Growing up as a big sister to a brother on the autism spectrum has taught me a lot about neurodiversity from a young age. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, neurodiversity, as defined by author John Elder Robison is, “the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome.” It’s important to know that neurodiversity refers to far more than autism and ADHD through — anxiety, depression, and even "giftedness" fall under the umbrella of neurodiversity.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “always be nice because you never know what someone’s going through,” but this sentiment especially rings true when it comes to neurodiversity. You might not have considered it before, but neurodivergent people are always around you and there’s a social effect that stems from that. For example, in the case of the autism spectrum, something I continuously find myself teaching to others is that it’s called a spectrum for a reason. This means that there are people with autism who are considered high-functioning and often blend more easily into society’s neurotypical standard, and people on the other end of the spectrum who might more "obviously" show signs that the public is familiar with.
Stereotypes about what autism is supposed to look like are harmful and fail to show the full picture of what autism truly is.
A common example I see when neurotypical and neurodivergent people interact unknowingly is that social behaviors like bluntness and honesty on the neurodivergent person’s part can be taken as rude behavior by the neurotypical person. I know from my many experiences with people on the spectrum that straightforward honesty is very typical for people with autism, who generally see things more black and white than neurotypical people.
In neurodivergent folks with anxiety, a common experience might be having friends think you don’t care about them because of being a bad texter. What a lot of people with anxiety will tell you is that keeping up with communication can be challenging when you’re overwhelmed with the anxiety present and that the action (or inaction) is not at all a reflection of the person with anxiety’s feelings about the other person.
With just these two specific examples in mind, it’s safe to say that you should always be nice to others, not just because you don’t know if they’re going through something, but because not everyone communicates, thinks, or behaves like you and that’s perfectly okay. When we have a greater understanding of how other people think and feel, contrary to the social code society ingrains in neurotypical (and some neurodivergent) people, we begin to have a greater acceptance for social interactions that we might have once judged.
If you take anything away from this article, let it be that neurodiversity doesn’t make a person less than, it just means they're different. And different is normal because normal doesn’t even exist. All natural things are diverse, and diversity is crucial. So always be kind and never be quick to judge because, at the end of the day, all anyone is ever doing is their best.