Diverse Minds Movement
Reading Beyond the Stereotypes: Let's Talk About Health
When you meet one neurodivergent person, you’ve only met one. Our characteristics and preferences can vary broadly. Respond with curiosity, dignity, and respect by meeting people where they are and supporting each individual the way the person wants to be supported whether it be terminology, privacy, accommodation, belief, identity, agency, or space. As the founder of This Is My Brave Jennifer Marshall said, “One day it won’t need to be brave to talk about mental health. It will simply be called talking.” Let’s talk about health (and identity) to remove the stigma around mental health and neurodiversity.
I am an ADHDer, not a person with attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD). I am not a CPTSDer, but a person who thrives with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD). What’s the difference?
My neurodivergent brain wiring is an identity, not a mental health condition nor a neurological disability like dementia whereas neurodiverse includes all minds. I was born with ADHD just as I was born Asian American and a “tomboy.” I was not born with CPTSD. While I have inherited the impact of a family history of trauma, I was born with a happy-go-lucky personality.
That’s why I use identify-first language like autistic Black lesbian and not person-first language like a person with autism, a person with blackness, and a person with lesbianism as it relates to neurodivergent brain wiring as a born identity. That’s also why I use person-first language when it comes to mental health conditions because I am not defined by my mental health condition.
It’s not what’s wrong with me, it’s what happened to me. I did not choose to develop CPTSD, but I have developed superpowers from the mix of CPTSD, ADHD, and giftedness in my brain wiring like attention to detail, creativity, curiosity, honesty, humor, hypervigilance, loyalty, strong sense of ethics, and more. At the same time, heightened senses, hyperactivity, hyperfocus, and such can be misinterpreted as disorganization, impulsivity, and resistance to authority. We were all born human with human needs, feelings, and instincts. How the world around us responds to these human needs, feelings, and instincts can bring out our best, our worst, and everything in between.
Gabor Maté wrote in his book The Myth of Normal, “The good news is, we do: all of us, by virtue of being human, are endowed with a natural drive and talent for child-bearing. The bad news is that our society’s guiding assumptions and prevailing prejudices serve to alienate us from that innate knowledge, so inherent to our species that it cannot be taught, only activated or disabled…If it takes a world to raise a child, it takes a toxic culture to make us forget how to…Quite like the genes in which they are coded, instincts do not assert themselves in an automatic or autonomous way. Rather, they have to be evoked by the proper environment, or else we are liable to lose touch with them.”
Some who embrace the social model of neurodiversity may prefer terms like diverse abilities or success enablers to change perspectives. The reality for many though is that rather than embracing neurodiversity, the medical model perpetuates stigma. That is why some prefer terms like disability and accommodations to acknowledge that the world disables us, so we need whatever support we can get, and views terms like diverse abilities and success enablers as euphemisms that do not address existing challenges.
Whatever terms are preferred, I think we can agree that most people will experience disability at some point in their lives, especially with age, so if the world were redesigned with all needs in mind, then people will not feel so broken and in need of accommodations.
When you meet one neurodivergent person, you’ve only met one. Our characteristics and preferences can vary broadly. I personally am a hugger, but not everyone is, so offer by asking and not assuming that everyone is open to being touched. Some may prefer self-soothing through stimming. Respond with curiosity, dignity, and respect by meeting people where they are and supporting each individual the way the person wants to be supported whether it be terminology, privacy, accommodation, belief, identity, agency, or space.
As the founder of This Is My Brave Jennifer Marshall said, “One day it won’t need to be brave to talk about mental health. It will simply be called talking.” Let’s talk about health (and identity) to remove the stigma around mental health and neurodiversity.
The Diverse Minds Movement Community is working to harness the unique strengths and perspectives of neurodiverse individuals, dismantle barriers to success, and empower leaders, managers, and team members to work together to contribute their talents to the advancement of cybersecurity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Claudia Matteo has been an IBM Project/Program Manager, PMP®, for about 25 years. She has a BS in Computer Science and Technical Communications and an MS in Industrial and Organizational Psychology along with various training from humane tech to life coaching and was invited to join the IBM Academy of Technology (AoT), Trusted Artificial Intelligence (AI) Center of Excellence (CoE), and Inclusive Design Guild Leadership Squad. Claudia received the first-ever Loudoun County Resilience Award and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Northern Virginia Youth Education Champion Award for contributions towards mental health and access to human services.