I am certain that somewhere in the world there are neurotypical people who get involved in conversations about neurodivergence. But I’m not sure if I’ve ever met one.
For instance, think about the person who says “oh, come on, ADHD isn’t a real thing. They’re just medicating ordinary life behavior these days. Not being able to concentrate on things that require sustained mental effort? Blurting out answers before the questions are finished? Constantly making careless mistakes? Having difficulty remaining seated? Come on, everyone does that.”
There are two explanations for this. First, they may be genuinely confused about the difference between people with ADHD and people without ADHD, and need someone to explain to them that while it is perfectly normal behavior to lose your debit card sometimes, people with ADHD may forget it constantly.
Second, they might have ADHD.
In fact, they might have a lot of trouble from their ADHD. They have no access to medications or therapy or advice from other ADHD people about how to cope. They probably struggle with internalized ableism and self-hate because of their inability to do what other people do easily. They don’t even have the comfort of knowing that when things are hard for them, there’s a reason, and it’s not just because they’re worse than everyone else.
It seems to me that going “ugh, neurotypicals” is completely ignoring the possibility of this second category– and keeping us from making compassionate responses.
For another example, think about the famous “why don’t you treat your depression with yoga?” There’s a reason everyone laughed at this Hyperbole and a Half comic:
Because we have all met that lady, and she is an asshole!
But the thing is… yoga does have antidepressant effects. In my experience, when people recommend exercise as a depression treatment, they’re people who were depressed, started exercising, and felt less depressed. They’re not neurotypicals who have no idea what depressed people are suffering: they’re formerly depressed people who are falling victim to the typical mind fallacy and assuming that everyone else’s depression is fixable with exercise too.
The reason this is important is that you suffer from the typical mind fallacy too.
“Ugh! Those neurotypicals say that Prozac turns you into a zombie! That’s not how antidepressants work!” Except that antidepressants do have emotional blunting and numbness as common side effects, and a lot of the people who are really passionate about Prozac turning you into a zombie are people who, well, took Prozac and turned into zombies.
If you’re upset about people telling you to do yoga when it doesn’t work, you really shouldn’t tell people to take Prozac when it doesn’t work.
Another very common debate is about whether neurodivergent people should take it easy on themselves. One side says, “Those neurotypicals don’t understand that a lot of things that come easily to them are difficult for us. You know what? Sometimes I can’t get out of bed! Sometimes it is an achievement for me to wash a single dish, or have a five-minute phone call with a friend! I refuse to be ashamed of this, and I refuse to stop celebrating my small achievements. And I shouldn’t have to do things that make me want to kill myself, or have panic attacks, or experience flashbacks. If you can’t cut me some slack when you know how much harder everything is for me, you’re being an ableist dickbag.”
The other side says, “Those neurotypicals are only interested in supporting people as long as their illnesses are ‘cute’. I can’t actually stay in bed all day, because I would lose my job! “Cut us some slack” is a great thing to advocate for, until you realize that some of the things my mental illness wants me to do are hurtful to people around me. And I feel a lot better about myself when I make myself do things that I don’t want to do or even feel like I can’t do. I can’t believe that we are letting neurotypical people romanticizing mental illness and making excuses for why they should go easy on themselves get in the way of letting actual neurodivergent people recover.”
There are neurodivergent people on all sides of these debates. And that doesn’t mean that everyone’s opinions are okay– “ADHD isn’t real!” is a hurtful idea that causes direct harm to people with ADHD. But it does mean that we shouldn’t assume that people’s opinions come from ignorance. We should assume that they’re informed by their own experience, which may be very different from our own, and look for the truth inside their positions. We should acknowledge that neurodivergence is complicated and things that work well for one person will not work well for another. And we should be cautious to make sure that we’re not being the Yoga Lady for someone else.