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What’s infuriating about neurotypicals? Here’s a list

A professional ADHD-haver offers a guide for the neurodiverse on how to deal with everyone else

Neurotypicals might not be able to hyper-focus on work or info-dump about their special interest, but they can remember to take the washing out of the machine before it starts to smell.

I have accidentally over the years become a professional ADHD-haver. I went public with my diagnosis for one reason and one reason only – to give out about and highlight the complete lack of help available to neurodiverse adults in the public system. Unfortunately for both the Government and me, the situation has not improved to the point where I can shut up about it, enjoy my life and take up a more fulfilling pastime such as completing paint-by-numbers portraits of Daniel O’Donnell.

Because of the constant giving out, people sometimes seek me out for advice on how to deal with neurodiverse employees or family members or friends. On a few occasions, I’ve been asked how to manage people like me or how to get the best out of them. I am all for suggesting reasonable accommodations, the names of experts and other thoughts on resources to make sure everyone has the best chance of success.

Just once, though, I’d like an occupational therapist or a behavioural psychologist to write a guide for us on how to navigate neurotypicals and how they like to do things. I would love to go to a workplace seminar titled “Neurotypicals: They’re just good people trying their best (even if they can be a bit passive aggressive.)”

We’re all God’s children in the end, even neurotypicals with their weird hang-ups around performative organisation and being on time. They might not be able to hyper-focus on work or info-dump about their special interest, but they can remember to take the washing out of the machine before it starts to smell. We should celebrate our differences even if they can be challenging to deal with sometimes. And so, some observations:

They don’t always mean what they say

This is the most important characteristic I have noticed over the years and an important one to keep in mind. We might call it lying but neurotypicals would baulk at that description, preferring to dress up the practice as “politeness”. For example, if you bump into someone and they close the conversation with “we should meet for coffee” or “you should come over for dinner”, they might mean the direct opposite. They might prefer to never set eyes on you for the rest of their natural lives if they can help it actually but they didn’t want to be rude. So they issued you an invite to a catch up that will never happen. This is much more preferable. To be fair, people do actually get busy and want to meet up despite forgetting to follow up on their invite, so don’t assume the worst if the meeting never happens. If you’ve made plans a few times and they can’t make it, leave it up to them to rearrange the time. Don’t read too much into it and move on. Trying to decode what they really think of you through hints in behaviour is a popular neurotypical pastime but it’s also anxiety-inducing and boring.

One-quarter of over-18s say they are neurodivergent or have family member who is, survey findsOpens in new window ]

They might be giving you the silent treatment and might be mad you haven’t noticed

Neurotypicals (bless them) often have a rigid perception of the world and assume everyone thinks the same way they do. While they might be convinced they’ve sent you obvious signals that they are unhappy with your behaviour, you can still have no clue you’ve upset them. Instead of saying “I’m mad at you and this is a dot point list of why and some ways to make amends”, they sometimes might not say anything at all. They might even say “I’m fine” when asked. They might get very mad if you believe them. Thanks to object impermanence, things and people can be very much “out of sight, out of mind” for us, which means instead of fretting why so-and-so hasn’t been in contact we can just forget about them. Years can pass, feuds can start but we would have no clue. We just think our colleague/friend/lover is busy and will be in touch when they get a chance.

They have a low tolerance for awkwardness

Poor wee lambs. It makes them nervous. That’s why they’re so bad at telling it to you straight, whether it’s about a promotion you’re never going to get or ghosting you after a series of dates. They’d rather dance about everything than embrace the cringe and pull the Band-Aid off. If you want to be kind, sometimes you have to be the bigger person and break your own heart for them. I’ve found pulling them aside and giving them a graceful “out” works wonders for everyone: “Hi, Look it’s been awhile since I heard back about that request. Do you know what? I understand if you went with somebody else. I’m just making sure so I can move on to something that is actually meant for me.”

So get on out there, ask how someone’s weekend was without really wanting to know the answer, and tell a colleague “we should catch up some time” when you know you never will. The neurotypicals in your life will thank you.

Brianna Parkins

Brianna Parkins

Brianna Parkins is an Irish Times columnist