Umbrella US

You can Open Doors for ND Belonging with us in a variety of ways.

Beyond Me, Myself, and I: Why Reciprocity is Key to Neurodivergent Self-Advocacy

Reciprocity - Self-advocacy is not a one-way street. It requires a reciprocal relationship between individuals and their communities.

Have you ever read a self-advocacy guide and felt something missing? Perhaps it’s the sense of shared journey. While advocating for oneself as a neurodivergent individual is crucial, it’s not a solitary path. It’s more like a collaborative dance between individuals and the communities they inhabit.


Self-advocacy is about achieving accessibility, but true accessibility requires connection. Recognizing that everyone’s well-being, including neurodivergent individuals, is vital to a community’s health fosters a supportive ecosystem where everyone has the resources and opportunities they need to thrive. So, why is appreciating this interconnectedness crucial for neurodivergent self-advocacy guides?


1. Cultivating Shared Understanding: Framing self-advocacy solely as the responsibility of neurodivergent individuals risks amplifying the misconception that their unique experiences require individual solutions. This can further isolate and marginalize them. Instead, recognizing that everyone’s well-being, including neurodivergent individuals, is interconnected cultivates a collaborative effort towards inclusivity.


2. Fostering collective progress: Effective self-advocacy goes beyond individual needs; it seeks systemic change. By sharing their experiences and advocating for broader understanding, neurodivergent individuals become powerful agents of progress. This collective effort paves the way for a more inclusive and equitable world for everyone, not just neurodivergent communities.


3. Celebrating diversity as strength: Neurodivergent communities bring unique perspectives, strengths, and talents to the table. Highlighting these contributions helps break down stereotypes and build appreciation for neurodiversity as a source of enrichment for society.


How can we translate this understanding into practical action? According to Google Gemini, we should:


  • Showcase collaborative solutions: Share stories of successful partnerships between neurodivergent individuals and their communities, demonstrating the power of working together.

  • Provide tools for connection: Offer resources and strategies for building bridges and engaging with allies, fostering understanding and support.

  • Celebrate shared successes: Highlighting how both neurodivergent individuals and their communities benefit from inclusionary practices encourages further collaboration.

Remember, self-advocacy isn’t just about individual accommodation; it’s about building a world where all individuals and communities thrive together. By understanding our interconnectedness and working collaboratively, we can create a more inclusive future where everyone can contribute their unique strengths.


Umbrella US is inviting NDs and allies to share in the creation of The Neurodivergents’ Self Advocacy Survival Guide and we intend to do more than the suggested actions above. We also want to include:


  1. Personal Narratives
    Personal stories from neurodivergent self-advocates who have overcome challenges, broken down barriers, and achieved their goals through self-advocacy.

  2. Practical Strategies
    Practical advice, tools, and techniques to enhance self-advocacy skills in a variety of contexts including work, education, relationships, and community participation.

  3. Inclusive Perspectives
    Our #1 priority is to highlight people from marginalized* and multiply marginalized backgrounds and ensure that a wide variety of ND—not only autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, but also OCD, bipolar, stroke, TBI, cerebral palsy, PTSD/C-PTSD and any other condition or difference that affects the brain and nervous system—experiences are represented and valued.

  4. Expert, Professional, & Provider Insights
    Expert contributions in the fields of healthcare, education, employment, social justice, and advocacy, offering neuro-affirming, evidence-based strategies. Allied experts are encouraged to apply; ND Experts are prioritized.

  5. Practical Application
    Empowering exercises and activities designed to help identify strengths, clarify goals, and develop effective self-advocacy plans.

  6. Resources and References
    Resources, websites, and further reading materials to support NDs in various contexts of self-advocacy.

Umbrella US welcomes submission proposals from neurodivergent adults and allies who want to share their perspectives on the ND experience. Submissions can include a wide variety of printable formats, to include written essays, poems, song lyrics, drawings/images (black and white or color), or similar.


Suggested topics include (but are not limited to):
● Discovery and/or Diagnosis
● Variety of age experiences
● Work, Volunteering, Employment
● Education (various levels including certifications)
● Health & Healthcare
● Community Experiences
● Relationships in all contexts (adult, familial, work, romantic, sexual,
friends, parenting, etc)
● Creativity

Proposals due: March 15, 2024

For full information on The Neurodivergents’ Self Advocacy Survival Guide, click here or email us at info@umbrellaus.org.

Happy Pride Month!

To start off this month’s post, I’ll share a story. It starts with a pair of Jessica Simpson cotton gauze pants. My husband saw them at Costco, thought, “Those look perfect for lounging around in hot weather,” and bought himself a pair. The pants are loose, flowy, airy, soft, cool, and very comfortable. They are, in fact, perfect for hot weather. 

 

At this point, you may be wondering what this has to do with gender or neurodivergence. I really don’t care about designers or brand names, yet I mentioned the designer in this case—Jessica Simpson—because it’s relevant. That’s right, these are supposed to be women’s pants. As I said to some friends, “[Spouse], in typical neurodivergent ‘gendered clothing is stupid’ fashion, bought some for himself to lounge around the house in. I was jealous, so he had to go back and get some for me.” My husband and I also had an entire conversation about the differences between men’s and women’s clothes, and “unisex” clothes, and how ridiculous some of those differences are.

 

And that’s really it, in a nutshell: gender rules are arbitrary and don’t actually make a lot of sense when you really look at them. And this brings us to gender diversity.

What is gender diversity, anyway?

“Biodiversity” refers to the variety of all living things and their interactions. “Neurodiversity” is the variety of human minds, the many different ways in which people’s brains work and they interact with their environment. Similarly, “gender diversity” describes the many ways gender can be expressed outside the binary. Gender is a spectrum: male, female, trans, intersex, non-binary, agender, Two Spirit, gender fluid, genderqueer, and all points between and beyond. Like biodiversity and neurodiversity, gender diversity tells us that this wide range of gender and gender expression is normal and natural.

A couple quick reminders:

  1. Gender is not the same as biological sex.
  2. Gender is a social construct around behavioral expectations based on sex.
  3. Gender does not determine sexual or romantic attraction.
  4. None of these—gender, biological sex, sexual or romantic attraction—exists in a binary. All of them encompass a range of expression and experience.

What does this have to do with neurodivergence?

There is a high correlation between neurodivergence and gender diversity. “Studies suggest that individuals with gender and sexual identities outside the cis-hetero binary were also three to six times more likely to have a diagnosis of autism. This excludes autistic individuals who remain undiagnosed, suggesting that the overlap could, in fact, be greater. Researchers have also observed higher rates of OCD and ADHD diagnoses among queer individuals—reiterating the overlap between neurodivergent and LGBTQ+ identities,” writes Devrupa Rakshit in her article “The Link Between Neurodivergence and Queerness, Explained”(2023.)

 

Put simply, gender diverse people are more likely to also be neurodivergent, and vice versa. 

 

We don’t know why this high correspondence between neurodivergence and gender and sexual diversity exists, but there are some theories. One possible explanation lies in our brains. Some of the same areas of the brain that often differ between neurotypical and neurodivergent individuals—including the amygdala, hypothalamus, and prefrontal cortex—are also involved in sexual and romantic feelings. There is no agreement on which parts of the brain are involved in gender identity and gender expression, but imaging studies have shown there are structural and chemical differences between genders.

 

Another possible explanation is the social aspect. Neurodivergent people are more likely to struggle with and/or question social rules and expectations, especially when those rules and expectations seem arbitrary. Gender is a social construct, and a lot of the rules around gender roles are pretty arbitrary. It makes sense that neurodivergent folks are going to struggle to conform to, or question and challenge, social expectations around gender and sexuality


Neuroqueer Theory, developed by Dr. Nick Walker, Remi Yergeau, and Athena Lynn Michaels-Dillon, addresses the overlap between neurodivergence and gender diversity or queerness. As Dr. Walker explains on her website, “I originally conceived of neuroqueer as a verb: neuroqueering as the practice of queering (subverting, defying, disrupting, liberating oneself from) neuronormativity and heteronormativity simultaneously,” (from neuroqueer.com). Dr. Walker’s work is definitely recommended reading.

Wait, isn’t this supposed to be the mental health blog?

Yes, yes it is. And both neurodivergence and gender divergence relate directly to mental health. Neurodivergent individuals and members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to experience bias, marginalization, exclusion, bullying, violence, and abuse. They are more likely to experience serious mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, C-PTSD, self-injury, and suicidality. They are more likely to have difficulty accessing needed services and supports. For people who are both neurodivergent and members of the LGBTQ+ community, these problems increase exponentially. 

 

To put it bluntly: it is extremely difficult to exist as a neurodivergent LGBTQ+ person in the world as it is now.

 

That got dark fast, didn’t it? It’s not all doom and gloom, though. 

 

As awareness grows, so do supports and protections for neurodivergent and LGBTQ+ folks. There are a lot of resources out there. Our communities get stronger every day. And we are amazing.

References and resources

For support:

LGBTQ+ Resources:

https://transstudent.org/gender/ (The Gender Unicorn is a great tool for exploring and understanding gender identity, gender expression, and attraction)

 

https://www.thetrevorproject.org

https://www.trevorspace.org/ (The Trevor Project is my go-to recommendation for LGBTQ+ youth, and TrevorSpace is a safe place for LGBTQ+ youth to interact with, learn from, and support each other)

 

https://www.hrc.org/(The Human Rights Campaign is another go-to resource for members of the LGBTQ+ community)

 

Looking for an LGBTQ+-friendly therapist?

https://www.them.us/story/how-to-find-a-queer-therapist

 

https://lgbtqtherapyspace.com/

 

https://lgbtguild.com/directory

 

Looking for a neurodivergent or neuroinclusive therapist? 

https://ndtherapists.com/

 

https://neurodivergentpractitioners.org/

 

https://neurodivergenttherapists.com/

 

https://www.inclusivetherapists.com/neurodivergent-person

 

If you or a loved one is experiencing a crisis, 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline offers support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, via call, chat, or text

https://988lifeline.org/

As always, take care of yourselves, take care of each other, and remember: self-advocacy is BS. It’s up to us to build and maintain the community supports that will help us all.

Picture of Lelah Erb-Bashaw

Lelah Erb-Bashaw

Lelah Erb-Bashaw, M.S., B.C.A.S.E, is a multiply neurodivergent, multiply disabled nonbinary Muppet gleefully flailing their way through this thing called life. Their patchwork background has led to a passion for education and advocacy, particularly in the areas of special education, neuroinclusion, and disability. When they’re not working, they can generally be found hanging out with their spouse and their dogs, reading voraciously, accidentally killing sack people in Little Big Planet, or yelling at people on TV shows for doing CPR wrong.