The term “neurodiversity” refers to various brain functions and behaviors that tend to stray from what is considered “normal” or non-pathological. It is a concept that focuses on difference, rather than deficit, and is usually used in reference to such conditions as autism, ADHD and dyslexia. “Neurotypical” is how we describe the norm.
Relationships of various kinds between neurodivergent and neurotypical individuals can cause some challenges due to the ways in which their brains work differently. It is often assumed that the person with the neurodiversity should learn to adapt to more typical behaviors in order to smooth things out in their relationships. This practice, however, know as masking, can cause stress and depleted mental health vitality for neurodiverse individuals.
Autistic people and others whose brains function differently often struggle to understand behaviors that are often thought to be common in our society. Rather than place the burden on the neurodiverse individual to change, it can be easier for the neurotypical partner to learn to meet their partner where they are. Consider these tips to improve your neurodiverse relationships.
Communication is essential to any successful relationship. It can be even more crucial when interacting with someone who experiences neurodiversity. One reason for this is because they may take many things literal and find themselves unable to understand subtle cues or subtext. Nonverbal communication such as body language and facial expressions is also difficult for many folks to interpret. To avoid any confusion or frustration, try to be as upfront and direct in your communication as possible.
Respect Their Uniqueness
People on the spectrum or who have issues regarding attention may display various quirks. Perhaps they make certain vocalizations or flap their hands repeatedly. They may rock back and forth. This is known as “stimming”, and it’s a means of self-soothing or self-regulation. Be respectful of these habits and understand that they are not deficits that need to be diminished. Other behaviors you could encounter with a neurodivergent friend or partner are difficulty maintaining eye contact or a need for regular routine. Show some sensitivity when engaging them. Help to maintain their comfort whenever possible. Communicate in advance if plans need to change.
Be Understanding in Social Situations
Social gatherings can be overwhelming for neurodivergent folks. Their senses may be overwhelmed or they may struggle to recognize common social cues. Small talk may stress them out. Try to cut your partner some slack in these times. Step in to help them navigate the environment, if need be. It’s often helpful to talk about the gathering ahead of time to help them prepare and to discuss an exit strategy if things get to be too much.
Consider Preferred Expressions of Affection
Neurodivergent individuals may be adverse to expressions of affection that are commonly accepted by neurotypicals. For example, they may have an aversion to touch or sensory issues that make physical affection uncomfortable. This isn’t always the case, but it is a possibility. Neurodivergent individuals may find other common practices such as saying, “I love you,” or giving gifts to be puzzling. Emphasize communication in this regard in order to be sure you’re on the same page in your relationship and that you’re demonstrating affection in ways that will be welcomed and appreciated.
These are just a few tips that may help you to navigate neurodiverse relationships. Above all else, be sure to ask your person their unique preferences and strive to abide by their wishes. Seek to find what works for you both in order to enhance your relationship and to avoid potential hurt or frustration. It’s definitely worth the effort.