Neurodivergence is subjective: we find each other by relating to each others' descriptions of inner life. Here are some of mine.
The following are a list of experiences that a lot of neurodivergent people have. Note that I’m generalizing here — a lot of these are things that MOST people struggle with, but for folks on e.g. the Autism spectrum or folks with ADHD the struggles are more pronounced and are likely to be a thing that the person actively thinks about every day.
If you relate to one or two of these it may be worth figuring out why — trauma alone can lead to a few of these responses; if you relate to most of them I strongly advise looking more into neurodiversity at large.
Note these are just some notes that I’ve written up. There are SO MANY neurodivergent experiences — take a look here to submit your own and view the submissions of others:
You need a lot of time alone. It doesn’t mean you don’t love people, value your relationships, whatever — you just have to spend a significant chunk of each day by yourself or you don’t feel right. (You may get this by waiting until everyone goes to bed and then staying up late for a few hours, because...)
You have chronic sleep problems. Can’t fall asleep at night, can’t wake up in the morning. Routines don’t help. It’s been your whole life.
You spend way more effort on being understood (and not being misunderstood, and you understand how and why those are different and both important) than other people tend to. You’ve learned that if you don’t take responsibility for successful communication you can’t assume it has taken place.
You tend to have deep, strong interests. You get interested in a subject and then stay interested in it for days, weeks, months or even years. You can happily spend 8-12 hours indulging in your interest without taking a break, daily. You sometimes worry that there’s something wrong with how intensely you engage with things, and may have been shamed for this.
Confused by Small Talk
Small talk puzzled you growing up, and it took you a long time (maybe until just now?) to understand that “Nice weather today!” is just a way to say “I appreciate you and am taking a moment to strengthen our social bonds”.
Some part of you is afraid, ashamed, or both of being Truly Seen by another person, because you have subconsciously spent much of your life hiding those things about you that you were taught were weird or shameful. (Note: that shame is a map to those parts of yourself you were taught to hate. You can use that shame, turn it around and let it guide you to those parts of yourself you have to learn how to love again.)
Some part of you is so, so tired. No amount of sleep or vacation seems to touch this part, which is always running, always translating your experience of the world into something that other people can understand, and always modeling the world in terms that you’ve learned that other people value instead of modeling it in ways that make more sense to you.
You have strange aversions or predispositions to certain kinds of sensory experience. Maybe you can’t eat peaches because the fuzz tickles you, maybe you derive a cosmic satisfaction from the way corduroy pants feel to wear. Maybe loud sounds cause you to enter fight-or-flight mode easily. Maybe light touch on your skin doesn’t register. Maybe you’re a supertaster.
Unique Mental Models
You have your own way of thinking about things, and it works for you, but you’ve given up on trying to talk about it with other people because nobody gets it and nobody understands when you try to explain it.
You are really good at picking up on patterns. You know when something is wrong even before you know why you know. Your intuition is sharp. Maybe, though, you’ve got some hangups about trusting your intuition because people made you “show your work” your whole life and now you can’t trust any intuitive conclusions even though you know logically they’re probably right.
Preference for Logical Systems
You like logical systems like computer programming or board games. Anything where you can learn the rules and optimize your way to a solution without having to take fuzzy variables like “feelings” into account.
Feelings of Isolation
You’ve spent your whole life feeling like an outsider. When you started school you felt like all the other kids must have already known each other because how else would they know how to interact and play like that?
Then the bullying started, being punished by other kids for standing out even though you didn’t know how to fit in, etc. Teachers and parents would say “You’re so smart if only you’d apply yourself more” or “If you can get straight A’s last quarter why can’t you get them this quarter?” By the time you’re an adult you like yourself, you’re self-sufficient, but you have much of the world marked off as “not for me” because of how you’ve been made to feel.
, or consciously present a neurotypical set of behaviors. Many of us — especially undiagnosed — just learn to act like everyone else. We assume everyone constructs their identity out of a few values and preferences and a desire not to hurt anyone. So we can wear this semi-false identity for years or decades, sometimes not even realizing that we’re cosplaying as someone else through our own lives. Learning to unmask takes practice and patience.
You stim (there are repetitive body movements that bring you relief and that you do — perhaps even subconsciously — to help you regulate your emotions), or have compulsive body-related behaviors like biting your nails or picking out hairs. (I stim by clenching-and-unclenching my butt cheeks, alternatingly. I don’t even notice I’m doing it, I just do it whenever I feel strong emotion for instance).
Some part of you feels that your life is unsustainable. That the pressure of presenting a neurotypical face while maintaining relationships and excelling at your job and suppressing your own needs is eventually going to get to you. Spoiler alert: it will.