Is “My Neurodiversity is a Superpower” helpful or not?

This idea is going around all the socials again. All ND folk get the “ADHD/ASD/Dyslexia etc makes my special person super special” or more commonly “is great for business”. But the absolute refutation of neurodivergence being positive has crept back.

The former I have sympathy with, as much as if I had ever heard it from a neurodivergent pal. The world is constructed in such a way that we are set up to fail. If by chance something helps you get an edge in a particular situation and finally feel good about yourself then great. Celebrate the heck out of that superpower. There will be time enough that you will struggle with Lex Luthor and their kryptonite.

The later is where the Superpower slogan really comes from. Organisations, government departments and people out to celebrate the monetary value of neurodiversity. The fact that the majority of the programs are below standard pay level and are run by no ND folk without input into accommodations are a huge problem. Excellent ND lead orgs like Genius Within exist that are the exception but by and large the answer to ND folks low employment rate is met my “How can I profit from this”. Using Elon Musk, or some other (usually white, male, privileged) icon as an example of “success” is more of the problem and more with marketing the inequity.

Heath doing that Clark Kent revealing the Superman costume under the shirt pose.  I can admit I have a problem

What I do take exception to is punching down on anyone that has a moment of success and want to feel good about themselves wrt their neurotype. For the sake of everything that’s good, please knock it off. The fact is we have spikey profiles. We find some things easier and some things harder than the baseline. If you want to call the first bunch superpowers and the last kryptonite go for it. But the fact is, the things that neurotypicals are worse at than us, have been built into the rules or society to accommodate THEMSELVES for. Things like sitting still, social unstructured offices, working to a timetable rather than to interest … social structures that set us back. Every time we can’t equally compete in a world built for others or struggle due to difference socially, we are then called disordered and diseased.

Something I’m coming to rediscover is that projects not in conscious attention are still being worked on. My idea, and self experiment, is: if I start an idea with motivation, wire frame it out in my mind, then step away from it by dropping it out of conscious attention, when I pick it back up later I’ll have additional detail, and it’ll surface again when a new connection is made in parallel to the thing I’m doing in conscious work. This is really apparent when I’m getting across a whole business plan and linking detail to strategy. Procrastination and distraction don’t describe that process, and neither does multitasking. But it’s often used to describe what I’m doing.

To be honest I think there are a couple of things in the ND community that worry me. It’s hard not to fall in line with being told “it” – ie. our neurotype – is a disorder and a horrible problem, and by association so are we. I understand us thinking that, as it’s written in the descriptive title “disorder” given to us. It’s compounded by work practices and training that are designed for people unlike us. So we struggle to be something we’re not, using methods that hinder us, and can cause us pain. This leads to poor performance, and feedback that we don’t live up to our “potential”, further driving down our sense of self and acceptance of the deficit narrative.

But given space to thrive and practices that support us we can do exceptional things. But often these relaxation of the rules are a privilege afforded to the usual demographics, commonly white, male, financially secure, etc. I’d love to see that acceptance/practices/support extended to all demographics. So team meetings, but start with an agenda, have notes and end with action items (for executive functioning). Meeting spaces where distractions are minimised but doodling is OK (for stimming/fidgeting). Where text, voice and visuals are equally supported (for accessibility).

If neurodivergence is a disease, and treatment of it’s symptoms include, working with an ADHD coach to use motivation mapping to keep an interest in focus, or inventing BuJo to keep your life in a forward flow without (or even despite) executive function collapse, then by that logic every organisation psychologist should be called a medical specialist treating the disease of neurotypicality. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but I’d like some equality there. There are stacks of stuff in every Adam Grant book that don’t apply to me – but they are great skills and tips that I have to motivate and accommodate my NT colleagues.

None of the discarded crochet sets I did with my grandmother are about crochet; the squash racket in the back closet from my brief university days getting thrashed by my 70yo Professor, is about squash; the guitar that I spent 72hours learning Bohemian Rhapsody on when I found out that my dearest friend loved that song (on the eve of her birthday), was about guitar; the card game, since unplayed, that I played with my mum after her stoke, in her last days, was not about cards. They are about the attention and motivation and interest that was all consuming – in that relationship.

I get it. Sometimes I hate being different. I’m Autistic with my ADHD. I’m a reasonably good looking, intelligent and nice guy. Not being able to connect in a relationship till I was 27, losing jobs and burning out of university … that almost killed me. I’m a 28 year sober alcoholic. I blamed myself for being lazy and weird because everyone else seemed to say it first. What was odd though was that I also did exceptional things when everyone was in a crisis and saw the world in ways that were clear when others were baffled. Because of that I had friends when I was (ie: my “superpowers” were) exceptionally useful and no support when I needed it. That changed though. I’m making supports. I’m making support structures for others and fighting for inclusion. I’m old enough and accomplished enough (in the good times) that NTs have to put me in their hierarchy. So now I can make space and change and help others up. I’m strong enough now to meltdown and break in ways that we’d normally do in private and shame, but follow that up with education and transparency to try to get accommodation and acceptance for others. Some days I’m really kicking off the bottom and it’s a struggle to go on. I still hear the R word, and get questioned on my worth and ability.

But I show up every day.

So no. I will never subscribe to a disease model of ADHD (or Autism or dyslexia etc). I won’t talk about neurodivergence as a thing I can be separated from, like it’s a parasite hiding the real perfect me underneath. Because that’s not true and that helps nobody. What does help people, the neurominority, is lobbying and pushing for equitable rights. Equitable workplaces and social settings. Acceptance and awareness and appreciation.

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