Were you ever told you were quirky, an oddball, or that you weren’t normal? Quite a number of clients report being teased or even badly bullied while growing up because they didn’t quite fit in. When I moved from Australia to the Netherlands (where I now live), I was constantly told to ‘doe even normaal’ which means act normal! In fact, this was drummed into me so much, that these were the first Dutch words I learnt to say.
I’ve thought long and hard about this concept of normal and not normal, and when I was recently asked to give a talk on Neurodiversity, I jumped at the chance. I began my research looking for a definition of neurodiversity. This took me down the rabbit hole of course, because I again questioned the concept of normal.
Think about it. If we are trying to define neurodiversity, then what are we comparing diverse to? Which means there must be a presupposition of neuro-normal. There must be a line that states, you are acceptably normal and any deviation from this line means you are not normal. I pictured a bell curve and was thinking, Okay, so if I sit in the middle with the masses, I am an acceptable, normal human being, but if I deviate towards to outer edges then what?
At what point does the deviation become not normal? How am I to know? Who sets the rules? Are those rules set in stone or are they fluid? How can we trust that the ‘normals’ who set the rules are right? Perhaps they are wrong? Does normal shift depending on the context? I know the Dutch found my normal Aussie behaviours somewhat un-normal! My head almost burst from the questions that bombarded me. But I soldiered on. In my search to find some answers, I found this definition of neurodiversity.
“Neurodiversity is an approach to learning and disability that argues diverse neurological conditions are the result of normal variations in the human genome”.
The idea that neurodiversity is a normal variation of humanness sits well with me. After twenty years studying psychology, working as a coach and being in relationships with a diverse range of people across the board, I can confidently say that we are all somewhere on the spectrum.
If this is the case, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that we should all learn a bit more about those who are on the outer edges of the bell curve? Wouldn’t it be interesting, and helpful to broaden our knowledge and understanding of people who are neurodiverse? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to human relationships if we relaxed the definition of normal and embraced those who think differently rather than try to ‘fix’ them.
In my work as an ADHD/ADD Coach I see clients come to me feeling quite broken after a lifetime of being told to act normal. They are exhausted trying to crush the very qualities that make them magnificent and unique. They need to relearn how to embrace their quirky, amazing brains and learn how to thrive in the world as themselves.
Now, I know that those with ADHD/ADD can be a handful with their over-exuberant energy, non-stop chatting, constant lateness, forgetfulness, promise breaking and such. And, I agree, those with ADHD/ADD need to understand the impact of this behaviour on relationships and learn to self-manage. But imagine a world where we all understood each other better and rather than say, “You’re just lazy, stupid and selfish!”, you would say, “How can I teach my friend to be on time for our appointments”. No judgement, just kindness.
People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are another group of people who have trouble fitting in. I found out that around 80% of qualified professionals with ASD (high functioning) are unemployed. This is unacceptable. Intelligent, capable, highly educated people are unable to find employment. One of the reasons they are excluded from the workforce is because they don’t interview well. (Imagine trying to make eye contact during an interview when it’s not what you do naturally). Other reasons include a lack of understanding from companies on how to make the workplace a welcoming environment for those who are somewhat different. For example, did you know that people with ASD can be very sensitive to noise, lights, textures? If you know that, then you could accommodate their needs quite easily.
As a society, we are missing out on the abundant talents this group have to offer simply due to ignorance. I love this quote:
“Without people with autism, humans would still be living in caves.” Dr. Temple Grandin. https://www.ted.com/talks/temple_grandin_the_world_needs_all_kinds_of_minds
Perhaps those who are neurodiverse bring an evolutionary advantage to the human race, just a thought! If every human being thought the same, had the same type of brain, then the world would be a pretty bland, dull place in my opinion. It is because of diversity that innovative ideas are born, not from group think.
I believe we would all benefit from opening our minds to neurodiversity and take the time to learn about others and how they experience the world. We would come to appreciate how they enrich our society and the value they bring. Through understanding the perspective of others, we would learn how to help them thrive in our ‘normal world’.
If you feel like you are an oddball, I encourage you to embrace it and start being fully yourself because the world needs you! However, I do encourage you to help others to understand your world.
Since researching the topic of Neurodiversity, I’ve come to realize that we need a broader model of normal. One that embraces acceptance, understanding and full participation in society of those who think differently.
Jacinta Noonan is an ADHD specialist & Life Coach. If you feel ADHD/ADD might be getting in your way, why not book an exploration session to find out how coaching can help.