How do you feel about change?

One assumption many parents and professionals make is that people with Neurodiversity aren’t motivated to improve their lives.

It isn’t that they don’t want to change, they may not believe they’re able to change.

They often have difficulty finishing what they start or getting started at all. Struggle with creating an action plan let alone executing on one.

This can cause such brutal self-talk they believe themselves to be stupid, incompetent, worthless etc.

The first thing to establish with any person living with Neurodiversity is their mindset around change:

1. Is change something they want?

2. Do they believe they are capable of making the change(s) they want?

3. If things were more like they wanted them to be, what would be different?

4. What one thing could they do to begin making that change?

5. What do they need to believe about themselves in order to take that first action?

6. Do they agree to act as if what they believed what was stated in #5 is true?

7. Do they agree to take the new action and report back?

How they respond to this exercise will tell you a lot about how flexible their thinking is, their level of self-doubt, openness to risk and change, etc.

Again, the objective is to introduce the possibility that change remains accessible and achievable but isn’t attainable until the individual believes it is and takes action.

Thoughts on setting boundaries and sticking to them

When learning to set boundaries it can feel uncomfortable to do. Like breaking in a pair of new shoes. You have to walk around in them for a while before they feel natural.

You may even feel like you’re being mean to others you’re setting boundaries with. Especially because many of them will say so.

It’s important to recognize the positive qualities you’re embodying when you set boundaries to offset any negative feedback you receive.

Qualities like:

👉 Self-respect regarding treatment you will not accept
👉 Honesty about you’re abilities and availability
👉 Balance is a clear priority when you say, “No” more often to preserve your energy for the important things

Should you receive pushback when setting boundaries, focus on feeling the self-respect, honesty and balance flowing through you.

Let that be what drives you to keep showing up in this new empowered way. It’ll be much harder for the naysayers to shut you down.

Getting things done when you don’t know how long it’ll take

One of the challenges with time blindness is when you have a long to do list. It can be anxiety inducing because estimating how long it’ll take you is a shot in the dark.
 
I don’t feel time passing unless I have a clock or clouds to watch, something that tells me time is passing.
 
I had a long list this morning my mind told me would take all day. It took a few hours.
Sure, I could use past experience as a point of reference. It’s just that my executive functions on one day may not be as well oiled on another.
 
So something I’m ordinarily proficient in may take me longer or may get done with more mistakes on days my brain is more glitchy.
 
I may know when I wake up my brain is off. I may not know until I begin the task.
Either way. Time is an elusive entity for many of us and a disorienting one at that.
 
To make this fact less stressful on myself, I complete tasks in short bursts.
 
It’s easier for me to appreciate 10 minutes than an hour. So I plan 10 minute chunks of work and see how much I get done in that time.
 
After 10 minutes I see how much I’ve gotten done, then plan to get at least as much done in the next 10 minutes.
 
It’s not a perfect system, but it keeps you moving forward.

Nipping IMPULSIVITY in the bud!

Not thinking before blurting out an embarrassing comment. Doing things that upset others as a matter of habit, only to regret them later.
 
The seeming inability to learn from any of this is a hallmark of ADHD. I used to get in so much trouble because of this.
 
The reason for impulsivity (as I understand it) in ADHD is two fold. The brain processes information more slowly. So the information you’re likely responding to is a bit behind.
 
I remember being corrected in class for commenting on something when the class had already moved on. Or continuing to talk about something when the person I was with was becoming upset because I was slow to catch on.
 
The second issue is that the brakes needed for stopping are faulty. So the STOP part of stop and think needs strengthening, like building a muscle.
 
One way to strengthen this muscle is by requiring yourself to consciously pause. Breathing techniques like box breathing are great for this.
 
The directions are straight forward…
 
👉You inhale for 4 seconds
👉Hold your breath for 4 seconds
👉Exhale for 4 seconds
👉Hold your breath for 4 seconds
👉Inhale for four seconds and repeat cycle for 5 minutes.
 
Box breathing is great on its own for relaxation or preventing anxiety attacks. Where it helps with impulsivity is when you hold your breath.
 
It gives your brain a chance to practice stopping and experiencing it as desirable. You’re consciously choosing to stop, repeatedly and you’re motivated to do it.
 
Practicing this increases wiring in the areas of the brain that need it. It also increases your awareness and ability to deliberately pause with a breath.
 
If all you learn is to count to 4 before responding, that’s a win. Just make sure you think.
 
I teach the women in my Inner Circle strategies like this to help themselves and their children living with neurodiversity.

When a neurodivergent person seems controlling, they may just feel unsafe

Saying someone has, “control issues” is often a misnomer.
 
For neurodivergent folks its often an issue with anxiety.
 
Feeling confused in a fast, noisy world demands you find something you can hold onto. Something to help you feel safe.
 
It can be a collection, a routine, a mantra, a person whose word you depend on.
 
My oldest used to get pissed at me when he was 5 or so and I’d estimate travel time wrong.
 
He’d want to know exactly how long it would take to get somewhere. If I was off by a few minutes he’d call me a liar, begin screaming and kicking my seat violently.
 
That’s how anxious and out of control he felt. I understand this now in retrospect. He’d become just as upset with his teacher when she didn’t keep to the schedule she laid out at the beginning of the day.
 
In one sense this behavior looks like OCD or inflexibility. To a degree executive function challenges play a role here.
 
I suspect your neurodivergent nervous system having difficulty adjusting quickly to uncertainty knows it. Which is why you feel so threatened by it.
 
I’ve become better at handling change over the years because my wife handles it so well. She’s an adventurous, go with the flow person.
 
I’m more a, “what’s the plan” kinda guy. I need some degree of certainty so I have something to hold onto. My anxiety is through the roof otherwise.
 
It’s a fact you and I have disorganized, highly sensitive nervous systems. No amount of meditation, medication or intervention can change all that.
 
They help!!! A lot 🙂 But they don’t eliminate the challenges completely.
 
But you must honor the thresholds of what your mind, body and emotions can withstand without causing you to meltdown or shutdown.
 
Take some time to reflect upon your tendencies to want to be in control of things. See if underneath it you actually feel unsafe.
 
We both know having control isn’t really an option. So what else will help you feel safe?
 
➡ Being with someone you trust?
➡ Knowing you’ll be okay whatever happens?
➡ Having the option to stop and leave if it becomes too much?
 
Create a list of options. In some cases, having the list is enough to lower your anxiety because its like having a map to the emergency exits in your pocket.
 
Give it a go and let me know if it helps.

Movement can be help you work through your emotions

One of the best reasons to include movement breaks into your schedule is because movement plays an important role in relieving stress.
 
Feeling trapped is a hallmark of a traumatic experience or an anxiety attack. Feeling like you can’t fight or flee.
 
An example might be a child who is having severe anxiety and is told they can’t leave their seat until the end of the lesson. A disempowered child may shut down.
 
Movement at least releases muscle tension which is calming.
 
In using both sides of the body to move you activate both hemispheres of the brain. This can make it easier to find the words for your feelings.
 
Being in motion as you talk about what happened changes your memory of it.
 
Because you felt you couldn’t move when it happened.
 
But you’re moving as you remember it in the present.
 
That’s a message to your mind and body that things are better now.
 
Trauma is common in the Neurodiversity world. What’s even more unfortunate is how much it impacts everyone’s world.
 
Somehow we must commit to healing. For our own peace and for the benefit of future generations.
 
As someone doing the work, I promise you. Being on the other side of it is worth going through it.

Can you be a little mentally ill?

Think of it this way.

Say you gently poke your skin with a needle. You feel a slight pain. One that isn’t going to let up as long as the needle is there. But you could keep going if you had to. Though it would be hard.

The needle is mental illness.

Now imagine you were to take that same needle and jam it into your arm.
What’s your experience now?

The needle isn’t bigger, it’s still just a little bit. But wait!

In this case it’s under pressure. Stress placed upon a mind (already trending toward imbalance of some kind) can make whatever mental illness that is there far more vulnerable and reactive.

Please consider this when putting yourself or those you love in stressful situations.

There’s no such thing as a stupid question

There is no such thing as a stupid question when you live with neurodiversity.

I read an email from my son’s school this morning about registering him for classes for the next term.

It listed the instructions on how to do it, but guess what happened?

I began reading it and it made sense for the first few sentences then turned into a jumble of nonsense in my brain.

I experience dyslexia along with my ADHD.

On any given day I can’t be sure which executive functions are firing and which aren’t.

Today, my language translators and sequencers are glitchy.

Now I could blow this off and not ask for help because I’m afraid his teachers will think I’m stupid.

I could assume that everyone else finds these instructions simple to follow. That I “should” be able to follow them too and there’s something wrong with the fact that I can’t.

That’s the voice of comparison, not the voice of compassion.

You must allow yourself some flexibility. Especially when it comes to rules established without taking your challenges into consideration.

Rules like:

✔️ Follow the instructions. There clear as day.

✔️ Listen, because I’m only going to say this once

✔️ If you can’t follow simple instructions, you aren’t smart enough to trust with this responsibility (I’ve been told that before).

Self-advocacy may need you to go beyond asking for what you need. You may need to educate others on how intelligence and learning style have little to do with each other.

People without our challenges are like people with 20/20 vision. They don’t appreciate what it’s like to see the world without glasses in all its blurriness.

When you don’t have the tool you need to see clearly. It isn’t because you’re lazy, unmotivated or not trying hard enough. It’s because you don’t have what you need to be successful.

Well to be successful in registering my son for classes I was going to need a little hand holding.

So I told comparison to take a seat. My focus is on getting a result that allows my son to keep moving forward in school.

I measure success in this regard on the result I achieve. Not one of those criteria includes the opinion of others on whether I needed help to do it.

It took work to unlearn comparing myself to others. I can avoid it more often than not, which has allowed me a great deal of freedom.

As well as increased my creativity.

In any case, I emailed and asked for what I needed. I’ll be meeting with a member of my son’s team to go through the process.

Not every instance of self-advocacy will go smoothly, of course.

But let’s make sure the reason isn’t because of all the booby traps you set up between your own ears. 

You can be sick and happy

I work with many chronically ill teens.

I make clear to them they can feel sick and happy.

I have yet to experience anything that keeps you aware of the interplay of life’s opposites like chronic illness does.

Working to find that sweet spot between pain and comfort, exhausted and rested.

It’s often hard to tell whether challenging yourself will lead to a triumph or exacerbation.

Balance, balance, balance.

One way to find balance is to create space between you and the experience of, in this case, pain.

The way I frame it in my mind is this…

There is terrible pain in the legs that have come with this body of mine.

But I am not the pain and
I am not in pain.

It’s as if I were standing in a rain storm.

I am not the rain nor
am I in the rain.
 
The rain is around me or on me.

The pain is there and we have a relationship.

Like there are storm clouds passing through the sky.

Like after a storm, when the birds start singing again.

Letting you know it’s safe to come out.

As this pain storms today,
 
I’m listening to my favorite music which always brings me joy.

Balance, balance, balance.

Thank goodness for second chances

You’ll have your share of naysayers when you’re neurodivergent.

When I first enrolled in the Social Work Program, I had a professor who didn’t like me. She went out of her way to try and get me to drop out of the program.

It was the early 1990’s and about a decade before I’d learn I had Asperger’s and ADHD. I was introverted and socially awkward.

I was blunt, guarded and often kept to myself. I was labeled arrogant and unapproachable by classmates.

They complained to this professor about me and I was called to her office.

To paraphrase her, I wasn’t “social” enough, I needed to change my behavior. She didn’t tell me what I was doing wrong nor what I needed to do instead.

I reached out to some of my classmates to apologize and ask what I could do differently. Some expressed surprise that I addressed the issue so directly.

Their responses were vague. They gave me general answers that referred to my style of speaking (e.g. bluntness). But didn’t offer specific examples.

Without the guidance I needed I became increasingly ostracized. I decided to leave the program as it became a toxic environment for me.

Over the next 5 years I tried various odd jobs and even a different major. Until one day it hit me. I’d only be happy doing social work.

I shared my realization with my then wife and she encouraged me to go for it. The catch was, I’d need the permission of the same professor to rejoin the program. She was the Dean of it at this point.

I’d done a lot of growing in those 5 years and the professor and I were able to clear the air about some things. She let me back in and I had a wonderful experience.

All these years later (15 and counting). I’m grateful I took a second chance and grateful I received one. Not every closed door remains closed forever.

Sometimes it means you aren’t ready. You need to take time to do some work before trying again.