A personal journey through neurodiversity: Late diagnosis

This article is mainly focused on knowledge gained on the subjects of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

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The self-realisation or a new diagnosis for neurodiversity (ND) can take some time to get used to. You may not be diagnosed, but you have done your research and studied the subject for a long period with a hyperfocus or special interest in the subject and all the evidence is saying that you probably are and, to be honest, you always felt like you were a bit different, misunderstood, up and down, reserved, over-confident or sometimes both.

Please see below a very touching poem written by a woman who was diagnosed later in life and that many neurodivergent people identify with. I have created an edited version for the males too as it does apply to both sexes.

Girl (remastered) 

Behind every late-diagnosed woman

Is a little girl    

Who knew this world    

Was never made for her   

But could never explain why  

(Original)  

Boy (remastered)

Behind every late-diagnosed man

Is a little boy

Who knew this world

Was never made for him

But could never explain why

(Edited)

These poignant words sum up for a lot of people what it is like to be diagnosed with a neurodiverse disorder (I don’t like calling it a disorder myself, but I didn’t choose the label). Whether you’re officially diagnosed or self-diagnosed, there is no doubt that you have been on some kind of personal journey that not everyone understands.

For some people, a realisation that they are neurodivergent is going to be harder to come to terms with than for others. No matter how open-minded you consider yourself to be, it is highly likely that there are parts of the news or reality that are easier to accept than others. You may have unconscious prejudices you did not know existed within yourself. You may have blind spots that others have seen in you, and you find hard to see. Especially as over a lifetime it has become ‘our normal’. Please be reassured we all have blind spots to some parts of ourselves. Opening up to these blind spots can help us see them more clearly.

For some people who have been through a lot of trauma or struggle in their lives, the neurodiversity within an individual could have had quite an impact in exacerbating some of the most difficult parts of the symptoms of trauma, struggle or underlying medical conditions.  A difficult childhood for a neurodivergent child can make the child appear difficult when actually, they never were, they were just having difficulties and ones that many couldn’t understand or relate to. They may have been acting out as a coping mechanism, for example. When adults can’t understand what is going on with their children, it is hard for them to know how to support them.

Getting in touch with yourself and your neurodiverse world can help with acceptance and be reassuring. It can help people to learn to feel alright about the diagnosis. You are not damaged, odd, wrong, weird, lazy, dopey, or any of the other labels that may have been pinned on you. Wanting to escape sometimes into your own little bubble to take the pressure off having to adapt to a neurotypical world is necessary for some of us and is not strange!

You are OK exactly as you are just, differently wired to typical people. I like the saying ‘different not less’ as a description, and let us not forget that neurodivergent people often excel in some areas of work such as creative work, science and for some emergency services where crisis triggers a hyperfocus and all else is cancelled out other than the task in hand. Special interests and hyper-focuses that are a part of being neurodivergent enable people to be super productive in their area of interest. It doesn’t have to be any of the above, it can be anything you are interested in. Your special interest is where you can flex those muscles.    

The creative and intellectual aspects of attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are well documented. Albert Einstein was thought to be AuADHD (which means he presented with both diagnoses). That’s right! Neurological presentations such as these did not come into existence in the last couple of decades. There are a few different records on how long ADHD has been known about. Some records suggest 1902 but other stories and records can go back further and Albert Einstein was born in 1879.

Many people with ADHD have personal family records that they have traced back that have shown that their relatives have presented with ADHD symptoms before it was even given a label. In the case of ASD, Leo Kanner is recognised as being one of the first experts on the subject, however, it is also possible that ancestral data from people presenting with the same symptoms of ASD and Aspergers in their family histories are recorded before Mr Kanner started documenting it in 1943, so not surprisingly leading on from that information, we know that neurodiversity is often genetic.

Some experts think it is a combination of genes and environment. Gabor Maté is a Canadian/Jewish physician who was diagnosed with ADHD and wrote a groundbreaking book, ‘Shattered Minds,’  of this train of thought. It is certainly an interesting read and helps people to look at all the elements that can contribute to an ADHD personality.

My own interest in neurodiversity started with an interest in neuroscience and the new knowledge I acquired that challenged my knowledge of certain areas of psychotherapeutic thinking especially some of the older theories. Later, members of my family were diagnosed with different forms of neurodiversity and I myself signed up for pre-screenings and an assessment. This then led me to seek a better education in the subject and to think about the therapeutic healing that some people might need in coming to accept their diagnosis.

As mentioned earlier, some people may have unconscious prejudices that need to be unravelled. I have to say, the first close relative diagnosed in my family took it very well and I found this inspiring, to say the least. That person is an advocate for exposing their status because they see it as ‘normal’ and it certainly is many people’s ‘normal’. They are rightly proud of all their different parts and this was comforting to see and know. I found personal case studies on the subject fascinating and that clients bringing their own narrative, their own story, and their own analysis around their personality was therapeutic, rewarding, and often necessary. 

Neurodivergent people have often had a lifetime of being misunderstood and having harsh judgments and criticisms placed on them. They can be seen as difficult characters and are treated as such. This is hard for people whose self-esteem was well nurtured in their childhoods let alone those who had less nurturing. It can also be very different for the different sexes. Women mask (try and cover up their ND traits) their neurodiversity more than men for a number of reasons and it can be helpful to look at masking and ask the question “Is this putting unnecessary pressure on you?”,  “Is it your authentic self?”, “How hard is it to not present being your authentic self most of the time?”


How can counselling help? 

Counselling can help you to work through your neurodiverse world and how it relates to you. Your own personal story is a good way to start. It can help you make associations with episodes of life that were influenced by diversity and recognise and accept it. Sometimes these revelations can help us to feel less guilty or unashamed of being non-typical in a neurotypical world and offer a look at ways to cope. 


References

  • 'Girl Remastered' by Jessica Jocelyn

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, SE1
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Written by Julie Sale, Accredited MBACP, Dip Couns, PTSD Dip, CBT Dip
London, SE1

The recent revelation in neuroscience of the effects of meditation on the brain and proven benefits of meditation have been of interest to me for a long time since 11-years when I discovered the wisdom of Buddhism and led me to wanting to explore more about different cultures and ideals for living.

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