When Neurodiversity Labels Distract from Getting Our Common Human Needs Met

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

When discussing externally caused challenges that affect neurotypicals too (eg. distractions, overwhelm, lack of clarity, or being put on the spot,) bringing up neurodiversity can frame them as personal rather than situational issues and lead people to insist that we change ourselves rather than working together to change the situation. Focusing on the situation in our communication eg. “That’s a lot to take in. Can I get back to you?” or “It’s really loud here. Let’s go someplace quieter,” phrases requests in a way that’s harder to misunderstand or refuse. While it’s important to take responsibility for our actions, we can’t take responsibility for the outside world.

Over-explaining, a habit many neurodistinct people develop in response to judgment, can be read as an offer to take the blame for things beyond our sphere of influence. Even well-intentioned people can find it hard to resist an opportunity to shirk their responsibility to collaborate by writing us off as “difficult” edge cases. This excuse to dismiss us can make it easy for people to overlook the self-awareness and ability to accommodate diverse personalities that many of us have developed over a lifetime of being denied the benefit of the doubt, skills which can make us easier to work with than many neurotypicals.

I’m grateful to see DEI spaces providing space and support for neurodiversity. These spaces are better set up for discussing the nuance of our individual lived experiences than environments with oversimplified definitions of productivity. While I’d like to see more space for thinking, discussing, and being (and not just hasty doing) in collaboration and co-creation environments, we can’t force it with people who aren’t willing to hold space for it (without resorting to the ultimatum game.)

In environments where conciseness is the norm, using explanations my audience can relate to has had the best results. While neurodiversity labels are verbally concise, they represent complexity which opens the door to tangents. Some can lead to understanding and others can lead to bias and distraction. Opening that can of worms in an effort to align on one point can create plenty of new points of misalignment, which can be time-consuming to address.

We don’t owe anyone an explanation for why we deserve to be treated like equals, besides the fact that we’re human just like them. We don’t need to other ourselves to find acceptance. Some people want to accept others and some don’t. That’s on them, not on our labels.

Call to action: What needs can you advocate for without othering yourself? What kind of language can you use?

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Enigmas Next Door

Enigmas Next Door

Facts & opinions on human centered design, community, & tech, work & online cultures. Welcome to my controverse. Twitter: @enigmasnextdoor Clubhouse: @qubit