Toeing the line between neurodivergent and neurotypical and struggling to find my place

Have you ever felt different from everyone else and try as you might you couldn’t pinpoint what that difference was? Have you ever expressed what you thought was a very good solution to a problem, only to have everyone around you stare at you like you’ve just sprouted a new head? Have you often found yourself in a social situation where everyone seems to know what to do or say but you feel completely lost? Have you ever tried to figure out if there was some sort of science to building relationships? Have you lived your life feeling almost-but-not-quite “normal”? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to all of the above… you might be me.

The road to discovery…

Late last year, I started seeing a therapist and through that I learned that one of the screeners I took flagged me as possibly having ADHD. This really caught me by surprise. Me? I was the most self-composed child you’d ever have met. I followed rules and I did well academically. There’s no way I could have ADHD…. right?

After discussing it further with my therapist, we decided to put a pin in the idea–not dismissing it entirely and also not giving it focus right now. Well, we may have stuck a pin in the idea in therapy, but as far as my brain was concerned, this was a boulder of a notion that was just pushed over the edge of a mountainous hill and I’m riding it all the way down.

Books, articles, podcasts, online communities. I became consumed with a desire to learn more to definitively answer whether I have ADHD (I know, I know, the obvious answer is to continue talking it through with my therapist or find a new therapist who can offer better clarity). The more I learned, the more confusing it seemed. On the one hand, I do hyperfocus (see first two sentences of this paragraph) but I’m not impulsive. While I have always been one to zone out and daydream regularly (common in inattentive ADHD), I’m not especially forgetful.

Then, an interesting realization struck me… among a group of six friends from college that I still maintain relationships with, three of them have been officially diagnosed with ADHD (one as a teenager and two in adulthood). Odd coincidence or classic instance of birds of a feather flocking together?

During my research, I noticed that a number of resources to support individuals with ADHD also market themselves for those with autism. This had me wondering, what is the connection? Well, it seems there is a decent amount of overlap in how ADHD and ASD brains work: struggling with executive function, difficulties making friends, being distracted (by thoughts or external events), and inability to appropriately take turns in conversation. Additionally, it’s not entirely uncommon for individuals to have both.

So I redirected my attention to learning more about autism. Again, I never really would previously expected I had autism. After all, my brother is autistic with low support needs (pretty much checks every box for the previously used diagnosis of Asperger’s). If my brother is on the low end of the spectrum, surely I’m not on the spectrum? After all, unlike my brother, I don’t struggle with eye contact (except in high stress situations like when I’m giving a presentation), I don’t specifically avoid being touched, and I can understand sarcasm and idioms.

And yet… the more I dived into the topic of autism, specifically on autism for people with low support needs, the more I see myself in the descriptions (and sometimes also, my mother). I also took multiple online self-assessments and all of the results so far have suggested that I may be autistic.

So what now?

Oddly enough, I’ve not yet discussed the possibility of my being autistic with my therapist, so I suppose I will start there. If she doesn’t seem particularly knowledgeable about autism, I may look to switch to a therapist who specializes in individuals with ADHD or autistic spectrum disorder.

If my case is mild, does a diagnosis even matter? I believe so, yes. First of all, I have invested so much time over my life trying to understand my brain and how it works and how other people’s brains work. I’ve been on the hunt to find “my people” and I think if I could say with confidence and without imposter syndrome that I have an _insert diagnosis_ brain, I would feel less like someone who just can’t quite do things right and more like someone who has always done her best in a world that isn’t well designed for how her brain works.

And last, but definitely not least, there is my son, now almost age 4, who I have increasingly come to suspect is neurodivergent in some manner. People with low support ADHD or ASD may be able to more easily walk among the “neurotypicals” but commonly at the cost of mental health resulting in anxiety and depression (both of which I have been diagnosed with by more than one therapist) so even if he wouldn’t get much benefit from occupational therapy for ADHD or ASD, I expect he could use support for anxiety (which I definitely already see signs of) and depression.

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