A neurodiverse family

You all know my son has autism, which means he isn’t “neurotypical.” This means his brain is wired differently. Without getting into too many complexities, “wired differently” basically means cellular and molecular pathways in the brain are different. The genetic codes create an increase or decrease in the amount of certain brain cells. Any neuroscientist would probably cringe at this over-simplified explanation, but I’m not a neuroscientist, and neither are most of you.

Autism isn’t the only genetic anomaly that results in neurodiversity. ADD (and ADHD) also result in a differently wired brain. In fact, the genetics and brain signature between ADD and Autism are so similar that many experts believe ADD is on the Autism Spectrum. What we do know for sure, is they are genetically linked, meaning individuals with ADD are more likely to have children with Autism, and vice versa.

A genetic disorder that also shares genes and brain signature with Autism is bipolar disorder. I learned recently that those with bipolar are not neurotypical. This hit me like a major light-bulb moment, because I’ve never related to the neurotypical mind. Bipolar shares many characteristics with ADD, and is often misdiagnosed as ADD (as mine was at first). Bipolar is also diagnosed more frequently among the autistic population, although some believe bipolar tendencies are automatically part of autism and there’s no need for a separate diagnosis. And there is scientific evidence to back them up –studies have shown that gene expression patterns in bipolar brains are similar to autistic brains.

So my son is neurodiverse. I’m neurodiverse. And my husband (diagnosed with ADD) is neurodiverse. It’s too early to tell if our daughter is neurodiverse, however with our genetic cocktail I’d be surprised if she wasn’t.

What exactly does it mean to be neurodiverse? In a nutshell…

For me it means I see the world as a giant piece of art. The words around me become poetry in my head, everyday things become works of art. I can find beauty literally anywhere without trying, and I have a strong emotional response to just about anything. Example: Each piece of furniture in my home elicits a specific emotion in me when I look at it, I remember how we acquired the furniture, its story, and I’m touched by it like I would be touched by a human being’s story. Being neurodiverse, I also have a really hard time believing anyone can be ill meaning or cruel. Cruelty shocks me. I simply cannot fathom intentional unkindness.

For my son it means he has a whole world in his head he can escape to. A world where he is a dinosaur, and mom and dad are dinosaurs. As far as I can tell, that world always exists, parallel and possibly even interwoven into his reality.

For my husband it means he’s a visual-spacial thinker. He sees the whole picture and how each component fits into that whole. He can also hear lights and takes everything at absolute face value.

For all of us it means we have certain sensory sensitives and sensory cravings, Bryan most of all. We all struggle with theory of mind, which is the idea that others have different perspectives and think differently from you (probably why I don’t understand intentional cruelty).

This only scratches the surface of what each of our neurodivergent worlds are like, but if I really wanted to get into it I’d need to devote an entire article to each one of us.

But that isn’t why I’m writing this particular article.

I’m writing this article to combat the stigma surrounding neurodiversity. My whole family is diagnosed with these “disorders,” and the assumptions made about people with these disorders usually couldn’t be more wrong.

Here are a few I’ve heard personally (reworded to omit crude and offensive language):

“You shouldn’t marry someone with autism. It’d be like being their caretaker.”

“But he’s so well behaved, are you sure he has autism/ADD?”

“You women with bipolar shouldn’t breed.”

“You’re son has autism? I’m so sorry.”

“ADD is just an excuse to get drugs.”

“They can’t have autism/ADD, they were never hyper.”

“He doesn’t look autistic.”

“You don’t seem bipolar, you seem stable.”

“People with ADD are irresponsible.”

“If your son has this gene, you’ll be referred to a genetic counselor to discuss family planning.”

“Only special people can handle autistic children.”

“People with bipolar are dangerous and should have their kids taken away.”

And here are some things friends of mine have heard:

“Autistics can’t be parents.”

“If you have bipolar/autism/ADD/mental illness, choosing to have kids is choosing to inflict them with the same disorder(s).”

“I don’t vaccinate my kids. Maybe they don’t cause autism, but what if they do, what if my kid got autism, what would I do then?”

“Autistics are incapable of real romantic relationships.”

“He does well in school, he can’t have ADD.”

Here’s the truth about neurodivergents:

We are capable of romantic relationships.

Being stable doesn’t mean our minds suddenly become neurotypical.

Neurodivergents make incredible parents.

Being neurodivergent doesn’t make you irresponsible. Responsibility is a learned quality.

Neurodivergents aren’t less intelligent than neurotypicals, and in fact are often more intelligent.

Not all neurodivergents do poorly in school (though some do, as a result of a system that works against them).

Not all neurodivergents are hyperactive.

You can’t tell someone is neurodivergent by looking at them/observing them briefly.

Marriage with one or two neurodivergents has the same struggles as any other marriage: trying to understand the other person and remembering to communicate.

Parents of a neurodivergent child have the same struggles as any other parents do: trying to understand a mind separate from their own and provide the resources necessary for their child to succeed.

Parenting a neurodivergent child is a blessing and something to be excited about, not apologize for.

Anyone can love/parent/understand a neurodivergent person. It doesn’t take anything special, just a willingness to learn and advocate.

These diagnoses are very real and their existence is backed by a monumental amount of scientific research and evidence –they are not conspiracies to get pills. Some people’s abuse of the system doesn’t make neurodivergence any less real.

Neurodivergence is nothing to be afraid of (and neither are vaccines).

Having neurodivergent genes doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have kids (or more kids) if you want them.

My family is neurodivergent, and not only do we survive, we thrive. My husband holds a full time job that he’s very talented in, and provides for our family. He’s a truly incredible father (and that’s not just me saying that, people tell me this all the time), and when free to do it in his own neurodivergent way, he achieves personal growth and success. My son is the smartest kid in his class, despite being one year younger than the rest of his classmates. And I truly feel that my neurodiversity helps me to be a more compassionate and patient mom.

I gotta stop there, because I hate feeling like I’m bragging.

My point is to illustrate that not only do neurodiverse families work, but they are beautiful.

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