Are you different? Uncommonly Smart? Sensitive? You might be one of us: The Neurodiverse Outlier “tribe”

 Over the years it has become very clear to me that being disorganized and feeling overwhelmed is highly correlated with being “above average” in a cluster of personality traits and values. Most of my clients are so smart and talented, but still feel like they are not enough and don’t do enough.

What is up with that?

We know we have potential. Whether we have our own businesses, invent things, create art, write, design graphics or websites, have advanced degrees, or are intensely devoted to providing a social or health service of some kind, we know we have a lot to offer. So why don’t we don’t feel confident?  Why do do feel like even when our work is better and / or accomplishments are more than other people’s, it is still not enough? 

 We are NOT average people – we are not satisfied to just do what we are told, or to do the same job for the rest of our lives without loving what we do.

So who are we?

We are so different, but at the same time, we have a lot in common. What is it that unifies us? We don’t all actually have ADHD, even though we may sometimes feel like we do. And even if we do have ADHD, there is something else – something that makes us different even from others with ADHD.  Everyone’s ADHD is different. You truly can’t make assumptions about people simply because they qualify for the diagnosis of ADHD. 

WHAT WE HAVE IN COMMON

 What ALL of us have in common is that we are “outliers.”  We have traits that place us outside the range of “normal”.  All this means is that we are above average in one or more of the following characteristics: How many of these apply to you?

  • intelligence
  • creativity
  • technical ability
  • curiosity and inquisitiveness, we ask a lot of questions – soemtimes to the point that we seem very challenging to people
  • passion for learning
  • idealism, a strong sense of what is “fair” and what is “right”
  • intensely interested in many things or intensely interested in one or two things. 
  • compassion, sensitivity, and empathy
  • feeling driven to be of service to others, even at our own expense
  • strong resistance to being controlled, pushed or pressured or manipulated to do anything – even if we like doing it, we don’t want to be pressured.  In fact, we learn to dislike things we actually like just because of the pressure.
  • intensity of focus but not able to control when it happens

 Another thing we all seem to have in common is feeling misunderstood by many of the people in our lives.  Perhaps they interpret our questions as “challenging”, or label our diverse interests as “scattered” as in “why can’t you stick to anything?”, or can’t understand our challenges with paying attention to daily mundane aspects of life.

They don’t understand why making decisions, or being on time, or throwing things away, or saying no to interesting projects can be so hard for us.  They don’t understand how we can say we deeply WANT to be on time, but yet we have such a hard time doing it. 

We also tend to not have a high degree or aptitude for “self-control.” But the good news is we DO have an aptitude for design thinkingagility, consensus-building and collaboration. Unfortunately, our culture does not teach us how to cultivate these aptitudes and strengths.  We are not taught to think for ourselves and design our lives to optimize these strengths.

Quite the contrary.  School for most of us was a process of being taught to base our approval of ourselves on whether or not we made A’s.  To make the A’s we had to study things that other people decided we needed to learn, whether we liked it or not and whether or not it had any relevance at all to our lives or interests.  For many of us, our success and worthiness was defined in terms of how easy we were to control in a classroom environment or at home.  Ironically, many of us were were labeled as gifted or as “slow” depending on whether or how much we were interested in getting A’s and could figure out own way to be interested in what the school was forcing us to learn.

Funny how in 9th grade when I was forced to take classes that were picked for me, I got D’s and F’s.  When I tried to drop out of high school and go sent to an alternative school where I got to pick my own classes and design my own assignments, I got all A’s.  In college, where I got to pick my own classes and assignments I also got all A’s.  The only B’s and C’s I got were in “required” classes. 

When our innate talents are not developed, and not appreciated, we often grow up with a degree of “traumatization” caused by the frequent criticism, punishment, and invalidation of our natural curiosity, as well as the misunderstanding of the intentions behind our behaviors. Many of us were labeled as underachievers, lazy, procrastinators, excessive talkers, disorganized, rebellious, poor listeners, challenging, or with disorders like ADHD. As adults we often suffer from excessive approval seeking, Stress Disorders such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, undervaluing our accomplishments, focusing on the negative, and low self-confidence.

To simplify the complexity of the ways we are different, I call us “neurodiverse” because clearly not all of us have ADHD and many of us actually also have traits associated with Asperger’s.  Honestly, the label doesn’t matter as much as understanding that just being neurologically different is in and of itself an emotional traumatizing experience in our culture.

Being outliers means that the USUAL RULES don’t apply to us and therefore we ARE hard to understand. In fact average people are not actually capable of understanding us and our unique needs.  It’s like we are emotionally speaking Spanish while everyone else is speaking English.

Because we are interested in things other people find boring or too complex, we find routine tasks so boring they can almost feel physically painful to do.  So what seems so easy for others is often so hard for us.

We think and feel so differently about things that many people find us really strange and react strongly to us.  We dislike small talk and like to talk about complex things that make others feel overwhelmed, frustrated and / or even disappointed with us, even when they are praising us for our talents.

To survive in their world, it’s on us to learn how to “act” and modify what we talk about.  We are capable of speaking their language if we try hard enough, but they are often simply not capable of learning ours.  We need a whole different set of rules and more sophisticated skills to empower us to cultivate our unique talents and minds. And that is what “Becoming Agile” is about. It’s kind of like becoming bilingual so that we can speak “spanish” when we are with our tribe, but slow down and stick to english when we are with people who can’t speak spanish.   

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