I often describe my neurodivergence as a pick a mix. Autism is my dominant flavour, that you get in every mouthful, with a healthy sprinkling of dyslexia and dyspraxia and very occasionally I get something that tastes a bit like ADHD, but it might just be the way the other flavours combine. Autism is the only one of these things that I have a formal diagnosis for.
I was assessed by an educational psychologist for dyslexia in my twenties, and was told I had dyslexic traits, but I couldn’t be diagnosed. At the time he made a throwaway comment that ‘dyslexic people don’t read’ (something I don’t believe is true) which I took to mean that I couldn’t be dyslexic because I was (or had been when younger) a prolific reader. What I can now see is that the tendency towards hyperlexia, which is one of the ways my autistic bits show up, has masked some of my dyslexic difficulties. When I was younger it took a long time for my teachers to realise that my reading age was far beyond what they thought, because of the difficulties I had with spelling and writing stories. As often happens, one part of my spikey profile masked another and I was missed.
I’ve never been assessed for dyspraxia, and I’m not sure I would receive a diagnosis if I was, because so much of it could be put down to being autistic, but I’m fairly confident that it makes up part of my spikey profile. I still can’t tell you which way is left, and which is right, without a lot of thought and processing. (This most often shows up when I’m navigating for my wife, who has learnt to follow the direction I point, not the one I say). My inability to walk quietly, even when I try, and general clumsiness are further proof to me.
I’m not sure I would gain much (if anything) from a formal diagnosis, but the framework helped me to understand why I find things difficult and to explain to the people around me that I’m not doing it on purpose. It allows me to be gentle with myself when my body won’t do what I want, in the way I want; it makes space for the kindness and compassion that helps me stay away from blame and shame. I’m comfortable with these parts of my pick and mix neurodivergence, they make sense to me and help me navigated the world in a way that works for me.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about those moments when I think I get a taste of ADHD and it’s got me questioning what I know about my spikey profile. This was sparked by a couple of people who I trust, and respect have mentioning that they can see ADHD in me. This has led to me reflecting on what I know about it and how it might be showing up for me (and in what proportions). Given the high level of co-occurrence between autism and ADHD it wouldn’t be a surprise to find out that it was a part of my profile, in fact I sometimes feel like a bit of a minority given how many people I know and work with who identify as AuDHD.
What I most commonly hear from the AuDHDer’s in my life is the constant tension they are navigating. Part of them wanting structure and routine and thriving on it whilst simultaneously finding it boring and struggling implement or maintain it. This is the bit that I don’t often experience and the main reason why I haven’t thought very much about how/if ADHD is a bigger part of my mix. However, over the last couple of months (as I’ve been developing some training on neurodivergent wellbeing) I’ve been paying more attention to the different ways my neurodivergence show up and how I talk about it, to myself and others. Language is really important to me, and finding the right words to describe myself was a big part of how I processed my autism diagnosis.
I’ve started to wonder if there is more to my neurodivergence than I am currently aware of, if maybe I need to upgrade my description of my pick and mix to include a dash of ADHD. In this wondering is also the question of whether it matters. I have a complicated relationship with diagnosis and while I think labels can be incredibly helpful, I also know that they can be damaging. Most of the diagnostic criteria is based on a deficit model and focuses on what other people see rather than staying with our lived experiences as neurodivergent folks. As an adult who is self-employed, I get no benefit from the diagnosis I do have, and the process to get it was horrible. From this side, my diagnosis doesn’t mean much, but I remember how important it felt at the time.
My diagnosis was the ‘proof’ that I wasn’t just a bad person, that there was a reason I got so much wrong and found so many things hard. But once I had it, it’s power seemed to dissipate. I often talk to clients about the validity of self-identification and the barriers that stop many of us from ever seeking a diagnosis. What is important and helpful is knowing how our own brains work and using that knowledge to find ways of being that are helpful for us.
If a label and a diagnosis help, that’s great, but if it doesn’t then that’s ok to. It’s the reason I love neurodivergence as a descriptor, it allows for the many ways my brain works without having to be pinned down to a single thing. For me it’s the same reason I identify as queer because it allows for change and flux and for my own definition of what my sexuality is, without having to fit into someone else’s category. It’s why I got so excited when I discovered Nick Walker’s1 work and the term neuroqueer which seemed to make space for so many parts of my identity and they way they exist together.
Maybe I should practice what I preach and instead of trying to label different parts of me I should just allow space for them and hold a gentle curiosity for they way they may show up at different times. Does it matter if it’s because I’m autistic or dyspraxic or ADHD? Or is it more important that I understand that my spikey profile isn’t static and that my needs can change? Naming the specific needs and understanding what drives them is more important and helpful to me than trying to group them together into specific categories which seems only to benefit other people who want to know which box to put me in.
I’m not a fan of boxes, so maybe I’ll stay in my pick and mix and focus on finding out as much as I can about the different flavours and what they mean for me. I’ve already found the language that works for me and I’ve given myself permission to live life designed to support me. At this point another label or diagnosis wouldn’t make a difference, but I might borrow some of the ADHD framework and resources that can help.
For now, I’ll stay with my neuroqueer pick and mix and look forward to tasting all the flavours it has to offer.
How do you think about your neurodivergence? What language works for you?