a high degree of accuracy after only hearing it once or twice, here’s the trick)
- Dance, as the most unobtrusive stim. Dance and choreography is the easiest way to stim unnoticed in an African household. The need for repetitive movements to stimulate yourself/calm down/deal with anxiety is hidden in what they think is “catching fun”
- My many random special interests, each pursued with fervor and complete abandon and devotion to balanced knowledge quests that make me something of an expert in that knowledge field.
- Executive dysfunction. Wanting to do something, understanding why it needs to get done, yet being unable to start the task, often because the mental energy required to start that task at that moment/day is simply unavailable (this one needs an entire article or series of articles. Maybe I will write it. Maybe I won’t. Time will tell)
- Stuttering. I hid this one well. I could nearly always tell when it was coming on, and would shift into stubborn silence, and nothing you did could make me speak (I had witnessed too many children being mocked/scolded/pitied for stuttering and I had made an unconscious decision to never be caught). I learned to smile, nod, laugh etc. to avoid speaking in such episodes. I nearly got caught a few times though, and an adult would say something along the lines of “speak normally”. Sigh. If only they knew (we need to dismantle our shame culture, to be very honest. But today is not the day for that)
- Masking. This one was an epiphany. “What do you mean, not everyone masks? It’s a neurodivergent trait? Like, not everyone masks? Not everyone has a resting face and have to mentally exert themselves to look a certain way, so that they pass as appropriate? Wawu”. After a lifetime of being told that my resting face looked too much like a frown, and being made to smile on demand (that stuff is tasking. It may take fewer muscles, but it is tiring – who even sponsored that scientific research? On behalf of autistics everywhere, you did the world a great disservice). Yes I know, my smile is pretty, and I do love to smile – WHEN I’m thinking happy thoughts, but consider that a lot of times, I’ve got like 700 different thought trains running amok in my head, and your simple statement on food has sent me down a mental rabbit hole through climate change, and I’ve somehow ended up in fashion designing a new dress, the mental energy to keep an “appropriate” expression is a huge demand that I cannot always meet.
- Of course, thought trains. Sometimes my brain is a neatly organised Excel spreadsheet of rows and columns with each cell describing how the thousands of things I know (which is vast) and I’m involved in all interact. Other times, it’s like a mess of a browser with too many tabs open, and I don’t even know where the music is coming from. (if I have ever wondered off-point in a conversation, or zoned out, or lost myself midsentence like I did just now).
- Rejection sensitive dysphoria: the acute pain that I feel in my chest when someone says something negative/demeaning about me/to me. The way that it burns and burns for the next few days and does not really go away. It was such a shock to discover that not every human feels that pain, because I used to wonder how people could just go on and be mean with their words, knowing that words hurt, literally.
- Hyperfocus and task switching. This one is the junior brother to executive dysfunction, and deserves an article of its own. It was a shock to discover that the feeling of being so totally immersed in a task that everything else (sounds, bodily needs and functions, logical thought flow etc.) becomes inconsequential, and oft unnoticeable white noise is a neurodivergent thing. Yup! This trait is one major reason its hard to get me to drop something and jump into something else immediately just because you said so – switching task is an almost painful experience, needs to be gradual (my favourite phrase as a child/teen was “I’m coming”) and may not even be doable (I paid for this in beatings). Sometimes, hyperfocus means I heard, but I’ having trouble processing, or my logical brain has processed and replied, but my body is yet to get the memo. Yup! I should definitely do an article.
- The palpitations that come on every time there’s a conflict brewing around me. This one shuts me down into inaction/immobility, and I’d just stand there, sometimes in harm’s way.
- Eye contact. I never quite understood this one. Why is eye contact so important? I learned, eventually, to look in the general direction of people’s faces and foreheads (special thanks to public speaking training), or to sit next to someone, so there’s less likelihood that they’d demand eye contact, but I absolutely hate eye contact (unless it happens accidentally. Then, it’s cool. But don’t make me do it). Apparently, according to word on the street, that’s a neuro-divergent thing. Neurotypicals don’t have a problem making eye contact.
- The pain that comes with touching cold/room-temperature water. I can put my hand in almost-hot water with little discomfort, but splash me with cold water, and it’s a flare of pain. I’d rather wait till afternoon (when the water is hotter) to do dishes (or just boil water outright). I do any hand-wash laundry in the sun, and almost always do hot water baths for this reason. I learned (with an astonishing jaw drop) that typical people have it the other way around.
One of the most beautiful things about getting a ADHD/autistic diagnosis is having names for some of these things. The second is no longer feeling alone. Feeling seen, heard. Finally learning to find practical ways to navigate life, to cope, to seek help, healing and support.
P.S.: I’m almost sure that you did not notice these things. Like I said, I hid some of them well. I was too afraid of scolding and ridicule, and I desperately wanted to look normal, even if I knew and accepted on some level that I’m not normal (the adjective “weird” stopped fazing me).
Jane Hadassah OLUWADARE
Hadassah bath YHWH
The Father’s Daughter