Discovering My Personal Neurodiversity
Stephanie Mines, PhD
When I wrote New Frontiers in Sensory Integration in 2014 (New Forums Press), my aim was to serve the families I was supporting with neurodiverse children. These young people were adopted, had been conceived in an IVF or surrogacy situation, were on the autistic spectrum, had eating disorders, structural struggles, or the children had behavioral problems and health issues that included sensory difficulties. There were also children with combinations of these issues.
To meet the needs of these families and their precious, brilliant children I did a significant amount of research. This led to clinical trials that I conducted over a three-year period. I interviewed Occupational and Physical Therapists, and worked side-by-side with them in clinics.
I always enjoyed working with these families, and found the children to be consistently intelligent, engaged, responsive and delightful. Eventually I conducted family clinics in my office, bringing in various specialists to work with me. We thoroughly documented everything we did and followed the families for as long as we could. My clinical, peer reviewed research showed that in small, pilot projects, the interventions that I offered, including subtle applied touch, were successful in producing significant shifts for children. A statistical analysis of a pilot project with autistic children ages 5-11 years showed remarkable improvement in daily life skills and learning. That analysis is available in the published articles.
Neurodiverse Children Mirror My Own Neurodiversity
What surprised me the most in all of this was the uncovering of my own neurodiversity. Coming from a family without attunement, attachment or bonding instincts or skills, nor the capacity to access appropriate resources, none of my developmental needs were recognized. In retrospect, looking at my own evolution through the mother and grandmother eyes that I now have, I see that I was an acutely sensitive child (for which I was severely criticized and reprimanded), with powerful perceptions, verging on the mystical, and an amazing capacity for empathy. This empathy became the adaptation skill that allowed me to survive. I used it to stay out of trouble as much as possible and to be of service to my family members. Of course, my defiance would erupt periodically, but I did my best to keep it in check. This was horrific for me personally. It distorted my intelligence. It fragmented me so severely that I am still not fully reassembled back into my Original Brilliance. Original Brilliance is the term I have created to reflect unique, innate creativity.
Contrary to the highly touted and oft-quoted research of Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, who graduate students in neuroscience put on a pedestal, I never saw children diagnosed with autism as averse to touch and eye-contact. All the children I met, on the contrary, were receptive to connection and, if anything, aware of and responsive to everything around them. However, when they sensed that others were not respectful of them or paying attention, those children would sometimes, if not often, withdraw. I believe I was also this kind of child. My mother describes me as very quiet and subdued. Anyone who knows me now would not use those adjectives for me.
The children who I served as a clinician were the ones who taught me about my own neurodiversity. Recently, when I was reviewing my early writing from my adolescence and young adulthood, I saw that I was recording profound perceptions about the world around me, and especially the adults in my environment. I was also extremely sensitive to what I can only describe as vibratory fields from the natural world. I kept all this hidden as I knew that sharing these experiences was risky because everything about revealing myself to my family was risky, sometimes even life-threatening.
I was fortunate, I suppose, that I was so good at adapting to these circumstances. This did require squelching outward signs of intense creativity. I was made to feel ashamed for my uniqueness, even ridiculed, so I stopped revealing it. That is adaptation. The truth is, though, that such masking never worked. My creativity was irrepressible, and therefore I felt trapped in my longing to be loved and seeing the only option for that as being someone I could not become.
What I am is a unique human being with a powerful contribution to make. This is true of everyone. Because this was never mirrored back to me, I have been required to spend most of my life discovering it. Every child should know she is gifted. The greatest struggle in my life is believing in myself. I think this struggle is responsible for most of my suffering.
The Rise of Neurodiverse Intelligence in the Midst of Climate Crisis
It is the electrifying alacrity of my neurodiverse creativity that frequently stuns and disarms others. Yet it is perfectly suited to this time of climate crisis. My creativity has a suction-like focusing force. Like a high-powered vacuum cleaner, it won’t let go. My brand of neurodiversity charts unmapped territories with poems and theories articulated in language that makes people gasp, often in disbelief. I use words that are familiar but they render novel experiences and link what was is unknown to what can be known.
For my neurodiverse mind overload or overwhelm is familiar. It is not to be eschewed. On the contrary, it is the stuff of life. My sensory filters were broken long before I was born. They have reconfigured themselves in unpredictable, improvisatory ways. My neurodiverse intelligence is sand painting after sand painting, so elusive sometimes that I miss it myself.
I have developed a neural net that catches the confetti of my perceptions and contains it for the purpose of serving others and making poetry and whatever other writing comes through my hands onto the page. I distill sensory input in a way that is ineffable, even to me. I am also a metallurgist. My particular jewels are made from a magnitude of grief that has no etiology I can articulate or any destination that I know. It is timeless.
My fast-acting, quick-to-rise neurodiversity moves always in the direction of manifestation. Manifestation is a physiological urge and a trouble-maker, as it requires support that I frequently do not have. I have to fast track, almost all the time, because of this. I am a juggler of necessity. I would prefer a more spacious lifestyle. Finding the support systems, the wherewithal, including the finances, to keep pace with my lightning bolt creativity is quite challenging. It is likely also grounding as it makes me confront the nitty-gritty, day-to-day, and stay in place when I would much prefer to fly away.
Honoring Uniqueness: The Power of Self-Respect
If I could offer only one suggestion to parents it is to model self-respect, especially for neurodiverse children who are often publicly ridiculed. Self-respect is named here not for achievements at all, but for uniqueness of being. The consequences of not being introduced to the potency of self-respect are quite severe, in my experience. I need to reconstruct self-respect every day. Thankfully I now succeed more often than I fail. Sometimes it takes me hours, even days. But self-respect is the light at the end of the tunnel. It is an end in itself. It is the key to satisfaction and peace.
With all the talk about the Polyvagal System, healing the inner child, stress-relief, Internal Family Systems, and mindfulness, I would say the key to all of the above is self-respect for Original Brilliance, as I have defined it here. In a climate changing world, one might wonder at the activism of promoting self-respect for Original Brilliance. Yet I see it as one of the central pieces of puzzle of creating a groundswell tipping point to turn our suicidal, self-sabotaging actions around.
Women and Neurodiversity
The patriarchal colonization of the feminine, in which all women marinate, beginning even before conception, gives rise to compensatory strategies that weave with the particular traumatic and shocking circumstances of individual families and cultures. These compensatory strategies can be symptomatically classified as aspects of neurodiversity, and sometimes illnesses, even structural distortions. We women will bend and shape ourselves in all sorts of ways to be of service, to survive, to deliver our messages. This is particularly true when empathy without sensory filtering or boundaries is a driving force, uniting us so intimately with the needs of others that we become indistinguishable from them. In short bursts, or transient interludes, this sometimes wins us the love we want. It does not, however, have endurance, so we are left scurrying for more and more compensations. That insane pattern ends with authentic self-respect for Original Brilliance.
The distortion of the feminine, taking the form sometimes of neurodiversity for which we, as women, feel responsible as if it were an error on our part, is coming to an end. Neurodiversity is indeed a skill set in these times of unprecedented escalation and dissolution. Our personal struggles in the direction of self-respect deserve enormous support. I am dedicated to providing that, including by freeing myself of my own self-harming thoughts and liberating self-respect for myself into a way of life. Please join me, my dear sisters, in this crusade. Our time is now to rise beyond trauma into wholeness, in service to the true Mother who has always nurtured us.