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”.

“Autistic people have significant barriers to accessing safety.”

Hyper-plasticity predisposes us to have strong associative reactions to trauma. Our threat-response learning system is turned to high alert. The flip side of this hyper-plasticity is that we also adapt quickly to environments that are truly safe for our nervous system.

The stereotypes of meltdowns and self-harm in autism come from the fact that we frequently have stress responses to things that others do not perceive as distressing. Because our unique safety needs are not widely understood, growing up with extensive trauma has become our default.

Because of our different bio-social responses to stimulus, autistic people have significant barriers to accessing safety.

Source: Discovering a Trauma-Informed Positive Autistic Identity | by Trauma Geek | Medium

“Autistic people have significant barriers to accessing safety.”

“We also adapt quickly to environments that are truly safe for our nervous system.”

That really resonates and calls to mind this passage of mine from “Classroom UX: Designing for Pluralism”:

Since reading NeuroTribes, I think of psychologically & sensory safe spaces suited to zone work as “Cavendish bubbles” and “Cavendish space”, after Henry Cavendish, the wizard of Clapham Common and discoverer of hydrogen. The privileges of nobility afforded room for his differences, allowing him the space and opportunity to become “one of the first true scientists in the modern sense.”

Let’s build psychologically safe homes of opportunity without the requirement of nobility or privilege. Replace the trappings of the compliance classroom with student-created context, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), and BYOC (Bring/Build Your Own Comfort). Let’s hit thrift stores, buy lumber, apply some hacker ethos, and turn the compliance classroom into something psychologically safe and comfortable to a team of young minds engaged in passion-based learning. Inform spaces with neurodiversity and the social model of disability so that they welcome and include all minds and bodies. Provide quiet spaces for high memory state zone work where students can escape sensory overwhelm, slip into flow states, and enjoy a maker’s schedule. Provide social spaces for collaboration and camaraderie. Create cave, campfire, and watering hole zones. Develop neurological curb cuts. Fill our classrooms with choice and comfort, instructional tolerance, continuous connectivity, and assistive technology.

In other words, make space for Cavendish. Make spaces for both collaboration and deep work.

Source: Classroom UX: Designing for Pluralism

There isn’t much psychological or sensory safety to be found in schools or workplaces. I spent a lifetime trying and ended up helping start a fully distributed company built on written communication so I could work from home in a sensory space and communication culture curated to my needs.

Create Cavendish space in our schools and workplaces. Create safety accessible to autistic people. Neurological pluralism makes for good, universal design.

Previously,

Lost In Translation: Ways in Which Neurodivergent and Neurotypical Social Languages Differ

We the neurodivergent are genetically different. We experience the world through a hypersensitive nervous system which informs every aspect of our thinking, our behavior, and our social values.

The dominant social group labels our way of being in the world as disordered because they don’t understand us. Even though they don’t understand, the dominant culture controls the narrative about our differences.

Society believes the experts who are not part of our culture, who see brokenness where there is order. We gradually start to believe the myths ourselves and lose all sense of self-esteem. We come to hate ourselves for being different.

They have largely not tried to understand the biological mechanisms that create our experience of self. Instead they have tried every means possible to force us to act neurotypical.

Some of us can pretend to be neurotypical, for a while, at great cost to our health and happiness, but we cannot change our neurotype. We are neurodivergent.

Our behavior and social values are different because the way we think is different. The way we think is different because our moment-to-moment experience of the world is different.

In this article, I’ll explain the key ways in which neurotypical and neurodivergent people misunderstand each other.

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

This is a great piece of research-storytelling from the intersections of neurobiology and sociology. I highly relate to all of it. Here are the 8 key ways that are covered:

  1. Emotions
  2. Empathy
  3. Nonverbal Communication and Body Cues
  4. Words Mean Things
  5. Social Rules
  6. A Different Value System
  7. Skills and Abilities
  8. Reactions to Stress, Pain, and Overwhelm

Read the whole thing, and follow the thoughtfully curated links.

Check out Trauma Geek for more great articles, including one on “Discovering a Trauma-Informed Positive Autistic Identity”.

Previously,