When I was growing up, people often said to me “don’t bite your tongue.” They meant don’t hold back. Don’t let anything go unsaid. But they weren’t talking about biting their tongue in anger. What they meant was don’t hold yourself back from saying something nice.
These people around me knew that the person I was speaking to would feel better hearing compliments than hearing criticism. In some cases, of course, constructive criticism is required. But in each case the best thing to say is exactly what someone needs to hear, not wants to hear.
For those of us who are neurodivergent, it goes beyond idioms, however (why would it be raining cats and dogs?!).
We see the world differently to each other in many cases, never mind the neurotypical mind. So here are 9 things you should never say to someone who is neurodivergent.
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There’s no such thing as being too sensitive. It’s a sign of strength to know what you love and what you’re passionate about. And it shows courage to stand up for what you believe in, even if it hurts.
But people with neurodivergent conditions tend to take things personally, so it’s important to be careful what you say. If you tell them they’re too sensitive, you’re actually telling them that their feelings matter more than their ability to cope with certain situations. Though that sounds great, it can be a huge hindrance when the situation requires a more sympathetic resolution.
People with neurodivergent diagnoses are often highly empathic people. That means they care deeply about other people and how they feel, even if they don’t always understand social constraints. So when you say “you shouldn’t complain” it could come across as rude, especially since many people who are neurodivergent have trouble expressing themselves verbally.
Instead, try saying something like this: “I wish you didn’t have to deal with this problem.” Or “It must be really frustrating to have to do X every single day.” These statements show empathy without pressuring them into changing how they live their lives.
This one isn’t true. You can’t control what another person says or does. That’s why these kinds of accusatory phrases can come across as attacking behaviour. What’s more, if you’re putting words in their mouth about an issue with yourself, chances are you are the issue, not them.
If that’s the case, take a long, hard think about why they may have a problem with you, if you’re inclined to assume such in the first place. The irony being, using phrases like this, may in fact be the very answer you’re looking for!
Neurodivergents suffer from a number of different mental health issues that cause them to feel misunderstood at times, as well as those around them. They struggle to express themselves, and often misinterpret other people’s intentions.
Sometimes they feel frustrated because they think everyone is out to hurt them, and they just want to be left alone. While you may not mean to offend, it doesn’t make it any less offensive.
So try to be supportive instead of judgmental. Use this as an opportunity to help your loved one understand you, not as an excuse to continue a perpetuating run of negativity.
No one wants to be told not to worry about something. But the truth is, most neurodivergents experience a lot of anxiety and stress. So even if they don’t need to worry about something, they will anyway.
In fact, worrying about things you can’t control can lead to depression, which is particularly common among people with neurodivergent conditions. Plus, worrying doesn’t usually help anyone. The best way to handle these types of thoughts is to talk about them.
Tell them you can see they’re worried and ask them what you can do to support them. Then try to offer ways to reduce their stress levels. Open up the floor to a healthy conversation instead of shutting it down.
Maybe it is all in your head. Maybe it’s not. There’s no way to know for sure until you find out otherwise. Many people with neurodivergent conditions report experiencing symptoms that doctors and therapists call “brain fog,” confusion, fatigue, difficulty focusing, and memory retention issues.
Unfortunately, there isn’t enough research being done to figure out whether those symptoms truly exist or whether they are caused by the brain itself. For now, we just have to trust each other’s experiences.
If someone tells us they believe something happens to them because of their condition, even if we don’t agree, it’s important to take them seriously. Otherwise, we risk becoming isolated and discouraged because we start to doubt our own perceptions of what we’re able to trust.
There are plenty of people who never change. And then there are others who try one thing, realize it wasn’t working, and move onto something new. We mustn’t assume everyone has to change everything at once.
Instead, remember that every neurodivergent individual has unique strengths and needs. You should strive to recognize and capitalize on those strengths while also finding healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with difficult situations.
Remember that when it comes to people with neurodivergent minds, change is possible. But only after lots of patience and effort. And, if you can’t change the past, look at rebuilding the future.
This is a tricky one because apologies and forgiveness are two separate concepts. Apologies are meant to show that you regret doing something bad (or that you’ve learned from something bad). For instance, if you accidentally bump into someone and knock over a vase, you might say “sorry” as a means of apologizing. However, it would be inappropriate to apologize for having a neurodivergent condition.
Similarly, saying “forgive me” when you really shouldn’t be forgiven is confusing. It implies that the person has already changed. That’s why it’s important not to use these phrases unless you’re actually offering to do something nice for another person without expecting anything in return.
Sometimes it feels like nothing is wrong. When people tell you this, it’s easy to forget that they still feel anxiety and pain. Even though you can’t physically see it, they’re suffering. They may have lost friends due to how different they seem, they may have had trouble getting jobs, dates, friendships, housing, or services, and they may struggle to keep up with schoolwork.
These problems aren’t going away anytime soon. Unless you want to make their lives harder, it’s best to avoid telling them everything is fine. This is especially true since they may react badly when you suggest they might be depressed or anxious.
Try to be more supportive instead. Tell them that you care about them and that you hope they’ll feel better sooner than later.
By following these simple tips, you can better support those around you with neurodivergent conditions. Hopefully, they’ll learn to embrace their differences rather than fear them.
Keep reading for more top tips on supporting your loved ones!
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