The problem with neuro-diverse people, with those of us who have minds that work in other than neuro-typical ways, is that the people who are like us aren’t really like us.
Neuro-typical people are neuro-typical because their minds all work in typical ways. They understand each other quickly, know how to support each others choices.
Neuro-diverse people, on the other hand, all have minds that work in exceptional ways. We are like ourselves. We might be able to agree that we aren’t typical, but beyond that, agreement on who we are and how our brain works can get quite difficult.
Temple Grandin, for example, was happy to tell people about how Aspergers worked. That was fine until her explanations started to be applied to other people with Aspergers who experienced the world in a very different way. Ms. Grandin had to understand that her role as a visible spokeperson meant she had to acknowledge the diversity in the neuro-diverse, becoming an ally to others who were also not neuro-typical but who didn’t have a mind like Temple Grandin either.
Being an ally to others who are like us and who aren’t like us at the same time is challenging.
There are issues around identity terms, where we can feel like someone else isn’t respecting the words we use because they use them to mean very different things.
There are issues around standing up for people who make choices we would never make for ourselves, choices that we find wrong and unpleasant, but who others see in the same category as us. How do we defend their choices without agreeing with them, finding a boundary of diversity that we can support?
There are issues around our own neediness. With our own feeling of being made invisible in the past when we find others also need the attention, how can we share? How do we give what others need before we get what we need?
There are issues of understanding. We know our story, our pain, our challenges, but we don’t share experience with all other people. How can we understand what they mean when they share and how can they understand what we mean when we share?
And there are issues of emotional connection. For many neuro-diverse people, the intense patterns in our minds keep us focused but don’t help us engage our own emotions let alone the emotions of others. It’s hard to be compassionate and emotionally supportive of others, sharing empathy, when we don’t have a handle on our own feelings.
If we want other people to support our unique individuality, we need to support their unique individuality. That’s just the golden rule, treating others as we would want to be treated.
Without being comfortable in our own skin, secure in our own identity and mature in our emotional understanding, though, it is almost too hard to stand up for ourselves, let alone standing up for others who are both like us and not like us at the same time.
Over the years, I have come to use the word “queer” to discuss those who are not normative, those who claim quirky individuality over conventional assimilation.
To me, queer isn’t about sexual orientation but rather about crossing boundaries. I know many gay and lesbian people who love rigid and fixed boundaries, making judgements about the right way to be, and I know many who are oriented towards heterogender relationships who love diverse and eccentric people. Queer is antithetical to identity politics, whatever way you want to cut people into groupings.
How do we stand up to support people who are both profoundly like us and uniquely unlike us at the same time? How do we come together not over shared doctrine, dogma or routine, but instead in a way that affirms our fundamental continuous common humanity and our essential bold diversity at the same time?
How do we get the support we need from a community whose traditions are of standing alone, fragmenting off, being focused on individuality and not similarity? Every one of us knows the frustration and isolation of trying to find reflection and understanding in people whose mind doesn’t work like ours, who do not share or even comprehend our experience of the world.
How do we become the parents in the system, taking care of others by understanding the needs they cannot easily speak about and by offering them techniques and strategies to become more effective, centered and happy in the world? Role models beget role models; if no one teaches us how to be present for ourselves, how can we possibly ever be present for others? Not everyone is an autodidact.
And if we become the parents, who then parents us, being the grandparents? Who cares for the caregivers, who helps the processors process, helps the healer heal? No one can just give and never take; it will make you shut down.
The people who are most like us in the world are not like us. They are also people who have a special and unique mind, who see and understand the world in a very personal way.
How can we celebrate that difference, both in us and in them?
How do we come together to support diversity in a beautifully non-conformist way?