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I Think I Might Be Neurodivergent!
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I Think I Might Be Neurodivergent!

Neurodiversity: At Mode and At Large
You’ve come to the right place — step one:
don’t panic!

If it turns out that you’re Neurodivergent (ND) then nothing has changed except your understanding of yourself. There’s nothing to be scared about - you’re taking the first steps towards better caring for your own unique needs.

So: let’s get down to it. You have been hearing this word “Neurodiversity” floating around and each time you hear it it feels like it’s a little bit closer. You’ve finally decided to figure out what THAT’S all about, and so here you are — great! Welcome!

Who is Writing This, Anyway?

Hi, I’m
@Myk Bilokonsky
, a senior software engineer at Mode Analytics. I’m autistic and ADHD, and have struggled with OCD in the past, and I spend my spare time doing outreach and advocacy around the concept of Neurodiversity. You can find me most easily
.

I’ve compiled a lot of information here and I’ve tried to include links where I can but by and large this information is uncited in this document but easily searchable on google if you want to verify anything I claim. Don’t believe anything I say just because I say it, I’m not a doctor (which, even if I were, you shouldn’t, especially about neurodiversity!) and I don’t do this for a living. Take this as received wisdom from a neurodivergent elder passing down some knowledge he wishes he’d had when he was younger.

What Is This Document?

This document intends to be a living onboarding guide to the Neurodiversity ERG at Mode Analytics, but the content is also applicable more broadly. One of our pillars in the ND ERG is to provide resources for undiagnosed and/or unaware ND colleagues here at Mode and in our industry at large.

This guide is broken down into a few pages, available on the left as subcategories. We’ve got a
defining terms at a high level, we’ve got an
you can compare your own life against, and we’ve got links to
to learn more about these things. There’s also a
, and some essays.

Note: this document has spawned a larger sibling that Myk maintains independently. Moving forward, updates to ancillary content found in the sidebar here can be found at the Public Neurodiversity Support Center:


🏷️ OK But Why Do We Need Labels?

To find each other, silly. Because if you’re autistic and/or ADHD but don’t know it you’re just going to feel like you’re Humaning incorrectly for your whole life. Realizing that other people share the weird traits we’ve been shamed into hiding allows us to stop fearing “discovery” and start embracing ourselves on our own terms.

I’m serious about that. A
in their 50s found that they all thought that they were “bad people” and had a lot of resultant mental health issues around that. A neurodivergent person who is raised to be neurotypical (and let’s be real, these ideas are new even if the concepts are old, so MOST neurodivergent people are raised to be neurotypical) is going to struggle in ways that other people can’t see, can’t relate to and don’t know how to help.

A lot of ND people
, or perform an NT identity, in order to fit in. Some of us learn to mask from a young age, and assume that everyone constructs an identity actively out of values and social signals. Some of us never learn to mask and can’t understand why people react to us so negatively. Some of us perfect masking, elevate it to an art form and become excellent actors.

The point is you can’t always recognize a neurodivergent person based on their behavior, because they may have learned to adapt their behavior. We have to talk about the interiority of the ND experience in places that other ND people can hear us — that’s how we find each other and that’s how our culture grows.

Note: Autism is diagnosed in the DSM in purely behavioral terms. The formal diagnostic criteria have nothing to say about the subjective experience of what it’s like to BE Autistic, they simply describe the behavior of Autistic children. For that reason it’s important to understand how to read them — I’ve written a
of DSM descriptions to lived experiences in an attempt to make these things more relatable. It’s also important to understand that if you’ve managed your autism your whole life and no longer act like an autistic child then it’s going to be harder to get a formal diagnosis from someone. Many places don’t even attempt to diagnose adults.

🧠 So What’s It Like To Be ND?

It’s normal. It’s the person you’ve always been. It doesn’t feel “like” anything. This was a real shock to me when I discovered I was autistic - I assumed I would
feel
autistic in some way. But no, I just feel like me — I’ve always been autistic, and I always will be. It’s just how my brain works. I’m also ADHD.

Note: some people think that ADHD + Autism (AuDHD?) is its own neurotype, sufficiently distinct from Autism or ADHD alone. Some people think that that argument is putting up classification boundaries where no such boundaries need to exist. There are still so many open questions in this space!

But, if you’re a neurodivergent person unknowingly living a neurotypical life, there are a few experiences that may ring true for you. You should check out our
document to see how many of the listed experiences you’ve had. Note that this isn’t diagnostic — a lot of people will have a lot of these experiences. Sometimes they’re caused by trauma, or brain injury, or sometimes they’re learned behaviors. BUT: If a lot of the items on the following list resonate with you, it may be worth considering next steps!


⌨️ How Does Neurodiversity Impact Life at Work?

When I was younger it meant that I was constantly baffled at the way people around me in an office setting would say one thing and do another thing. It meant I didn’t understand that it was important to e.g. speak difficult truths in ways that allow people who had made mistakes to preserve their dignity; I didn’t understand why one might accept mid-sprint new work from a company partner and the manager was fine with it. A lot of the ritual and custom in office life - water cooler conversations and drinks after work and all the “normal” stuff never really made sense for me, and honestly I made working from home my default as early in my career as I could.

By and large, though, my neurotype is a huge asset for me professionally. I just had to learn how to work with it instead of against it. That means things like recognizing when I’m not going to get anything done and taking a break to shift my brain state; it means letting myself hyperfocus and work late when I’m on the verge of fixing something, but not letting myself do that too often or it can become a bad habit; it means slowing down and doing fewer tickets with fewer mistakes.

My autism lets me run complex dynamic systems in my head, so I can literally “run” the code I’m writing (which I’m told is not a thing everyone can do, which blew my mind) in my head and lets me model complex relationships between large moving parts as simple things to reason about.

But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies: I take a lot of time off. There are days I can’t work. My nervous system is weak after some pretty serious burnout and when I have stressors in my life I can’t always function in all of the domains I need to function in, and sometimes that means I take a mental health day or two when I’d really rather not. I struggle with severe emotional dysregulation which I keep entirely compartmentalized away from work in that there are days I take off simply because I cannot stop crying. I sometimes get “stuck” in an idea, pursuing a dead end to its logical conclusion because I can’t interrupt myself enough to step out of it and rethink it. This is all real.

💊 I think this might be me, now what?

With ADHD you have the option to try meds. They can be life-changing - for me, they made my brain quiet. I didn’t realize how many loud screaming thoughts I had going on in my head until they were all suddenly silenced and I knew peace for the first time in three and a half decades.

Same for bipolar, the meds these days are amazing. And antipsychotics can be miracle workers for folks struggling to cope with schizophrenia.

But there are downsides to medication, too, and not everyone uses them. Some people manage their symptoms through routines and lifestyle changes, and if that works for you then awesome!

Access to drugs is, of course, controlled by the medical and pharmaceutical industry. To get the good brain drugs you have to get a formal diagnosis and then a prescription. And that’s where things get complicated - because we KNOW that women and minorities are massively under-diagnosed with neurodivergent conditions as compared to white men.

It’s hard — a guy like me is evaluated, asked a few questions and given stimulants; a woman of color may go see the same doctor and have him come away with the idea that she’s lazy and drug-seeking. This happens every day. Further, diagnosis and prescription are expensive - not everyone has access to the resources necessary to get diagnosed, let alone to get stably and correctly medicated which takes time and patience.

And that brings us to Autism and self-diagnosis. Right now there are no miracle drugs for Autism. There are no magical therapies that will make you not-autistic (though ABA, an abusive pseudo-therapy created by the literally same people who brought you Gay Conversion Therapy, is currently a four billion dollar market). There are no resources going to autistic people. So recognizing your own autistic traits as an adult is sort of... fine? It’s in fact really common for people to self-diagnose and then if/when they want formal confirmation to get a formal dx.

Besides, and this is really important to understand: a medical doctor telling you “you’re autistic” is meaningless to you until and unless you internalize and accept it as true anyway. So even if you get a formal diagnosis you still have to “self diagnose” in a sense to accept and act on it.

Given the financial and demographic obstacles that stand between most ND humans and the medical diagnosis they need it’s a miracle anyone gets support at all.

All of which is to say that your next steps are: self-acceptance and research. You’re not a fuckup, you’re not falling short, you’re not failing as a person — you’ve just been playing with the wrong manual, and now you can rectify that situation and build a life that’s more suited to who you really are.

❤️ One Of Us

If you’re an employee of Mode Analytics, join the #neurodiversity-public slack channel for more information and send a DM to
@Myk Bilokonsky
for an invitation to the ND ERG, we’re waiting for you! If you’re not, check out the #ndsquad hashtag on social media, as well as the #actuallyAutistic hashtag. Self-diagnosis is welcome in the autistic community in particular, but there’s no harm in seeking out formal diagnosis as long as you understand the process is biased, problematic and expensive.

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