Neurodiverse Adults: The Things We Do For Love

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When I decided to create a conference for gifted, 2e, neurodiverse adults, part of my vision included a robust, interactive GLOBAL community. Our facebook page literally went from 60 members to close to 700 members in two weeks! We struck a chord.

Gifted/2e/neurodiverse adults spend (read, waste) an inordinate amount of time trying to ‘fit in,’ diminish their organic exuberance, and dial down their intensity. They end up exhausted trying to be different than who they are authentically, in an attempt to not be different than others. In mentoring 2e adults over the years, I’ve learned how unique it is to find a safe place or person who allows a neurodiverse human to be their authentic self. What is the trick to finding meaningful, fulfilling relationships as a neurodiverse adult?

It almost seems that neurodiverse adults perpetuate exactly what they seek to avoid – insincere, unfulfilling relationships. They put themselves in situations where they have to hide their true selves or where their true selves get triggered. It isn’t uncommon for 2e adults to find themselves over-tapping their deep empathy to help someone else feel better. Unfortunately, many 2e adults find themselves intertwined with a narcissist. Why would this happen? 

First of all, habits run deep; 2e kids grow up to be 2e adults. When 2e adults were 2e kids, it was super important to the child, the child’s parents, or the child’s teachers that the 2e child ‘blend in,’ ‘be included,’ and not feel different. Habits formed as children, now continue, even though they are toxic, and work against the 2e adult’s ability to find joy. The message often received by 2e children is that their true self is wrong, bad or broken. Seldomly are 2e kids celebrated for the strengths of their intensity, sensitivity or curiosity. One of the questions I ask parents, teachers and clinicians about their 2e learner is “would this behavior be appreciated if the child was an adult?”

As adults, we appreciate out-of-the-box perspective and critical thinking. Oftentimes their diverse perspective and priorities are exactly the underpinning of the 2e child’s comment or behavior. For instance, shunning small talk, or prioritizing global and existential concerns above typical topics of focus is viewed as out-of-sync, ‘quirky,’ or different.  Often times behavior stemming from frustration or a moral compass afront is viewed as disrespectful or impulsive by adults.  

It’s as children that we learn to tamp down our energies, hide our interests and attempt to ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’ 2e kids tend to have interests well outside their age peers’ realm of thought. It’s not odd as an adult to have friends who are twenty years older or more. But for kids, the assumption is that they should get along with their age peers more than interest peers. This just isn’t true. 

When the 2e kid grows up, not only does he have to unlearn all the toxic assumptions and reactions he endured during childhood, he has to reorient himself toward positive self awareness. When 2e adults find a place where they can be themselves – where whatever comes out of the mouth or whatever feelings are triggered are met with understanding and empathy, the world becomes a lighter, brighter place. Because 2e adults are used to pretending – or what I refer to as putting on their neurotypical glasses – they are often exhausted. The pretending, wishing and frustration takes a toll.

I recommend leaving those neurotypical lenses in their case and wearing your unique neurodiverse lenses. If you cannot ‘see,’ you cannot be seen. Know yourself and what’s important to you. Find the places and people who allow you to feel great about being you, and role model what you so desire in others; demonstrate curiosity and empathy and appreciation for others’ differences.

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Julie Skolnick

Julie Skolnick

Julie Skolnick, M.A., J.D., is the Founder of With Understanding Comes Calm, LLC, through which she passionately guides parents of gifted and distractible children, mentors 2e adults, and collaborates with and advises educators and professionals on bringing out the best and raising self-esteem in their students and clients.

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