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Dear Neurotypical II

When people have questions about Part I

By Chelsea DelaneyPublished 3 years ago 5 min read
Dear Neurotypical II
Photo by Rinck Content Studio on Unsplash

Dear Neurotypical,

You had some GREAT questions about Part I! Yes, I have strong emotions when it comes to a lot of things, but I ESPECIALLY LOVE great questions! To have someone come towards me with interest, when I spend so much time going to them, is a surprise and a joy. I didn't realize I'd left so much out of Part I, and so let's get to what I forgot.

Your questions about Part I centered around one important theme: safety. You wanted to know the ways we try to create it, what happens without it, and how you can help provide it. I won't cover all these, because they're not all interesting to me, and like I said before, I can't speak to every neurodiverse experience. But I will tell you what I, and the many other neurodiverse I work with, have lived.

Let's start with stimming. The dictionary defines it as: a self-stimulatory behavior that is marked by a repetitive action or movement of the body. Meh. I can take or leave that definition. It leaves off the immense feeling of relief that comes with your particular brand of stimming. It also doesn't hint much at the range of stims that are out there. As a teacher, my ADHD kiddos were always very visible by their leg bouncing, rocking, and pencil tapping. The young man on the spectrum that I currently work with does a lot of finger twirling. I itch and scratch, particularly in my ears. Occasionally it is a mild flick of the finger kind of scratch, but not often. When the world is loud, I need to tear at bits of skin and scab from previous scratchings. I dig, often until I'm sweating or shaking, but always until the itch of overwhelm subsides.

Dear neurotypical, I know it can be disturbing to watch us stim, but please don't tell us to stop. Do you know how many hours I've spent in the bathroom over the course of my life, digging out my bloody ears, because I know it's not proper social behavior? Or drumming on the outsides of them because they are too torn up and sensitive to put my fingers in at the moment? A lot of us get it, these behaviors set us apart in a not so great way. Shaming us for them makes it worse. You wouldn't shame someone for running from a rabid dog, would you? You would scream "run" at them until they were safe and the moment of danger had settled.

Stimming is not the only thing on the safety menu however. Though my habits are not as important to me as they used to be, they are still pretty important. I go on a walk three times a day, or two times a day if I make one of my walks two laps around my usual block. I massage my feet every morning. Every Thursday I vacuum my apartment and sweep my floors. If I don't do these things, the day feels off, sometimes loudly so, and sometimes quietly. I can axe a habit, but for it to simply fade out isn't a thing. These moments of regulation help provide a structure that minimizes the unknown and the transitions in my life, another thing that takes an inordinate amount of energy. This doesn't mean that I run from the unknown, but I save my energy up to do it purposefully and in a self-directed fashion.

I see only one downside in this. My construction of all these artificial scaffolds throughout the day can blind me to the fact that even a regular habit is different every time it is performed. And so I, and many neurodiverse that I know, go out into the world thinking: as it is, so it shall be. I had one bad trip to the dentist that I don't remember as a child, and I stopped going regularly till last year at 41. If I have one bad date, I'm positive the next one will be bad as well. If I eat a dish with tofu in it that I don't like, tofu is off the menu forever. If I eat an ice cream I like, I will eat it for months or years till I've had my fill. I spent many years not traveling, for the sheer fact that I could not envision myself being in a place that I wasn't right now. I'm in California now, stood the reasoning, how can I go to Hawaii? Basically, I make permanent assumptions, both positive and negative, in this desire to create the perception of a safer world.

Lists and monologues can also be safety seeking behaviors. It's an attempt to pin down the swirl of variables. I LOVE LISTS! And fortunately, in a culture tuned to fast reads and listicles, I can blend in with this behavior a little. I've learned to turn it towards the neurotypicals in my life. To make a list of the things I love about them, or my favorite parts of a trip we took together, both gives them detailed feedback and gives me a chance to hold on and not forget anything. Granted, NT's need and use lists just as much as we do, but I would wager that your lists lack the emotional urgency of ours.

The monologue can work in many ways for the neurodiverse. First off, let me say that I know it seems contradictory that we'd like you to say less, as I mentioned in the last letter, when we can literally spew words like fire hydrants. I can't give you a real good explanation of this. It's just, your words tend to add volume to our already noisy lives, but our words make it quieter for us because they turn down the volume on our internal chatter. Sometimes our monologues are simply delight based--we love you so we want to share the cool thing that we know with you, or we're just super stoked that you're into something that we're into. In that delight, we assume you want the same level of detail that we do.

But monologues can cross over into safety seeking behavior. When the sensory and social world has overwhelmed us, gotten millimeters from our nose, we push back with a sheer torrent of words to create some space for ourselves. Picture it like Moses in the movies, parting the Red Sea--except for in our version, we wouldn't be leading Israelites or chased by Pharaoh's men. We'd just be standing by ourselves in a glittering, translucent, word fort, and everyone would leave us the hell alone.

In all these safety seeking measures, there is room for growth, insight, and a teeny bit of letting go. As I mentioned in the last letter, when my life went from purely mental, to acknowledging my body, I instantly felt a lot safer. The frequency of some of these behaviors naturally lessened. When I moved to San Francisco in my thirties, I saw life that was as strange as the inside of my head, and the need for some of these behaviors lessened some more. The more congruence I create between my inner and outer lives, the more I feel that I am here in this world, just like you, with the right and ability to take up space.

Though the questions of safety have become less pressing as I age, all of these responses to the world are still part of me. They don't squeeze me like they used to, but they still leave a mark.

Thanks, and let me know if you have any more great questions,



About the Creator

Chelsea Delaney

Life is weird, write about it, paint about it, dance about it, and sing about it too. Use every language in your arsenal to sculpt the world you want to live in. Writer, educator, artist, and creative midwife--this is what I do.

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