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The Fight – when Autism and ADHD go head-to-head


In the Red Corner, the undefeated champion

Standing tall, supremely confident, ready to get out there again and knock ‘em dead

 

And in the Blue Corner, the challenger

Shoulders stooped, looking anxious, a little sick

 

It doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a fair fight does it?

Would you pay to watch this entertainment?

 

But I’m not talking about a boxing match

 

I’d like to introduce you to the inside of my head

 

I’m Autistic and ADHD

Neurodivergent

Two conditions with many overlapping traits

and also complete opposites in so many ways

 

Both come with stigma, stereotypes, misunderstanding

By sharing my experience, what it’s like to be me, I’m hoping you’ll understand me a little more

And this is only my experience, because we’re all different so I can’t speak for all Autistics, all ADHDers, in the same way that you shouldn’t assume that because you’ve met one Neurodivergent person, you know what we’re all like

 

Let me tell you a little more…

 

Autism is connected with the left side of the brain

The analytical side, rational, logical, controlling

Often depicted as the black and white side of the brain

Things have to be fair

Rules have to be followed

Change is a scary thing

I have to be in control

 

Recently, at a networking event, someone introduced me as ‘This is Lisa.  She’s very talented’

When I enquired what he meant by talented, he said that I’m creative and knowledgeable but don’t show any emotion

And this is a common misconception that Autistic people have no empathy

But you couldn’t be further from the truth

 

There are different types of empathy

Emotional empathy – feeling your emotions.  Taking them on as if they were my own  Wanting to make things better for you

I have buckets full of this empathy

 

Cognitive empathy – recognizing and understanding what you’re experiencing

That’s a different thing entirely

Autistics can struggle to accurately recognise emotions

Eye contact can be difficult so we’re likely to look at the periphery of your face, not the eyes and mouth – and that’s where emotions show up

So while I feel all the emotions

Very deeply

Rational pragmatic me wants to fix the problem and what comes out of my mouth in the moment might sound blunt and uncaring

 

And what about if ADHD brain gets involved too?

I’ve thought of 75 different ways I can help you and it’s all bursting to get out

I need to do something right now

I’ll give you a big hug

Ooof

I’ve still got the boxing gloves on

That was a right hook

I got it wrong again

The fight goes on

 

In her book, Autism in Heels, Jennifer O’Toole writes:

What’s it like to be us?  Too much! What do you do when the trouble isn’t one thing that you do, it’s everything that you are? So much of the internal experience of autism is invisible to outsiders. No one else can see the struggle.

 

I wear a sunflower lanyard

If you don’t know what this means, it’s part of the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme – a way for people with less visible disabilities to tell you that we might be struggling, might need a little help, without having to shout it from the rooftops

But I do shout it from the rooftops because I want everyone to know what this means.

Please look out for sunflower lanyards; you might be surprised how many you spot now you know what they are


Back to Jennifer.  She also says:

I pull the rug right out from under myself when everybody is looking. Just trust that I didn't mean to make anyone fall. My version of normal does not look the same as most people’s.

This really resonates with me

My deepest belief has always been that I’m not good enough

My black and white view of the world has defined the way I ‘ought’ to be

I’ve spent my life trying to fit in.  Trying to be normal

Act the right way.  Say the right things

I’m too much

I overcompensate. I’m too intense in relationships, Both work and personal. I need to feel needed.  I do too much

And this results in me pushing people away through caring too much.

The fight goes on

 

ADHD is associated with the right side of the brain

The creative side.

Often depicted in a rainbow of colours

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Another misnomer

It’s not a deficit of attention

It’s a deficit in the ability to regulate my attention

Something has all of my attention

I was a Due Diligence Director, attention to detail an absolute must!

So much attention I forget to drink water, eat, even blink

Or my attention is all over the place

Now, what was I saying … ?

The fight goes on

 

And when you say hyperactive, people think of small boys unable to sit still in the classroom

But I barely move, I’m like a sloth

It’s my mind that’s hyperactive

I’m endlessly curious, with a love of learning

Autism – because I have to know exactly how everything works to feel in control

ADHD – because each new thing becomes a hyperfocus, a fascinating new idea to explore, new possibilities …. And I want to try them all right now!!

Well, maybe not right now, because Autistic brain needs to know exactly how they’d work, and think through all the things that could go wrong before I start

The fight goes on

 

I used to think that everyone’s brain worked the same way as mine does.

That everyone experiences the world the same way I do. 

Because there’s no benchmark.


I wear glasses.  You might have noticed this in photographs of me.

But how did I know I needed them?

I started learning to drive at 17.  Part of the test was reading a car number plate at a particular distance.  While I could read it, it was a little blurry, so I went to the optician to get my eyes tested and established that I needed glasses.  The Optician’s chart gave me the benchmark


We don’t have that same benchmark for what goes on inside our minds

So I thought that everyone’s brain works the same way as mine

Now I know that’s not true

I was only diagnosed with ADHD and Autism in my 40s, and after the grief cycle that so many of us go through, I’m now learning to live with my Neurodivergence

Learning to manage the challenges and appreciate the strengths

 

Albert Einstein famously said:

Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

 

What’s the genius within that I can call on?

I’m creative AND methodical

I see patterns AND spot anomalies

I’m fiercely loyal AND resilient

I’m great in a crisis, a problem solver AND pragmatic

I have awesome attention to detail AND endless curiosity

I’ve even been told I’m quite funny at times.  Who knew?!

 

Harvey Blume, an American journalist and advocate says:

Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will be best at any given moment?

 

I’ve decided to call time on the fight, take off those boxing gloves, and appreciate my Autistic ADHD brain for what it is.

Let the two sides learn to work together

Take the rainbow and straighten it … just a little

Take the black and white, and create shades of grey.  50 perhaps … too much?

 

I’ve decided to stop worrying so much about what people think of me

Stop judging myself

And start doing things that I can be proud of

Things I believe in

Start believing in me!

 

So while my Autistic brain still struggles with a Boxing Ring being square…

In the Red Corner, I’ve started professional speaking about Neurodiversity and by sharing my story, I hope to help others to understand, accept AND value Neurodivergence

In the Blue Corner, I’ve trained as an ADHD and Neurodiversity Coach so I can support other Neurodivergent folk.  You can find out more at www.ADHDbrain.Coach

And in the Yellow Corner, I’ve Started to Write Poetry and started a Substack (Down a Rabbit Hole)

And in the Green Corner, I’ve joined a Samba drumming band, because ADHD brain is never going to be happy with just Red and Blue

I’m always going to create a rainbow!


 

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Watch this talk IRL on my YouTube channel


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