Uncategorized

The Path to a Neuropsychological Evaluation: Part 2 (Contacting and Intake)

Part 1 of this series can be found here. Part 1 mainly talks about the timeline of noticing different neurodivergent aspects of myself.

I thought it would be much longer before I continued this series, but luckily cancellations exist so I don’t have to wait as long! More on that later.

The last time we talked about my path to an evaluation, my therapist gave me a list of people I could pick. To give a quick recap, these were the following requirements for who made it on the list:

  • The evaluator has an understanding about how AFAB people present differently
  • The neuropsychology center must test adults
  • The neuropsychology center must do autism evaluations

With the list in hand (or email), I started looking at each web site. Any web site that did not explicitly mention autism evaluations were eliminated. After more searching, I came across the one I wanted. Why did I pick this place despite it being so far away? The evaluators tailor the neuropsych evaluation based on what may be suspected. They can add or remove testing based on the reason why you’re seeking an evaluation. I waited to contact the place since my therapist planned to talk with me about things and sent an email during the next therapy session (April 7th). I heard back about 10 minutes later asking about my timeline as there is a bit of a waitlist and we could talk about the logistics of everything. We scheduled a phone call for the next day.

Note to anyone else seeking an evaluation for autism, ADHD, or other neuropsychological conditions: Waitlists are typical, and may be much longer due to the backlog created when Covid shut down many evaluation centers.

April 8 rolls around and finally my phone rings. I checked yesterday’s email to see the phone numbers listed in the signature so I wouldn’t accidentally ignore the phone call. The director of the program that does evaluations called me on her cell phone. We talked and discussed testing options and I went for the autism-focused evaluation instead of the super complete evaluation that tests for everything because the autism-focused test is a lot cheaper ($2500 at this place) compared to the super evaluation (up to $4700 at this place). Prices may vary depending on where you go, and some places will either not accept insurance or give you a “superbill” to submit to your insurance for reimbursement. I was tentatively given summer at the earliest time for an evaluation, maybe as late as September.

But 10 minutes later, I get another phone call finding out that someone canceled and I am getting a much sooner evaluation date! My evaluation day is May 1st, with May 2nd scheduled as well in case my mental stamina required me to take an additional day for testing. Luckily this place tests on the weekends so I don’t have to take off from work. But first, an intake session.

My intake session was on April 20th. It was done in a virtual setting to keep as little people in the office as possible. Especially good since the testing center is on the southern part of my state while I live in the northern part of my state. It’s about an hour and a half drive down there assuming I don’t encounter heavy traffic. So what was my intake like?

Before the actual intake session, I had to fill out the intake forms that people typically fill out when starting at a new therapy place. However, I feel like this place has an excessively long intake form. If I were to fill it out on paper instead of electronically, that would have been a total of 12 pages. This also was not a specific autism evaluation intake form, which I would have preferred. Other evaluation centers may have intake forms specific to what is being evaluated. On the day of my intake session, I discussed with my evaluator about getting tested for autism and went over a history of the issues that made me and my therapist think I am on the spectrum. I was told about what will be happening during my evaluation and that my evaluation will be six hours long. Breaks are given when necessary for the person being evaluated. I’m going to do my absolute best to finish the evaluation in one day so I won’t have to commute over an hour two days in a row. Will I finish my evaluation in one day?

I also shared part one (linked above) of this blog post with my evaluator so she can get a better timeline of when people started noticing things being wrong with me. I don’t know if she’ll look at more of my blog posts, but if she’s looking at this part now, hi. She found it really helpful to get a better understanding of my experiences and I suggest that you have some way to fully explain all of your neurodivergent-related issues. An intake session may not give you enough time and you may forget to include things to talk about during your intake or interview time during the evaluation. However, I got the idea to have some type of report of my personal history from another blogger. It helped the blogger get an autism diagnosis.

Next time on The Path to a Neuropsychological Evaluation (I thought of this in the Dragonball Z narrator voice), I will talk about what was a part of my evaluation. However, I won’t go into detail about what happened in each part because I don’t want to cause a reader to copy me to get the same diagnosis. If an evaluator notices that you prepped ahead of time, they can stop the test and discard all answers.

Uncategorized

Why Autism Awareness is Still Needed

Happy Autism Acceptance Month! The month of April is known as Autism Awareness Month, but many autistic people are advocating for acceptance. Wearing read for acceptance instead of blue for awareness. Plus, Autism Awareness started with Autism Speaks, which is an organization not liked by autistic people, due to many different factors.

Side note: some people refer to Autism Speaks as Autism $peaks since Autism Speaks seems to care more about money than helping autistic people, but I will never use the dollar sign since I may have readers who use screen readers and the screen reader may translate it to “dollar peaks” or “dollar sign peaks”.

Anyways, I have the opinion that there needs to be more awareness about different aspects of autism. People have outdated knowledge of autism, such as “girls can’t be autistic” or “autism is only a childhood condition that goes away when the child becomes an adult”. People also only see the typical presentations of autism, whether it’s due to only knowing autism as it was decades ago or only know the signs that come from research studies with only boys as participants. This is what prevented anyone from noticing my autistic traits and caused my mom to not think I was autistic. I would have been diagnosed years ago if this wasn’t the case. Now I’m waiting for an evaluation.

There are also autism centers that focus on treating or curing people of their autism. Therapies like ABA are considered abusive due to forced compliance training and the use of punishments to discourage unwanted actions. The goal of ABA is to make an autistic person act neurotypical. People even say they wouldn’t treat their dogs this way. Think about it. An autistic person being treated more poorly than a pet. Autism never goes away, despite visits to Defeat Autism Now doctors (if they still exist) or a gluten-free/casein-free diet. Support and accommodations are needed to help thrive in a world that assumes everyone is neurotypical.

There needs to be awareness of the strengths and gifts that come with autism. Too often does society, and even autistic people or families of autistic people, focus too much on the negative aspects of autism. Sure, we should be realistic of the challenges that are faced by autistic people, but we shouldn’t focus so much of the negative aspects that we leave autistic people feeling broken. How can we change society’s perception of autism if we ourselves treat it like a death sentence? Autistic people may have unique insights and ideas regarding their interest that neurotypical people may not notice. A list of possible strengths can be found in the AANE article Asperger Profiles: The Big Picture – Strengths. If people were more aware of the strengths and lost their implicit biases, less people would be afraid to disclose their diagnoses at work. People should be given the tools they need to be successful in school, work, and life.

Why aren’t there more supports and resources for adults? Despite old myths, autistic children grow up into autistic adults, many of whom don’t get diagnosed until they are adults. We may have missed a critical period to learn skills to improve our deficits (I feel like my social skills are getting worse), especially since we often hear “early intervention is the key to success”. However, the early intervention phrase we hear may also highlight the problem that mental health professionals aren’t really aware of the signs. It shouldn’t have taken me 5 therapists to have my social skills problems noticed and it shouldn’t have taken me 6 therapists to have someone notice that I may be on the autism spectrum. Yes, the understanding of autism has been and still is evolving. Many adults on the spectrum get diagnosed because their child is diagnosed. Parents think certain behaviors and anxieties are typical because they exhibited the same behaviors and anxieties. I think my mom is starting to question whether she is on the autism spectrum herself now that I’m getting my autism evaluation (which explains why she never thought anything was wrong with me). My favorite autistic YouTuber Purple Ella was diagnosed when her oldest daughter was diagnosed. With more supports and resources for adults, it wouldn’t be so hard to find an evaluation center that evaluates adults. Adults can play catch up on improving skill deficits.

Make our neurotypical society aware of the ways autistic people have (and can) contribute to society and allow us the chance to succeed.

Uncategorized

The Path to a Neuropsychological Evaluation: Part 1 (Timeline, Waiting, and Referral)

Hey everyone. We are now that the point of my neurodivergent discovery journey where we start finding out what neurodivergent condition(s) I have. Here’s an approximate timeline of when things became a problem in the eyes of other people.

2001: In third grade, I started speech therapy due to a rapid speaking pace and pausing in weird spots when talking. I also had problems completing classwork as quickly as other people and having a messy desk. I used workarounds to finish reading after that was noted and I was able to keep a clean desk. I usually (even to this day) end up not talking when I get called on and don’t know the answer. I almost got a note sent home for that in music class during pull-out group piano lessons with someone who is not the main music teacher. That experience left me silently crying because I didn’t want to get in trouble at school or home.

9 years old: I started skin picking due to what I would later learn is dermatillomania. Years later, my mom would punish me for it to shame me into stopping. She told me I was the only person in the world with this problem and blamed me for getting my friend to start skin picking too (she was originally picking her hair). It wasn’t until my current therapist when I learned that I may be doing it for fidgeting purposes and that many of her neurodivergent patients also pick their skin. I still skin pick to this day.

Middle school: Reading class was always hard for me, not because I couldn’t read, but I have difficulties answering questions based on what I read. I was moved to a lower reading class for eighth grade.

10th grade: Mom informed me that my social skills are not up to par because I didn’t say hi to this one guy when we were getting measured for our class rings (which I only wore 5 times my entire life). Later that school year, mom thought I was bothering a friend during the Tri-M Music Honor Society induction reception, so she had me sit down with her. That was very embarrassing as it felt like I was publicly in time out. When creating my schedule for 11th grade, I was asked to move down to college prep English from Honors English.

11th Grade: Pre-calculus and chemistry were hard. Then again, my math teacher was often absent to take care of a sick mother. My dad tried to have me only use the computer for fun for only up to two hours after getting home to help bring my grades up, but that failed. That should have keyed them in that something was wrong. The English class I was in was taught by a teacher who also teaches students whose reading level is 2 to 4 years below grade level, so I didn’t like that we had to do the county library’s reading program. I had already stopped finishing with reading the books I had to for English class and since I didn’t read for fun, I wrote down random manga for the reading program.

University: I struggled during my freshman and junior years. Full story in this blog post. A guy I liked at the time pointed out my eye contact issues during my freshman year. This is the first time this was brought up.

2014: A therapist noticed I wasn’t making eye contact and had me make eye contact. I wonder why she didn’t start suspecting things.

2015: I had to get a job as a software developer because I couldn’t find any other IT jobs. I never wanted to be a developer. It was hard and someone who is diagnosed with multiple learning disabilities asked me if I had any learning disabilities because it seems like I did. I lost that job in 2016 and started with a new company in October 2016.

2017: After some struggles at work as a developer, I talked to my doctor and was told I have very mild ADHD based on a questionnaire. I made a blog post about it, but I will delete it if the diagnosis was wrong. (More on that later)

2018: I got kicked off a project due to lack of Java knowledge. I feel like my neurodivergence was a big part of it (I heard there was a racism issue too), and I was considering pursuing legal action for not accepting my disability. I started realizing that being a developer isn’t for me. The disABILITIES forum section of Disboards helped me gain modern-day knowledge of autism later this year.

2019: An incident at work due to my (lack of) social skills and appropriateness almost cost me my job. My sexual orientation saved me from it, likely. This is when I seriously started considering that I’m on the autism spectrum. My test engineering lead said I think differently. However, this has helped me become a successful test engineer. I also started therapy again to try it one more time.

2020: The pieces are starting to come together. I lost one therapist due to her daytime job at the hospital causing things to become overwhelming for her time-wise. I got a new therapist who on the first visit noticed my social skills problems. After a comment she made, I felt like she hinted that I may be on the autism spectrum. She got a new daytime job that required her to relocate, so I lost her after only 4 sessions. Due to losing two therapists in the same year, I changed therapy places later in 2020 for stability. I know 2020 sucked for everyone, but I feel like Covid allowed me to find a new therapy place that treated things other than anxiety, depression, and learning disabilities. My current therapist noticed in the first visit that I’m neurodivergent. However, the neuropsychologists that my therapist typically refers people to were still closed. The waiting game begins. I also discovered YouTuber Purple Ella, who was diagnosed with ADHD and autism due to having two autistic kids and one with both ADHD and autism. I also started learning about how girls present with ADHD and autism differently and that some autistic women were misdiagnosed with ADHD (could this be my case?)

2021: I finally had the time to read books “Aspergirls” by Rudy Simone who now goes by the name Artemisia Xene and “Divergent Mind” by Jenara Nerenberg. “Aspergirls” almost completely captured my experience as a woman with undiagnosed autism. We have ruled out Borderline Personality Disorder as a diagnosis (I made some mental health blog posts where I said I felt like I have BPD, which some autistic women get misdiagnosed with this before getting a proper diagnosis). Last month, I found out that neuropsychological centers are starting to open. My therapist picked neuropsychology centers based on the following criteria:

  • The evaluator has an understanding of how girls and women present differently. Women are often undiagnosed until they are adults because autism and ADHD studies focus on male presentation. Women may have learned to hide their symptoms to be socially accepted or may have spent a lot of time studying neurotypical people to pretend to be like them.
  • The neuropsychology center must test adults. Fun fact: Autistic people grow up. Autism was thought to only occur in childhood and the kids would grow out of it. Therefore, there are very few resources for adults to seek help and evaluations. The authors of the books I read are self-diagnosed autistic women. Artemisia could not find anyone who could evaluate her or believe her and many adults choose to not seek a diagnosis due to their age. learning ways to cope, or finding that there would be no added benefit to a diagnosis.
  • The neuropsychology center must do autism evaluations. I was looking for centers months ago and found one that explicitly said they don’t do autism evaluations. I’ve been living for 28 years without a proper diagnosis and I can’t slip through the cracks again. I want to get the proper help I need and find accommodations that can help me at work.

Now that I have a list of referrals, my therapist and I will discuss this next week and I can start the next phase.

Mental Health

If Therapy Fails, It’s Not Your Fault

Many years ago, I felt beyond help because therapy wasn’t working. After three therapists, dad wanted me on medication because it wasn’t normal for therapy to fail after three therapists. I gave up on therapy. I tried again near the end of 2019. Didn’t seem like it was working either. Some psychology articles about therapy not working blame the client for not putting in the effort. (You’re not trying. Does that sentence sound familiar, neurodivergent people?) However, I’m learning that it wasn’t my fault. Yes, I started being more honest in therapy with therapist #4, but we’re going to talk about why therapy may fail even after “therapist shopping”, which is when you go from therapist to therapist to find the right one for you, or putting in the effort.

I was talking to my therapist about this and she told me two reasons why therapy truly doesn’t work for people: the therapist failed you (yes, happened to me) or the type of therapy isn’t right for you (I’ll be exploring a new therapy modality in May). In this blog, I will later propose a third reason.

Let’s talk about the first reason: the therapist failed you. As I learned from personal experience, not every therapist has up-to-date knowledge of mental health treatments. This is especially true of older or more experienced therapists. They will solely use talk therapy or older treatment modalities. They likely will not understand neurodivergent conditions, which is also the case for some newer therapists, or may treat it the way it was treated many many years ago (ADHD? Take some pills and you should be fine. Autistic? Make them fit in by teaching them not to stim). I should not have to learn about modern mental health treatments from my ex-boyfriend. Some therapists are just crappy, like my third therapist who didn’t think therapy would work for me if it didn’t work the first two times. Then again, having a rare mental health insurance separate from regular health insurance when I was on my parents’ health insurance limited who I could see when workplace bullying caused more mental health problems. Whether your therapist thinks that treatment is one size fits all or they have outdated knowledge, you’re not going to make much progress.

Second reason: the type of therapy isn’t right for you. Talk therapy is just that. Talking. You don’t get homework assignments to do or skills to practice. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is popular, but doesn’t always work. I don’t think I need to always talk about my negative views on mindfulness. Does Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) work for every person with Borderline Personality Disorder? Generalized Anxiety Disorder is supposed to be best treated with CBT, but CBT failed to work for me after having many therapists use it. When I switched to a new therapy center, I chose a place that has many therapists who use DBT and also has a DBT skills group that I will start in mid-May. I felt that if CBT and talk therapy failed, I should try DBT. Then again, I thought I had Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and some of their therapists actually treat BPD patients, but my therapist has ruled out BPD. I have also seen that DBT can be utilized for people with various diagnoses, even therapy-resistant Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Not only does my therapist utilize DBT with her patients, but she runs the DBT skills group. We will try DBT to see if I have better long-term success.

However, there is a possible third reason that therapy could not work for you: you may either have an incorrect diagnosis or another underlying diagnosis that is causing or includes another diagnosis.

My previous therapy center only has therapists who treat patients with anxiety, depression, and/or learning disabilities. However, if you have a more serious mental illness, they didn’t treat it. Very few therapists worked with clients with ADHD. I chose my current therapy center because they treated more serious illnesses and actually treated BPD, which was what I used to think I had. BPD bloggers have talked about how stigmatized BPD is in mental health communities and some therapists refuse to treat BPD patients. This therapy center also has many therapists who work with autistic clients, which is very important because both my therapist and I feel like I’m on the autism spectrum. Not many therapists have knowledge of autism other than basic discussion taught in one lesson in one course, and they might not be taught accurate information as professors don’t utilize sources written by autistic people.

Autistic people, especially autistic women, are not always given the right diagnosis. Some autistic women are diagnosed with BPD before getting the correct autism diagnosis. On a monthly basis, I talk to an autistic man who was given the incorrect diagnosis of schizophrenia before getting his proper autism diagnosis. Some people diagnosed with ADHD are actually on the autism spectrum, whether the person has been misdiagnosed with ADHD or the autistic person also has ADHD. A wrong diagnosis means a delay in proper treatment. People talk about how early intervention is the key to successful treatment, but getting treated for the wrong thing can be either ineffective or harmful.

Some autistic people think Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a misdiagnosis, but that anxiety disorder is a comorbid diagnosis caused by autistic people having to fit into a neurotypical world or are naturally predisposed to be more sensitive to anxiety triggers. This also leads us to anxiety and depression being comorbidities or even symptoms of another mental illness or a neurodivergent condition. Anxiety and depression are common comorbidities for ADHD, autism, and other mental illnesses. Symptoms may overlap. Not only do ADHD and autism have many of the same symptoms, so does Bipolar 2 and BPD.

Going so long without having a therapist suspect me to be on the autism spectrum means that I lost many years of critical coping and social skills work, especially since social skills and social appropriateness are the aspects of autism that I struggle with the most. Now that I did a screening questionnaire with my therapist, she now knows what things to work on. While I’m not sure if my anxiety can be treated in a way that I would no longer qualify for a Generalized Anxiety Disorder diagnosis, I can learn about how my “differently-wired brain” impacts my life and how to better cope with living in a world that was not made for people who are not neurotypical.

Self-Reflection

My Dream Job

…is not in IT.

If I could define 2021 for me right now, it is the year of reflection. I didn’t mean for it to be, but I’m now living somewhere that I can safely start figuring myself out. Of course, I’m not 100% safe to fully be myself due to family, but I can start healing from forced expectations.

With my unique neurodivergent profile of strengths and weaknesses (which I’ll one day find out what that profile is), I don’t always fit the typical neurodivergent mold when it comes to jobs. As discussed in my Best Jobs for Neurodivergent People blog post, I am horrible at software development. People with ADHD and autism are considered to make the best programmers. I was most successful as a test engineer, which is a job that is slowly going away due to efforts for tests to be automated. I have not had the same success with any other technology-related job, and it is completely due to my need to be helped when there are no clear step-by-step directions or repetitive, simple tasks. After attending an autism support within the past month, someone pointed out that self employment may be a better option for autistic people. However, I live in the US and need insurance (I’m not on my husband’s health insurance due to not many therapists accepting Tricare), so that’s not an option.

I don’t know how I started thinking about dream jobs, but I realized my dream job last month. It combines what I’ve been learning about neurodivergence with my experience as an assistant kickboxing coach:

I want to own an auditory sensory-friendly boxing and kickboxing gym.

But Cara (not my real name)! Don’t those already exist? Maybe. I honestly don’t know. I have only been to one boxing/kickboxing gym (the one I have been going to for 4 years) and it would be a sensory nightmare for people whose sensory sensitivities are auditory-based. Loud music playing that has at times been so loud that you can’t hear me coaching and a loud timer that goes off to signify the start, last 30 seconds, and end of a round. If your brain is trying to process the coach’s instructions with all of that auditory stimuli going on, it could be tough.

When I thought of this dream job, it was with autistic people in mind. However, an auditory sensory-friendly gym can be helpful for non-autistic people too. Do you get startled or triggered by sudden loud noises due to past trauma? Do you struggle to regulate your attention around music? Is it hard for you to hear someone when there’s background noise?

This dream job will not prevent me from working a full-time job in IT. My coaches have day jobs outside of the kickboxing gym. The coach I mainly work with has his own used car lot and the coach I work with on self-defense works a job in security.

I don’t want this blog post to be too long, so I’ll talk in more detail about what I’d do with this gym to make things auditory sensory friendly as well as staff requirements.

Awareness · School · Self-Reflection

Being Neurodivergent in College/University

This blog talks about my experiences about being neurodivergent in university. I went through undergrad unaware that I was neurodivergent and I spent most of grad school unaware of my neurodivergence. I have still not gone through a neuropsychological evaluation yet to pinpoint which neurodivergent condition(s) I have, and I might not get a diagnosis before I graduate in December. This blog will mainly talk about the struggles I encountered in higher education.

We’re going to talk about grad school first because I didn’t have many struggles being neurodivergent in grad school. The only negative aspect of my neurodivergence is not reading things carefully. I didn’t see that we had to have a cover page for our assignments in one of our classes until I read something for the research paper proposal. That meant my first three analyses did not have a cover page. Probably would have gotten higher than a C if I did that. In another class, I didn’t follow the file naming convention for the homework. It only happened on the first homework, but I was lucky because the document with the instructions said that it might not be graded if the naming convention for the document isn’t followed. I think I just read and forget. It’s happened in two Discord servers I used to be a part of as well.

However, my (then-unknown) neurodivergence gave me the interest for my graduate project (proposal is due at the end of the semester) to deal with web accessibility for ADHD and autism (though I might make it just about autism). There is a lot of web accessibility work that has been done for users with physical disabilities, but not much work has been done for people with cognitive and neurological differences. Covid permitting, autistic people and people with ADHD will evaluate a site in my university’s Usability Lab and talk to me about what challenges they faced when navigating a web site. This will follow the expression “Nothing About Us Without Us” that I often hear by autistic people which means that anything about autistic people MUST be done with autistic people’s input. It also gave me the ability to help a friend cope with a bad exam score by giving him my worry stone… which was coral colored. I asked him the next day when he was calmer if he wanted a different color, but he didn’t care about the color since he had a pink shirt years ago.

Undergrad was when I had a lot more struggles in school to the point that I almost dropped out during my freshman year. I knew it was because college is a lot less structured than schooling from kindergarten to grade twelve. I barely kept a high enough GPA to keep my scholarship freshman year (the school’s scholarship required me to have at least a 2.6 after freshman year and I had a 2.67 GPA) and due to my grades, I couldn’t continue in the nursing major unless I retook a class and/or stayed an additional year. Now that I’m learning about demand avoidance, I had some of that too with me not doing some of my homework for a chemistry class. The stress of the spring semester of freshman year is what made me consider dropping out. I was a procrastinator since elementary school and still procrastinated with my lab reports. I kept my high school study habits until my senior year and didn’t know how to study. I found a quote from the book Divergent Mind by Jenara Nerenberg that I completely related to regarding my struggle in undergrad and shared it with my therapist.

…once that young woman enters college… whereby routine structures are taken away – and she needs to depend on her executive functioning to navigate the logistical details of daily life that she never had to think about before – her experience changes dramatically.

(Nerenberg, 2020)

That quote is based on how girls may often do well academically before university due to various factors, but they struggle in tertiary education. This was in the section about ADHD, but my therapist told me that this issue also occurs in other neurodivergent conditions.

Junior year was the worst for my GPA. During junior year, the university decided to make a lot of the classes online. We had to completely learn independently and I’m not good at independent learning. Add the weekly quizzes to that and I had a very low GPA that semester (I think it was 1.5 for that semester) because I failed 3 of my 4 online classes and passed both of my in-person classes. This meant adjusting my class schedule to retake the online classes in-person in the future. I retook one class in Spring 2013 and the other two classes in Fall 2013. I felt like a failure because this was the first time I failed this badly. I worked hard to bring my GPA high enough to meet the scholarship requirement of having at least 2.8 GPA at the completion of junior year. I vastly improved my grades well enough to graduate on time in May 2014, but that left me with a 2.992 GPA. The GPA affected me because I was conditionally admitted to the Master’s program at my grad school which required me to get at least 3.0 in my first 9 credits before I could be fully admitted. I learned from my mistakes and am doing much better in grad school.

I never had (and upon reflection, do not need) accommodations in university, so I can’t talk about how accommodations could help or hinder my school performance. The only school accommodations I ever had were for speech therapy from third grade to fifth grade when I’d leave class and go to the speech room.

I’m not sure how many neurodivergent graduate students read my blog and I can’t find online support groups for neurodivergent graduate students because I want to see if there are others like me who struggled in undergrad but is doing better in grad school. If anyone neurodivergent has struggled in undergrad, but did better in grad school, let me know in the comments. I also want to figure out why grad school can be easier to navigate than undergrad. I know for me, having stricter study habits is a big part of why I’m doing better, but do we do better in grad school because we get to focus more on our interests instead of having to add general education requirements to the mix that we may struggle with? I am good at math, but English and language arts classes were hard for me. I liked science as a kid (but struggled with chemistry in high school and my undergraduate science classes), but hate history classes.

Workplace

What Truly Are the Best Jobs for Neurodivergent People?

Short Answer: Look at your (or your child’s) gifts and challenges.

One day at work, a co-worker said that autistic people and people with ADHD make the best programmers. I suck at programming so I knew that statement is false. This caused me to look online for the best jobs for autistic people to see how many lists mention computer programming. Many different lists had different answers for the best jobs for autistic people, but those lists failed to account for the varying gifts and challenges autistic people have.

There is a sentence I have encountered in autism resources that everyone should understand: “If you’ve met one autistic person, you have met one autistic person.” This means that no two autistic people have the same gifts and challenges. Actually, no two people with the same diagnosis (regardless of if a diagnosis falls under the neurodivergent label or not) have the same gifts and challenges. However, it seems like many of the articles about the best jobs for autistic people have the same answers for “What are the best jobs for autistic people?” Articles talking about the best jobs for people with ADHD have done better to emphasize that the best jobs depend on the strengths and challenges that someone with ADHD faces.

How come these ideas of jobs that work best for us come in a one-size-fits-all package if we don’t have the same gifts and challenges? Well, I don’t know. The articles can be a good starting point to figuring out what jobs fit your strengths while being accommodating to your challenges. There are also online quizzes that you can take that will take your strengths and display jobs that may work well for you. I remember doing those quizzes once or twice in school. It might take some trial and error to figure out what job is best for you.

For me, the jobs that work best for me are administrative jobs and test engineering. Both of these jobs typically have repetitive tasks and test engineers may have tests that need to be run multiple times during a project’s life span and those tests will have you following clear step by step directions. I have also rewritten test cases for clarity and to add additional test steps to test validation. I was very successful as a test engineer, especially when writing automated software tests. I miss being a test engineer. It played to my strengths and I wasn’t being micromanaged.

The job that is the absolute worst for me is software developer. I don’t have good problem solving skills, and you have to be able to solve problems when programming. I can’t think the way developers need to think and there are no step by step instructions on how to do a task. I also felt like developer jobs forced you to be micromanaged, which was anxiety-inducing. I have lost a job and got kicked off a project due to my inability to code. It was over 5 years ago when someone at work who has been diagnosed with multiple learning disabilities noticed that I may have a learning disability, long before therapists figured out something was up. I have ultimately realized that being a software developer is not for me and I have no desire to be a software developer again.

To summarize, the best jobs for me involve:

  • Clear step-by-step directions
  • Repetitive tasks
  • Writing clear directions once I figure out how to do something

and the worst jobs for me involve:

  • Being micromanaged
  • Problem solving
  • Programming
Self-Reflection

(Re)Discovering Me (Part 3: New Blog Purpose?)

Happy 2021, everyone! To all who come to this blog, welcome. Welcome to old friends who may have been here from the beginning, and welcome new friends who may have found me from the Actually Autistic Blogs List. Since it’s the new year, I thought I’d think about this blog.

I started this blog on April 1, 2017 when I was trying to discover who I am after feeling too old to not know who I am. Seriously, people much younger than I am figured out who they are already. I felt lost in a world where everyone else knew themselves and where they belong. The goal of the blog was to chronicle my journey to figuring out who I am and what my purpose in life is. While my first year of blogging found me talking about people and things that weren’t related to my experiences (I reeled it back in), I discovered my purpose in life nearly two years ago and the theme of finding my purpose was dropped.

I started talking about grad school in 2018 when I applied and subsequently got accepted into a Master of Science in Computer Science program. Blogs about this will stop after this year once I get my Master’s degree, but I’m considering working towards a Doctorate after a break from school so the grad school theme may still continue. Honestly, I worry that people won’t believe that I can do it because I’m neurodivergent.

Speaking of neurodivergence, I have been making many blog posts a lot about neurodivergence and my experiences as a neurodivergent person lately. I guess it’s my way of processing something that was only discovered in September by my therapist. If the pandemic would end so I can get evaluated to see which neurodivergent condition(s) I have, that would be great. There’s a family history of ADHD and autism. I have two cousins with ADHD, mom thinks my half-brother was diagnosed with ADHD as a kid, I think my dad has ADHD, and I had an uncle who was autistic (he died in 2007). I feel like I have signs of both ADHD and autism, but the autistic traits have a more negative effect on my life.

If any readers were here from as early as 2017, you may notice that I changed my About and my tagline for this blog. As of now, this blog will mainly focus on neurodivergence as well as grad school, with occasional posts about other stuff so I don’t lose my original followers. Will I make a post about being neurodivergent in grad school? Well, I haven’t had any struggles in grad school due to being neurodivergent and everyone has different struggles so I wouldn’t want to make a post that speaks about every single neurodivergent grad student. I struggled in undergrad due to unknown neurodivergence, so I might make a post about that if I have time (I am taking one class for Spring 2021, need to prepare for my graduate project, and will be able to do kickboxing more often than once a week).

Come join me as I take this blog to a new direction.

Rant

If He/She/They Can Do It, Can You Do It Too?

Hey everyone. I have been really busy with school lately, so my constant posting had temporarily stopped. The semester is over, so I am back. This is kind of a rant, but doesn’t have the same raw anger that exists in my other rants. Heck, this rant isn’t even as angry as I usually get.

I’m going to be blunt. I will never be successful in life due to my brain being “differently wired” and having an anxiety disorder that may never get better. These factors caused me to lack the ability to become successful or be able (or allowed) to make my own decisions. You might be thinking “Dia! You’re just making excuses! You’re not trying hard enough to be successful!” How many times have neurodivergent people been told they aren’t trying? Countless people, including myself, have been told that we’re not trying. However, to be realistic, not everyone is able to be successful.

We’re bombarded via various forms of media about “the disabled” overcoming their challenges to become successful. People think “If they can do it, so can I!” But the truth is, you might not be able to do it, and that’s okay. One person is not and should not be the representation of EVERY person. If you think about it, some of what you see is called “inspiration porn”. Inspiration porn is media that portrays a person with disabilities (or disabled person, depending on if you like person-first or identity-first language) as inspirational, mainly due to their disability.

For every one disabled person who became what society deems as successful, there are at least one hundred disabled people who struggle a lot with basic self-care skills like self-feeding, getting dressed, or wiping themselves after using the bathroom. For every one person who overcame their struggles with trauma, there are hundreds who still can’t rebuild their lives. For every one person who became successful despite where they came from, there are thousands who became products of their environment. For every Dr. Temple Grandin, there are many autistic people who require 24-hour care who can’t live independently (like my uncle who died years ago). For every Toshia Shaw, there are hundreds or thousands of women who can’t recover from the PTSD of being trafficking victims.

While I can’t properly define what success means to me (because I will never be successful), we need to realize that not everyone can be successful like the people we see in the media. Just because they can do it, doesn’t mean you can. No two people with the same disability are alike in their challenges. For example, my cousin struggles with hyperactivity and my ex-boyfriend struggles with focus. They both have AD(H)D, but don’t have the same challenges. A churchgoer struggles with language that isn’t literal while I struggle with social cues and social appropriateness. We’d both fit on the autism spectrum (he has a diagnosis of Aspergers while I’m suspected to be autistic and still waiting for a diagnosis, though getting a diagnosis years ago would probably put me in the Aspergers category as well).

So yeah, recognize your own limits and don’t try to push yourself to meet expectations that you might not be able to meet.

(My last month of the semester was quite busy, so my words may not be articulate due to being mentally worn out from the course work)

Mental Health

My Experience in Support Groups So Far

I have been to many support groups so far. Some I liked, some I didn’t like, and some that just did not happen. These stories are based on my experience and should not be solely used to persuade or dissuade finding a support group.

My first attempt at a support group falls into the “Just Did Not Happen” category. In 2017, I wanted to go to a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) support group for people with mental illness (there is a support group for family members of mentally ill people too). This was because I had given up on therapy back then and wanted to learn tools and techniques. However, the advertisement on a local newspaper printed the wrong date so there was no meeting that day. The support group was usually on Wednesdays and Wednesdays are kickboxing days.

Years later (in September 2020), I decided to join an online support group for autistic people who were either professionally diagnosed or suspect that they’re autistic. This is where I found AANE. My second attempt at a support group also fell into the “Just Did Not Happen” category, but this was due to the facilitator being unable to log into Zoom. I have returned to that group and have had fun ever since. More on that later.

I really wanted to go to a support group this past September, so I went to another support group (also with AANE). I didn’t have as much fun because I had a headache and introductions took up most of the time. It also wasn’t at my desired time, so I switched back to the aforementioned group time.

October 2020 was the first time I experienced a support group in which I enjoyed. I thought that the group facilitator forgot to show up in September, but I found out that the facilitator had technology issues. There were not as many people in that group that month as is typical, so I had a lot of fun talking with the facilitator and other group members. This month, I had even more fun! With this group, it isn’t as structured regarding topics. We introduce ourselves and we talk about things based on what someone said. I learned from someone that I may find comfort in logic because I am a musician for fun and music can be logic-based. Well, that explains why I wanted a music theory book.

Going slightly off subject, I will talk about AANE support groups. This is not an endorsement for AANE and I am neither an employee nor facilitator of their support groups. With AANE support groups being virtual now, it gives people living outside of the New England area of the United States a place for support. Heck, there have been people living outside of the US attending the meetings! Many of the facilitators either have a family member who is autistic or the facilitator is autistic. Not only are there support groups for autistic people, but there are also support groups for non-autistic people who have an autistic partner (this support group is not free), parents with autistic kids, grandparents with autistic kids, women, etc. Events are listed in a calendar format here. These groups require registration ahead of time since you will need to register to get the Zoom link. This also means that your name on Zoom needs to be the name you used to register because the facilitators’ Zoom is set with a waiting room and they check your name against the name in their registration list before you get in. Due to this, I will not tell you which support group I attend. I will also not disclose myself in the support group if you happen to show up to the same one I attend and say that you found out about the support group because of blogger DiaryOfSelf. You would know my real name if I did that and I prefer to go by “Dia” or “Cara” in certain online spaces. I hope there can still be virtual meetings once in-person meetings are safe again because there is only one support group in my state.

I decided to try a women’s group as well! However, I came out of it feeling hopeless because they made me realize even more that an autism diagnosis will cause issues with medical support (they mentioned the problem with doctors and female patients as well as doctors and the problems with neurodivergent patients) and disclosing a diagnosis will mean that any REASONABLE accommodations I would need will likely not be given to me. However, my doctor takes me seriously and the way that my job works, I can declare a disability online without my supervisor knowing. I would probably talk about any accommodations needed with my role’s lead (not my supervisor). I may go again in December to see how I feel, but I think I am going to stick with the group that causes me to have a lot of fun!

It took some time for me to find a group that I liked, and this may be the case for you too. Figure out your expectations for support groups and find support groups that meet your expectations.