I think I’ve heard this statement (it’s never meant as a question) in every possible format now: on the socials, from personal contacts, in the backlash from the recent Panorama investigation into how clinics are diagnosing the condition (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001m0f9) and in workplaces.
Most uncomfortably and personally, I endured a version of it in the form of a 30 minute verbal attack by my Uber driver whose starting and finishing position on the subject pretty much boiled down to: “You don’t have ADHD, you just say you do because it looks good for your clients – ‘Oh, look I can be like her. She has it’”.
I sometimes wish people wouldn’t ask what I do. Being neurodivergent, I’m terrible at just making something up for a quiet life.
I’m 45 and it reminds me, a bisexual woman, of the Noughties when you’d hear a popular narrative (or inference) of “is everyone gay now?”
Let’s be mindful that people generally identify as neurodivergent at the end of a long journey of confusion, poor quality relationships, underachievement, self hatred and personal crisis.
Often It isn’t diagnosed. Because we can’t afford for it to be.
Just because there might not be anyone in the forest to hear the tree fall doesn’t mean it doesn’t make an almighty loud noise. Or, to put that another way, just because you can’t see I’m neurodivergent doesn’t mean I’m not.
You cannot see autism or ADHD. You can see certain behaviours, but in many cases, you would be unlikely to recognise or notice them unless you knew someone very well or lived with them for a significant period of time.
Most self-diagnosed or questioning people get a formal diagnosis of a neurodivergent condition if they go for one.
In fact, ever since meeting my first holistic client in 2011, I’ve not had a client who’s been told by their health practitioner that they don’t have a neurodivergent condition.
And that’s not because it’s easy to get a diagnosis (the diagnostic criteria of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses, also known as DSM-V, are applied to all medical diagnoses).
One problem is that often a formal diagnosis brings its own challenges. Only recently a peer of mine told me they wish they’d never been diagnosed because of the problems it was causing them at home and at work.
I can’t tell you how depressing it is hearing this when you work in neurodiversity and are yourself autistic with ADHD (or AuDHD as we say colloquially).
Nobody goes into coaching or therapy – or any other holistic 1-2-1 work – without having a strong rescuer instinct that they’ve spent a long time in training learning to harness, so it sometimes feels bleak and disempowering that I can’t change an entire social landscape for the clients I’m fortunate to work with.
The ‘Doesn’t everyone have ADHD etc?’ argument fascinates me mainly because it causes so much harm to be on the receiving end of it but also cleverly detracts from, or masks, the asker’s agenda.
th principle at stake here is that whilst our lived experiences and our behaviours may be different, are people fundamentally all the same?
Yes, our outlooks and perspectives may be different. They are shaped and influenced by our upbringing, our challenges, and how we respond to them.
If we accept – as we should – that our similarities unite us, why the hell is everyone still banging on about what makes us different?
In response to the ‘Doesn’t everyone have ADHD now?’ question, I like to ask: Why do you say that?” or “What makes you think that?”, because I do sometimes wonder whether that person received appropriate care and validation themselves.
I find myself wondering whether the inferred minimisation inherent in “What makes you so special?”, “Can’t you just make an effort?” or “Why aren’t you pulling your weight?” is actually that person projecting back to me the neglectful messages they have heard all their life.
The Spoons Theory is a really good metaphor that helps those with autism or other neurodiverse conditions to explain to people who are not neurodiverse what it’s like to live with their condition.
In simple terms it describes this in terms of someone with autism starting their day with 12 spoons that they use to complete different daily tasks. Getting out of bed may use one spoon for some people, but could use three for someone with more acute challenges. Driving or going to work uses spoons, managing personal relationships uses spoons, So does making dinner.
The aim is to make it through the day using 12 spoons or fewer. But on not so good, or bad, days all your spoons can be used up before you’ve had time to make yourself a meal or perform tasks relating to self-care.
Dealing with the wounding caused through being challenged at every turn about your neurodiverse condition uses up spoons. It further weakens those who struggle to cope with the demands and challenges of their day.
And the question I ask is: why should it be down to the neurodiverse community to exhaust their ‘spoons’ to soothe the sore spots created by ignorance or prejudice?
Back in the Nineties I remember my dad going on what sounded like a really naff sales training course, and we still laugh now about the When you point the finger, remember there are three pointing right back at you motto he came back with.
As a neurodiverse person I have learned to not get defensive or insecure or sad or threatened when people say Doesn’t everyone have autism and ADHD now?.
I think about the three fingers pointing back at them and encourage myself to be curious about why they believe this, and to consider what have they seen or not seen in their life that makes gaslighting an entire community seem okay to them.
I think that as a neurodiverse coach I have a simple challenge when I’m helping my clients: to de-weaponise the assumptions that others make by enabling my clients to respond differently to them.
In doing that, the capacity for those assumptions to cause damage or consume unnecessary emotional energy (or spoons) is either eliminated or significantly reduced. And as a result, the client’s resilience is strengthened.
And if in the absence of being able to change the world, that seems like a win-win to me.