Contemplating Brains

For various reasons, I’ve spent a lot of time in recent months looking for information about both neurodivergence and personality disorders. I minored in psychology back in the day and have remained interested in brain stuff ever since.

There are a lot of conditions that are defined by symptoms. When it comes to brain stuff and personality stuff this means as an adult, self reporting to someone who will then make a subjective assessment of how you’ve presented yourself. It’s not like looking at a broken bone, or how much insulin you produce. Given the way in which neurodivergent people tend to be traumatised, and how so-called personality disorders look a lot like pathologizing trauma responses, there’s a lot here that worries me.

I note with concern that diagnosis often has everything to do with how much of a nuisance you are to other people. Kids who act out at school are more likely to get checked out. Quiet but miserable kids may go unnoticed. I know historically that working class kids were less likely to be identified as dyslexic and more likely to be labelled as ‘thick’ and ignored. Girls who are shy and socially awkward but polite are more acceptable than boys having similar problems. Girls are socialised hard to be nice, in a way boys aren’t, all of which no doubt has a big impact on who gets diagnosed with autism. Boys underperforming with ADHD often get taken a lot more seriously than their female counterparts who get labelled as chatterboxes or as ditzy daydreamers. There’s a lot of sexism and classism tangled up in diagnosis, and more so in the past.

If you are a problem to your workplace, you might get an adult diagnosis. Otherwise it seems to be prohibitively difficult for a lot of people. There seems to be a general feeling that people who are high functioning and have viable workarounds don’t really need help. Be that with mental health or neurodivergence. These issues aren’t approached based on your suffering, it’s far more about the inconvenience you might cause to those around you. I think to some degree this is informed by lack of resources. There’s certainly not much support available for many people who are struggling.

We don’t actually get taught much about how our minds work. It would be useful if more people better understood what might be going on with other people’s heads, and their own. Education is always a good choice for reducing stigma and being more inclusive. Children who stand out as different may get help learning how to fit in, but why aren’t we teaching everyone how to better accommodate difference in the first place?

There’s so much more to quality of life than whether we can fit in at school and function in a workplace. I think there’s a lot of distortion created by how those aspects of life are prioritised. I wonder what different kinds of approaches to brains and health might be possible if we were willing to be a bit more thoughtful about it all.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Contemplating Brains

  • redbackbites

    I know many people, mostly women or gender diverse folk who have been diagnosed with ADHD or Autism or both, when they are ‘older’ many in their 40s and 50s. One friend knew she was Autistic, but was also diagnosed with ADHD in her 60s. All because of the gendered way they have both been (historically) diagnosed. I do have a friend who is Autistic who is doing her PhD studies on women and girls and autism diagnosis.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you for sharing this, and it’s really good to hear about your autistic friend doing the PhD. It’s so apparent that people experiencing these different ways of being need to be heard around definitions and diagnosis.

  • potiapitchford

    Yup. By the way, the use of the phrase “high functioning” is in itself controversial as it’s often applied by others to judge who “fits in”. The reality is that many autistics will cope better depending on the environment they are in and the level of masking they use. For example, the person judged as “high functioning” in a work environment could be hopeless at handling their finances or keeping up with household chores and may need help to pick clothing out.

  • neptunesdolphins

    Welcome to the world of disabilities and the people who inhabit it. As a brain injury survivor (I hate that), I am expected to be high-functioning as to not to disturb the people around me. In disability theater, the disabled folks are there as mascots to be patted on the head. If anyone has a mental illness or a different brain, who can’t be tamed, they are shunted off to one side.

    I am sorry if I sound snotty. I have been ordered out of restaurants because of my shaking or sideways limping that disturbs the customers. My brain doesn’t work the same as others, and I have to take care of me. Not them.

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