Holidays are stressful, so let’s chill. Inclusively!

The holidays are rough for a lot of us. A lot of expectations and traditions that are counterproductive in a neurodivergent context.

If I may, I think there are three things going on for me during holidays. Being transparent of these differences can be helpful in coming to a mutual understanding.

1) I understand the premise of reconnecting and bonding time and the rituals that feature in the neurotypical way of doing things. And whilst connecting is important to neurodivergent folk as well, without accommodation, it can cause the disconnection and friction instead. For example; planning a group outing without including the needs of the other ends up feeling … like you are not being included. Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance; (Belonging is having a place on the planning committee).

2) Forced interaction, without built-in recharge time, is damaging for us hugely.  Often it leads to meltdowns, arguments and an erosion of trust.  You wouldn’t continue to go on a kite flying activity if thunderstorms rolled in – so why would you insist on Disney World during the holidays season for autistic folks without sensory breaks built in.  For friday night drinks in a noisy bar just because “that’s the way everyone else does it”?

3) Parallel play is intimate play.  I’m understanding more and more that this is not only an autistic child development thing. Perhaps it’s due to heightened awareness of the other person and thanks for the deceased social load; perhaps it’s just that we don’t have to be made of social hierarchies and continual reinforcement; nevertheless doing things together but separate is legitimate. 


Speaking of inclusion in holidays  Ludmila Praslova PhD wrote a great piece on LinkedIn  about sharing the holiday period inclusively. It’s a very broad in it’s thoughts of being inclusive, something I’m working on being in myself (you can read the full article here).

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.

Wrapping up

So this is my last week at Sydney Dance Company and in rather than doing a big card and big gift we had individual cards and gave some money to a couple of animal sanctuaries that I really wanted to support.

The past 5+ years changed me immensly. When I started I definitely did not have qualifications of a unicorn. But the support from the incredible women who I’ve been lucky to call my bosses and mentors, and the unconditional love and support from my community at SDC and the #tessituranetwork has changed my life.

I will always be grateful for the opportunities to strive and push, grow and change. Opportunities to make small changes the in work life of colleagues with automations, or strategic inputs to the growth of the business be, it data driven decisions, silo removing technology, or EDI.

You learn a lot about your best self through goodbyes. Things that you overlook in your day to day struggles. I’m thankful for the inclusion and acceptance, never being patronised, compitence assumed. The lack of barrier between artists and admin at SDC proves that we are striving for the same goal

“We believe that dance changes you. To experience contemporary dance is to go on an inspiring and fulfilling journey. More than simply witnessing something beautiful or engaging with an art form, it is to be positively altered.”

Whether that’s through teaching dance to youth remotley during lockdown, choerographing exceptional works of beauty and relevance, or mentoring new DBAs that need support; we are working off the same playbook. To leave the world in a better place than when we found it.

Thank you for never treating me like I didn’t belong, thank you for giving me space to have a voice, thank you for allowing me to change and make change.

#SydneyDanceCompany #TessturaNetwork #ActuallyAutistic (at Sydney, Australia)
https://www.instagram.com/p/Chys8ZbPt5o/?igshid=NGJjMDIxMWI=

Planners and diaries with ND brains in mind

At the start of the year, like many folks, I’ve jumped back into getting the chaos of my job back into order with new planners and journals. Yes, again. However, this year I’ve stumbled across some great ones that I wanted to share.

The Hero’s Journal

A friend from my ASD&D (Autism Spectrum Dungeons and Dragons) group brought this up with me a while ago and I’ve since been enraptured by it.  The Hero’s Journal is a daily planner, diary, … thing … that has developed a bit of traction across the neurodiversity community. It takes something that you want to achieve and presents it in a Magical Quest form to keep it interesting and fun.  It’s not just whimsical, it presents pretty concrete psychological planning conceits in a (let’s face it) wonderfully nerdy way, giving your personal project the Joseph Campbell treatment.  It comes in two versions, the Adventure style and a Magical Wizardry School  style

The hardest thing was coming up with a project, and after wracking my brain (pardon the pun) I came up with my mental health. I’ve got so many things that I really want to do at any one time that coming up with a single project seemed small – that’s until I stepped back a bit. So much of what I’ve been trying to achieve (autistic advocacy, personal fitness, support groups, etc) fall completely under my constant struggle with my own mental health. It was a bit of a revelation that I could unify so much of what I want to get done day to day under that super objective.

It starts with mapping out what you want to achieve and getting you to define the stakes. The rest of the journal is a daily planner with 3 goals and a threat and ally list. At first I was a bit sceptical but recurring threats kept appearing during my early morning planning sessions which highlighted lurking concerns that I had in the back of my mind unacknowledged.  The allies section was great.  Full disclosure, I’m terrible at gratitude. Judge me all you like, I don’t understand the concept.  But an ally list was great for me identifying people and processes that I had in my corner.  

More info on it here https://theherosjournal.co/

The Anti-Planner

Dani Donovan (https://www.adhddd.com/) is a cartoonist who creates content explaining the struggles of ADHD.  She is marvellous and funny and well worth following on Insta.  HOWEVER her new project is the Anti-Planner.  

How many of us have picked up a planner on the 1st January only to find that after a few entries it falls by the wayside? Well the Anit-Planner is the thing you do before you get to the Journal (in retrospect this should have been in the beginning of the post)

The by-line is “How to get sh*t done when you don’t feel like it”.  It tackles project management, not through planning, but by dealing with the road bumps and potholes that derail us.  

I’m beta testing the Overwhelmed section, which is one of the 5 categories of roadblocks.  The others are Stuck, Unmotivated, Unorganised and Discouraged.  Each of these areas have their own unique challenges and Dani has collected some incredible “mini-games” to clear that path to success.  The first task in Overwhelmed is “How to half *** a project” designed to overcome perfectionism. There are 2 lists to fill out here, what is the meat of the project (aka the “must haves”) and what is the gravy (aka nice but are not necessary). Another task is this section is dealing with your dreaded Procrastination Hit List.  Cartoon those tasks you keep putting off on the supplied Wanted Posters and send out a posse to bring ’em in!  

There are silly things in there but all back with solid psychological theory.  It’s an amazing way of getting Projects back on track when you “you know what you need to do, but struggle to get yourself to do it”

Combating Overcommitment & Monotasking: Good tips on hacking my job

How to ADHD has really been on the money lately with incredible work tips that have really sung to me.

Taking on too much work

Ah YES! Over committing is a huge challenge for my life for a number of reasons.  Living a life in line with your values seemed a bit like the title of a pop psych book from the 90s (and personal baggage for another time). However stepping back for a minute and looking at what life values I need to prioritise was really great. Instead of fitting in one more request for other people, I really need to hit pause and take time out for myself, and the things on the top of my value list that I’m ignoring.  Things like personal health and relationships.

One way that I’m looking at that at the moment is by monitoring my emotional health using the Daylio app.  It also tracks potentially related stuff like healthy eating, exercise and personal timeouts.  Because the best way to get an over committed data junkie to take time out is with the lure of more data.

The other thing is Trello.  I talk about this a lot.  I have a personal Kanban for projects that I need to achieve and hard and soft deadlines for that.  For other work requests I’m building in two times a day of 30 minutes where I clear &/or prioritise those requests. Of course I can’t ignore everyone (as much as that sounds like heaven) but it does mean that I can block out times to focus and on what task knowing that the alerts will get dealt with in their own space.

Monotasking

That’s a great segue into the other great vlog –  Monotasking.  It’s a great reminder about the illusion that multitasking is somehow good.  I’ve known for a long time that my brand autistic neurotype deals with interruptions by crashing my brains hard drive.  It’s no secret that changing my focus requires a good 5-10 seconds to shelve what I was doing and making the turn.  Even then it takes a bunch of effort to do.  But split focus is also a pain for other neurotypes.  

Monotasking is a great way to do lots well.  Blocking out slabs of time to get things done.  It’s also good to block in slabs of time to do social or answer people’s questions.  It’s an idea I want to try out more and see how it goes.

Here are the two quick YouTube eps that I’m talking about.  Love to hear the ways you are hacking your work for your brain.