As long as I can remember, I’ve been fighting with my brain. My feelings always seemed a lot bigger than those of the people around me, and I couldn’t quite understand why. I was told that I was being dramatic — that I was exaggerating for attention. “Drama Queen” was a common phrase I heard, growing up. My emotions & perception of sensations (cold, bright lights, noises, textures, etc…) seemed over-the-top in contrast to my peers.
To be honest? It sucked. I grew up with my caregivers continually reinforcing the notion that I was bad. They genuinely believed that I was exaggerating the extent to which I was impacted by external stimuli & internal turmoil as a means of manipulating people into giving me attention. I internalized the hell out of that notion, in the form of self-loathing manifesting through self-harm.
This was compounded by the fact that I struggled to make and keep friends. I studied my peers through near-scientific observation and mimicked their behavior in attempts to “fit in”. I genuinely believed that this was how everyone learned to make friends. The few friendships I did make were shallow and performative. My classmates would engage with me when it was supervised and required, but the manner in which I was regarded changed once we were sent out to the schoolyard. Through these recess and extracurricular interactions, I became painfully aware that I was “weird”. (Cook, Ogden & Winstone, 2018)
At the time, I attributed my inability to fit in to the fact that I was younger than my peers. I skipped a grade because I was hyperlexic. Which is to say, I was a very early, very fast reader (Ostrolenk, Forgeot d’Arc, Jelenic, Samson, Mottron, 2017)
Looking back on these factors now, it all seems so obvious.
It is more than a little infuriating that the biases of patriarchy & white supremacy in the fields of medicine and academia are SO PERVASIVE that these institutions are only just now in recent years beginning to study how neurodivergence presents in people other than young white children who were assigned male at birth. It is absurd that we made it all the way into the 21st century before the field of science realized that maybe the whole world doesn’t revolve around the perspectives and experiences of white men.
Although I was physically disciplined for behavioral issues in private, I was praised for my advanced decoding abilities in public. My parents were eager to attribute my reading skills to what they perceived to be their own superior parenting, and pushed the school to allow me to bypass kindergarten and route me through the “Gifted And Talented Education” program (Gilger & Hynd, 2008). I spent my elementary school years being a poster child for the “teacher’s pet” archetype. As middle school approached, however, it became increasingly more difficult for me to maintain the “gifted” facade. Math problems became more complicated, and suddenly, there were too many balls in the air for my brain to simultaneously juggle (Iglesias-Sarmiento, Deaño, Alfonso, Conde, 2017.)
The frustration was unbearable. Between the raging hormones of puberty, my desperate desire to be accepted by my peers, the impulsivity that became increasingly more difficult to quell, and an overwhelming need to find some form of escape — I began engaging in risky behaviors such as ditching school, and experimenting sexually.
While I certainly have a valid grudge against institutions that failed to identify the root cause of my issues, the fact of the matter is, I was still incredibly privileged in the way my condition was handled at a systemic level. Statistically speaking, had my skin been a different color, these cognitive deficits & behavioral concerns would have been more likely to land me in the school-to-prison pipeline than the G.A.T.E. program. (Young, Cocallis, 2021) (Moody, 2016)
Understanding and accepting the way my brain works has become an important part of my perpetual healing journey. Given that the process of writing helps me organize my thoughts, it is a safe bet that a fair amount of the content here will involve deconstructing my own internalized ableism & making peace with my mind.
If you’re into that sort of thing, or happen to be on a similar journey, feel free to bookmark and/or subscribe.
It’s going to be a weird trip, of that I can assure you.
Anna Cook, Jane Ogden & Naomi Winstone (2018) Friendship motivations, challenges and the role of masking for girls with autism in contrasting school settings, European Journal of Special Needs Education, 33:3, 302-315, DOI: 10.1080/08856257.2017.1312797
Jeffrey W. Gilger & George W. Hynd (2008) Neurodevelopmental Variation as a Framework for Thinking About the Twice Exceptional, Roeper Review, 30:4, 214-228, DOI: 10.1080/02783190802363893
Moody, M. From Under-Diagnoses to Over-Representation: Black Children, ADHD, and the School-To-Prison Pipeline. J Afr Am St 20, 152–163 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12111-016-9325-5
Alexia Ostrolenk, Baudouin Forgeot d’Arc, Patricia Jelenic, Fabienne Samson, Laurent Mottron,
Hyperlexia: Systematic review, neurocognitive modelling, and outcome,
Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, Volume 79, 2017, Pages 134-149, ISSN 0149-7634, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.04.029.
Valentín Iglesias-Sarmiento, Manuel Deaño, Sonia Alfonso, Ángeles Conde,
Mathematical learning disabilities and attention deficit and/or hyperactivity disorder: A study of the cognitive processes involved in arithmetic problem solving,
Research in Developmental Disabilities, Volume 61, 2017, Pages 44-54, ISSN 0891-4222,
Young, S., Cocallis, K. ADHD and offending. J Neural Transm 128, 1009–1019 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00702-021-02308-0