The Five Neurodivergent Love Languages

I love this fun tweet on the five neurodivergent love languages from the always insightful Myth.

I’ll expand on each with selected quotes.

Infodumping

SpIns and Infodumps

I don’t know who invented the phrase “special interest.” Probably some researcher. Autistic people don’t really love the term because the term “special” has become tied so closely with terms like “special needs,” which we resent.

Nevertheless, somewhere down the line “special interest,” commonly shortened to SpIn (“spin”), became the term for the characteristically-autistic tendency to develop an obsession with something specific and often obscure.

Some special interests are short lived, and some last the lifetime of the person; but, however long they last, they are intense, delightful, and a vital part of autistic culture.

So integral are special interests to autistic culture that autistic people will post about feeling depressed and unmotivated because they don’t have an active SpIn at the moment.

Having a special interest is like having a crush or being newly in love. It is consuming and delightful. We love to share our special interests and a common example of autistic empathy is encouraging others to talk in great detail- “infodump”- about their SpIns.

It is considered a sign of caring and friendship to encourage someone to talk to you about their SpIn- whether or not you actually share their interest- because nothing makes an autistic person happier than discussing, learning about, or sharing about, their SpIn.

It is also quite acceptable in autistic culture to “infodump” on a topic whenever it happens to come up. To autists (an insider short-hand for autistic people), the sharing of knowledge and information is always welcome.

Source: 7 Cool Aspects of Autistic Culture » NeuroClastic

Parallel Play

We enjoy parallel play and shared activities that don’t require continual conversation. When we talk, it gets deep quickly. We discuss what’s real, our struggles, fears, desires, obsessions. We appreciate a good infodump, and there’s no such thing as oversharing. We swap SAME stories — sharing a time when we felt similarly in our own life, not as a competition, but to reflect how well we are listening to each other.

Source: Lost in Translation: The Social Language Theory of Neurodivergence | by Trauma Geek | Medium

I want to spend time in parallel existence with you; let’s be alone together.

Source: neurowonderful — neurowonderful: They’re here! Because you…

Related to parallel play is the ADHDer practice of body doubling.

But in the world of ADHD, a body double is someone who sits with a person with ADHD as he tackles tasks that might be difficult to complete alone.

Many people with ADHD find it easier to stay focused on housework, homework, bill paying, and other tasks when someone else is around to keep them company. The body double may just sit quietly. He may read, listen to music on headphones, or work on the task that the person with ADHD is working on. Hard work is simply more fun when someone else is nearby.

Source: Getting Stuff Done Is Easier with a Friend

But why does a body double work? There are a few possible explanations. The simplest is that the body double serves as a physical anchor for the distracted individual who feels more focused by the presence of another person in their space. The distracted person feels responsible to and for the body double. This perception translates as­-I can’t waste this gift of time.

Source: The Body Double: A Unique Tool for Getting Things Done | ADDA – Attention Deficit Disorder Association

Support Swapping

Neurodivergent people, working together, can fill the gaps in each other’s spiky profiles. Go team. Members of the Neurodiversity ERG at Automattic help each other out during synchronous, meatspace meetups, which can be very stressful.

Support swapping can happen during parallel play, making for a nice moment of converging love languages.

Please Crush My Soul Back Into My Body

A famous example of the common autistic preference for deep pressure input is Temple Grandin’s Squeeze Machine.

At age 18, I constructed the squeeze machine to help calm down the anxiety and panic attacks. Using the machine for 15 minutes would reduce my anxiety for up to 45-60 minutes (Grandin and Scariano 1986). The relaxing effect was maximized if the machine was used twice a day.

Gradually, my tolerance of being held by the squeeze machine grew. Knowing that I could initiate the pressure, and stop it if the stimulation became too intense, helped me to reduce the oversensitivity of my “nervous system.” A once overwhelming stimulus was now a pleasurable experience.

Using the machine enabled me to learn to tolerate being touched by another person. By age 25, I was able to relax in the machine without pulling away from it. It also made me feel less aggressive and less tense. Soon I noted a change in our cat’s reaction to me. The cat, who used to run away from me now would stay with me, because I had learned to caress him with a gentler touch. I had to be comforted myself before I could give comfort to the cat.

As my “nervous system” calmed down, I required less squeeze pressure to produce a comforting feeling. Gradually, I could reduce the pressure regulator setting from 80 to 60 psi.

Source: Calming Effects of Deep Touch Pressure in Patients with Autistic Disorder, College Students, and Animals

But I’m tortured because whilst I don’t want to make a scene or have strangers adding to the overload and overwhelm, I’m simultaneously desperate for someone to give me a massive, firm, bear-hug. To hide me, cocoon me, and shield me from the shock waves that travel from their universe into mine.

Source: On meltdowns | The Misadventures of Mama Pineapple

“I found this cool rock/button/leaf/etc and thought you would like it”

This gets back to SpIns, both inviting people into yours and encouraging other’s. SpIns are a trove for unconventional gift giving.

Neurodivergent Languages and Teamwork

Infodumping, parallel play, support swapping, and “look, cool rock” are languages of teamwork and collaboration too, especially in distributed work cultures and “communication is oxygen” cultures. If only there were a distributed and work-appropriate equivalent for “Please Crush My Soul Back Into My Body”.

DEI, Belonging, and Values Fit in the Workplace

The latest episode of Distributed interviews Sid Sijbrandij, Co-founder and CEO of GitLab. The episode prompted me to revisit the comprehensive GitLab Values page. There’s lots of good stuff in here.

Diversity, inclusion and belonging are fundamental to the success of GitLab. We aim to make a significant impact in our efforts to foster an environment where everyone can thrive. We are designing a multidimensional approach to ensure that GitLab is a place where people from every background and circumstance feel like they belong and can contribute. We actively chose to build and institutionalize a culture that is inclusive and supports all team members equally in the process of achieving their professional goals. We hire globally and encourage hiring in a diverse set of countries. We work to make everyone feel welcome and to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities and nationalities in our community and company.

We demonstrate diversity, inclusion and belongings when we foster an environment where everyone can thrive and ensuring that GitLab is a place where people from every background and circumstance feel like they belong and can contribute.

Source: GitLab Values | GitLab

I like the addition of belonging to DEI. That’s an important part of Employee Resource Groups: fostering belonging. Belonging helps address the leaky pipeline, and hiring for values fit instead of culture fit helps address getting in the pipeline in the first place.

Culture fit is a bad excuse

We don’t hire based on culture or select candidates because we’d like to have a drink with them. We hire and reward team members based on our shared values as detailed on this page. We want a values fit, not a culture fit. We want cultural diversity instead of cultural conformity, such as a brogrammer atmosphere. Said differently: “culture add” > “culture fit” or “hire for culture contribution” since our mission is that everyone can contribute.

Source: GitLab Values | GitLab

I love the rule-of-thumb: culture add > culture fit. I might add it to my old, neglected list of rules of thumb for human systems. Changing the framing from fit to add better includes neurodivergent people.

Speaking of neurodivergent people, the page has a section on neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity is a type of diversity that includes: autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, cognitive impairment, and other styles of neurodivergent functioning. While neurodivergent individuals often bring unique skills and abilitieswhich can be harnessed for competitive advantage in many fields including cybersecurity, neurodivergent individuals are often discriminated against, and sometimes have trouble making it through traditional hiring processes. These individuals should be able to contribute as GitLab team members. The handbook, values, strategy, and interviewing process should never discriminate against the neurodivergent.


Source: GitLab Values | GitLab

“The handbook, values, strategy, and interviewing process should never discriminate against the neurodivergent.”

Wow, it sure feels good to read that so plainly written. Here’s some previous writing of mine to help avoid discriminating against neurominorities at work and, instead, create belonging.

De-centering Yourself in Distributed Work

Not everyone communicates the same way. When you work to make a distributed model inclusive, it is best if you can de-center yourself, your norms, and your experience, and start thinking primarily in terms of the experience of others. For example, how would a person with an auditory processing disorder experience a video meeting? A deaf person? A blind person? What avenues are there to make communication effective between all people?

Source: 18F: Digital service delivery | Building distributed teams

Auditory processing disorder makes video calls, phone calls, and the lecture model difficult for me. Before I retired, I was lucky enough to work somewhere that supports differentiated instruction, positive niche construction, and neurological pluralism. My career would have been much different and much shorter if I hadn’t spent 15 years helping build a distributed company that appreciates these things and tries to build them into the culture.

Here’s some framing to help “de-center yourself, your norms, and your experience, and start thinking primarily in terms of the experience of others”: