Life has a funny way of unveiling its mysteries just when you think you've got it all figured out. It was in my 40s that I embarked on a journey of self-discovery that would forever change the way I saw myself and the world around me. Little did I know that the answers I had been seeking for decades would come in the form of two diagnoses: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
As a child, I was often described as "quirky" or "different." I excelled in certain subjects while struggling to maintain focus in others. Social interactions felt like a complex dance that everyone else seemed to know the steps to, leaving me stumbling and feeling out of sync. I carried a sense of not fitting in, of being an observer in a world that spoke a language I struggled to fully grasp.
As the years went by, I developed coping mechanisms to navigate a world that felt overwhelming. I meticulously organized my surroundings, created rigid routines, and immersed myself in solitary activities where I could hyperfocus. Yet, something still felt amiss. There was a persistent feeling that I was wearing a mask, trying to fit into a mold that wasn't quite right for me.
It wasn't until my 40s that I decided to seek answers. The process of pursuing a diagnosis was both nerve-wracking and liberating. Would I be dismissed as an adult seeking attention for something I had managed to hide for so long? Or would I finally receive the validation that had eluded me all these years? The journey felt like a leap of faith, a leap that I needed to take for my own understanding.
The diagnoses of ADHD and Autism were revelations that transformed my perception of self. The ADHD diagnosis explained the constant whirlwind of thoughts that had made focusing on tasks a Herculean effort. The tendency to lose track of time, the bursts of energy followed by crashes of exhaustion – they all made sense within the framework of ADHD.
The Autism diagnosis was equally enlightening. Suddenly, the struggles with social cues, the intense need for predictability, and the sensory sensitivities had a name. Autism wasn't something to be feared; it was a facet of my identity that contributed to my unique way of experiencing the world. It was a reminder that I wasn't broken; I was beautifully different.
With these diagnoses came a sense of relief – the relief of knowing that I wasn't alone in my struggles, that there were others who shared similar experiences. But more importantly, the diagnoses gave me permission to embrace myself fully. I began the complicated (but rewarding) journey of discovering ways in which I was masking and how I could unmask and be authentically me, quirks and all.
The impact of these diagnoses rippled through every aspect of my life. I began to approach challenges with a newfound understanding of my cognitive patterns. I explored strategies tailored to my ADHD and Autism, finding ways to harness their strengths while mitigating their challenges. Instead of being sources of shame, my diagnoses became sources of empowerment.
Social interactions became less daunting as I learned to communicate my needs and boundaries. I sought out communities of individuals with similar experiences, fostering connections that were rooted in empathy and shared understanding. The once-overwhelming world began to feel navigable, a landscape that I could explore at my own pace.
As I reflect on this journey, I am struck by the resilience of the human spirit. The ability to adapt, learn, and grow is a testament to our capacity for self-discovery. Being diagnosed with ADHD and Autism in my 40s wasn't just a diagnosis; it was an awakening. It was an invitation to live authentically, to embrace neurodiversity, and to celebrate the beautiful mosaic of humanity in all its forms.
Navigating a neurotypical-oriented society can sometimes lead to a cycle of shame, self-criticism, and unrealistic expectations that drain valuable energy. The path to increased productivity and well-being for neurodivergent individuals begins with shedding the weight of shame, self-beatup, and the incessant "shoulding" that holds them back. By embracing self-compassion and authenticity, a transformative journey towards higher energy levels and heightened productivity unfolds.
Breaking Free from Shame:
Shame acts as a silent energy drain, perpetuating feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. For neurodivergent individuals, societal pressures to conform can intensify these feelings. Reclaiming energy starts with recognizing that neurodiversity is a beautiful variation, not a flaw. Acknowledge your unique strengths and the contributions you bring to the table.
Replace self-shaming thoughts with self-compassion. Treat yourself as you would a dear friend. Understand that mistakes are part of growth, and your journey is valid regardless of societal norms. Embracing your authenticity fosters an environment where energy can flow freely.
Neurodivergent individuals often hold themselves to unrealistic standards, leading to perpetual self-beatup. By practicing self-compassion, you can redirect this energy towards growth and productivity.
Begin with mindfulness. Observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment. When a critical thought arises, challenge it with self-kindness. Understand that everyone, neurodivergent or not, has strengths and areas for improvement.
Remember, your worth isn't determined by external achievements. Celebrate small victories and progress, and acknowledge that setbacks are part of any journey. Redirect energy towards learning and growth, turning self-beatup into a catalyst for positive change.
Banishing the "Shoulds":
"Shoulding" on yourself involves imposing unrealistic expectations rooted in societal norms. This drains energy and stifles authenticity. Neurodivergent individuals often feel pressured to conform, leading to internal conflicts and exhaustion.
Break free from the "should" trap by redefining success. Focus on what aligns with your values and strengths, not arbitrary benchmarks. Embrace a growth mindset, understanding that progress is more important than perfection.
Practice saying "no" to obligations that drain energy and don't align with your true self. Prioritize activities that nurture your passions and well-being. By releasing the "shoulds," you create space for authentic pursuits and boost overall productivity.
Embracing Authenticity for Renewed Energy:
Reclaiming energy and boosting productivity for neurodivergent individuals revolves around authenticity and self-compassion. Embrace your neurodiversity as a source of strength, not limitation. Redirect the energy once consumed by shame, self-beatup, and "shoulding" towards meaningful growth and self-fulfillment.
In the journey towards authenticity, remember that seeking support is a sign of strength. Professional counselors, mentors, and support groups can provide valuable guidance. Surround yourself with individuals who appreciate your uniqueness and contribute positively to your growth.
Reclaiming energy and enhancing productivity is a lifelong journey. By cultivating self-compassion, celebrating authenticity, and banishing the energy-draining cycle, neurodivergent individuals can unleash their full potential, foster personal growth, and make a lasting impact in both their lives and the world around them.
In today's world, there is an increasing awareness about the way the brain works. The understanding that neurodivergent individuals, those with neurological differences such as autism, ADHD, or dyslexia, aren't "disabled" or "wrong" for the way their brains operate is becoming more mainstream (thank goodness!).
This means that the conversation around masking is getting more robust, allowing for increased understanding and connection. Masking refers to the act of suppressing one's true neurodivergent traits and mimicking neurotypical behavior in order to fit into societal norms. Sadly, even though awareness is increasing on this topic, neurodivergent individuals often face pressure from the neurotypical majority to mask their differences, leading to profound challenges and potential harm to their mental health and overall well-being.
Neurotypical society tends to operate on a set of unwritten rules and social norms that may not align with the natural behavior of neurodivergent individuals. From an early age, neurodivergent individuals may encounter pressure to conform to these expectations, with society insisting that they "act normal" or "fit in." While the intention behind this demand might be to help neurodivergent individuals navigate social situations more easily, the long-term consequences can be distressing.
Masking requires neurodivergent individuals to constantly suppress their true selves, which can be mentally and emotionally draining. The effort to mimic neurotypical behavior and suppress natural tendencies can lead to a sense of disconnection from one's authentic identity. This ongoing struggle often results in increased anxiety, depression, and overall psychological distress. Furthermore, the perpetual demand to mask can create a pervasive feeling of inadequacy and can undermine an individual's self-esteem.
The expectation to mask can also obscure the challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals. When someone successfully masks their differences, their struggles may go unnoticed, leading others to assume that they do not require accommodations or support. As a result, neurodivergent individuals may find it harder to receive the necessary understanding, resources, and accommodations that would otherwise help them thrive.
By pressuring neurodivergent individuals to conform to neurotypical standards, society inadvertently suppresses the valuable contributions and unique perspectives that neurodiversity brings. Many of history's greatest minds and innovators were neurodivergent, and their unique ways of thinking and problem-solving have often led to groundbreaking discoveries and advancements. Embracing neurodiversity and allowing individuals to express their authentic selves benefits not only those individuals but society as a whole.
Remember, neurodivergent individuals fit in great, have excellent communication, and experience ease in relationships with other ND's! It is not that they "don't fit in" - it is that they struggle to fit in with NT's, or, you could say that NT's struggle to fit in with ND's. That is equally as true. It is important to understand that there is simply different ways that the brain works, and one is not "right" and the other "wrong", they are simply different.
As an Authenticity Coach, my diagnosis helped me deepen into my authenticity with more clarity and permission. It allowed me to get to know and understand part of myself from a new perspective and with more knowledge and information. As I've educated myself on this topic, and personal done the work in my life, it has allowed me to help other individuals on the same path. Below, I'm going to share a few of the ways that my autism and masking has impacted my life.
I also want to note that most people (yup, even family) were surprised or in disbelief about my diagnosis. The most interesting thing to me was that some people seemed to have a heavy resistance to accepting it. It almost felt like they didn't want to update their view of me or accept that I might have been struggling with this for my entire life. Some of the neurotypical in my life were almost defensive when I shared with them some of the ways that I had been masking. I heavily relied on my communication, compassion & self-advocacy skills to navigate this part of my journey.
Here are 5 ways that my neurodiverse brain works differently then the neurotypical brain, how I've personally struggled with masking, and the tools I've used to deepen my authenticity, build more connected relationships, and increase my peace.
It is essential for neurotypical to recognize and respect the right of neurodivergent individuals to be themselves without the need for constant masking. Building a culture of acceptance involves educating ourselves about neurodiversity, challenging preconceived notions, and creating inclusive environments where individuals of all neurological profiles can thrive. By fostering understanding, empathy, and appreciation for neurodiversity, we can create a society that values the strengths and contributions of all its members.
The demand for neurodivergent individuals to mask their differences in everyday life imposes a heavy burden that can have detrimental effects on their mental health and overall well-being. It is crucial for neurotypical to acknowledge and respect the neurodivergent experience, allowing individuals to embrace their unique traits and contribute to society authentically. By promoting acceptance and celebrating neurodiversity, we can create a more inclusive world where everyone can flourish.
It you relate to this article, and would like to discuss coaching in this area, please schedule a free session with me.
Autism Masking Test
If you think that you might be on the autism spectrum, or you have recently been diagnosed with autism, there can be an enormous amount of questioning what is natural to you and what is "masking". Autism masking or camouflaging is sometimes used by folks with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to disguise or suppress specific autism traits or behaviors in social situations.
I was diagnosed in my early 40's, and everyone in my life was shocked. In fact, there are still many people (including some family members) that don't believe me. This is because I have always been seen by others as capable, successful, well-adjusted, and popular. Of course, nobody knew how much work it took to show up like that every single day, and how exhausted I was of pretending. To me, most of my life has felt like being in survival mode, and I never felt like I had the choice to mask or not mask. Even as an authenticity coach, I still tried to be "normal" out there in the world. Since my diagnosis, I've been working on expanding my definition of authenticity to include unmasking. Coming home to the truth of how I have been masking in my life doesn't mean that I wasn't previously living authentically - of course I was to the best of my current self-awareness at the time. Now that I am more aware, I've had the opportunity to expand even more into how I really am.
Below you'll find a very helpful link to a test written by Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht. If you're curious about the level of masking that you're doing in your life, please follow the link and take the free test.
If you're interested in integrating your results, please feel free to book a free session with me.
ADHD & Autism | Support and Resources
10 Famous High Achievers Who Have ADHD
Tools to Increase your Focus
Embracing your neurodivergent self can be a challenging journey. Navigating the expectations of your partner and family while staying true to who you are requires both self-compassion and effective communication. Here's how to stop beating yourself up and foster acceptance from those around you:
Neurodivergence encompasses a range of neurological differences, including conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more. These differences contribute to unique perspectives, strengths, and challenges that set you apart from neurotypical individuals. Embracing your neurodivergent self means recognizing that your brain is wired differently, and this is not a flaw but a fundamental part of who you are.
The pressure to conform to societal norms and family expectations can be overwhelming, especially when your neurodivergence doesn't align with these preconceived notions. It's important to acknowledge that trying to be someone you're not only leads to emotional distress and can hinder your personal growth and well-being. Here's some tips to navigating your neurodivergence in relationships:
Be kind to yourself. Understand that your neurodivergence is not a choice, but an inherent aspect of your identity. Instead of viewing your differences as limitations, focus on your unique strengths and perspectives. Celebrate your accomplishments and the progress you've made on your personal journey.
2. Know Yourself:
Take the time to get to know yourself, and what makes your brain different. Many neurodivergent individuals have participated in so much masking throughout their lives that they are unable to identify who they really, authentically are. You can investigate this on your own, or get support from a coach.
3. Educate and Communicate:
Sometimes, lack of understanding can lead to misconceptions about neurodivergence. Take the initiative to educate your partner and family about your specific condition. Share resources, books, or articles that can help them gain insight into your experiences. Open, honest, and patient communication can pave the way for greater understanding and acceptance.
4. Set Boundaries:
Neurodivergence might mean that you have different needs and sensitivities. It's crucial to set clear boundaries with your partner and family to ensure that your well-being is prioritized. Establishing these boundaries helps them understand your limits and demonstrates your commitment to self-care.
5. Emphasize Shared Experiences:
Find common ground. While your neurodivergence might set you apart in certain ways, there are likely areas of shared experiences and interests. Emphasize these connections to help your partner and family understand that your differences don't define your entire relationship.
6. Seek Professional Support:
If the struggle to gain acceptance becomes overwhelming, consider seeking guidance from a therapist or counselor. Professional support can provide you with coping strategies, communication skills, and tools to navigate difficult conversations and emotions.
Fostering Acceptance in Others:
Embracing your neurodivergent self and seeking acceptance from your partner and family is a multifaceted journey that requires patience, understanding, and communication. Remember, you deserve to be radically accepted and celebrated for exactly who you are (in all your weird and wonderful ways), so don't settle for anything less then that in your relationships. While it may take time, the effort you invest in fostering understanding and acceptance will ultimately lead to stronger, more connected relationships and a deeper sense of self-worth. Here's some tips to take on your journey:
1. Lead by Example:
Be the embodiment of self-acceptance. Demonstrating confidence in who you are sends a powerful message to those around you. When you authentically embrace your neurodivergent self, others are more likely to follow suit.
2. Educate Them:
Provide your partner and family with resources that help them understand neurodivergence better. Encourage them to learn about the various ways neurodivergence can manifest and the positive aspects that come with it.
3. Share Your Feelings:
Share your feelings openly, expressing how their acceptance would positively impact your well-being. Help them understand that their support isn't just important—it's transformative for your relationship and personal growth.
4. Celebrate Achievements:
Acknowledge and celebrate the progress you make on your journey. When your partner and family witness your growth and accomplishments, they might gain a deeper appreciation for the strength it takes to be true to yourself.
Over the past few weeks, many of my clients have requested more information on support and resources for ADHD and Autism. I've compiled a list of notes and recommendations below. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to me (email@example.com).
This is a long blog, so feel free to skip to the header of the topics that you're interested in.
Medication is a tool that about 70-90% of people with ADHD benefit from. ADHD medication helps people to focus, sustain attention, reduce hyperactivity, and reduce impulsivity, but may not always help with organization, procrastination, and time management challenges. People with ADHD often find that one medication works for them better than others, even within the same class of medication. Even trying short vs. long term medication can make a big difference, so work with your doctor to find the right fit for you. Some people with ADHD find that medication doesn't work well for them at all. This happens sometimes and it does not mean that the person doesn't have ADHD.
Some psychotherapists specialize in helping people develop and implement strategies for managing ADHD as well as help them reframe some of the negative messaging they may have received about their ADHD (for example: that they're lazy or unmotivated).
In Bend, Oregon:
Coaching can often be an effective tool to help break down tasks and goals into manageable, actionable steps and then hold the client accountable for the actions they want to take. Coaching can also provide the necessary structure for managing weekly tasks, and furnish an understanding listener during the times when frustration arises. (You can schedule a free consultation with me here)
Behavioral Support & Strategy (ADHD)
Exercise helps to reduce ADHD symptoms. It is important to distinguish between exercise for fitness and exercise for focus. Fitness usually involves a more intense period of exercise, while exercising for helping focus with ADHD can be 5 - 10 minutes of activity.
It is best to work with your brain, rather than against it. This means that when you are having rouble focusing, it is better to just take a break than to force yourself to continue to try. Alternatively, if you are in a hyper-focus mode, it's okay to skip breaks as long as you plan a longer period of rest and recovery when the hyper-focus is complete.
People with ADHD benefit from being able to control the level of stimulation in their environment. This could mean being able to have a quiet, distraction-free space when you need it - or noise when you need it. This might mean wearing headphones or ear plugs in certain environments - or on different occasions.
Changing environments can also be really helpful. Moving from your desk to the couch or from your office to a coffee shop can have a positive impact.
People with ADHD often have the experience where if something is out of sight it is out of mind. This means that they tend to do better when they place important items (like planners and pillboxes) where they will regularly see it.
It is very common for people with ADHD to get interested in a lot of different hobbies. The downside of this is that it can be expensive. Often local 'buy nothing' or 'trade' groups work great for people with ADHD.
People with ADHD find it useful to create a 'launch pad'. This is a place where all of your important things go before you leave the house. Keys, wallet, mail that needs to be mailed, canvas grocery bags - anything you need to complete out of the home tasks.
Calendars can be hard to manage, but they can also be helpful. Calendars are most helpful when there is a place to offload the "to do" items and other things that need to get done, and when necessary transition and recovery time are scheduled into the day. For example, you might have a meeting from 10am - 11am, but might also need to schedule from 11am - 11:30am to recover and refocus. Often people with ADHD can 'gloss over' details of their day. For example, if you need to be somewhere at 10am, you need to leave the house at 9:45, which means you have to start getting ready to leave the house at 9:30 (or earlier). When you schedule all of these tiny parts of your day into your planner, you have less of a tendency to overcommit, be late, or end the day being exhausted and overwhelmed. This is especially true for someone who is gifted with both ADHD and Autism.
One strategy for helping people stay on task is called "body doubling" which means having a supportive and nonjudgmental person work with you to provide you with reminders when needed. (See below for free online body doubling support)
Reframing Differences (ADHD)
People with ADHD often have trouble consistently using and applying strategies that involve many of the self-regulation skills they struggle with. For some people medication helps, for others, environmental changes help - the key is finding your unique recipe and then having compassion for the ebb and flow of its use.
Some people with ADHD will get down on themselves for not "finishing" things, like housework or hobbies. It's important and helpful to reflect on what it means to be "finished". Often we think of being finished as having some kind of final product or mastery, but that's a very narrow definition that doesn't serve people well.
It is entirely reasonable (and wise) to acknowledge that some tasks and activities are so challenging that they are not worth the effort. For example, some people with ADHD will hire housekeepers, or accept that their house will never be as tidy as the 'expected' or the 'norm'.
It can be important & healthy to set limits on actives with friends and family.
It can be really challenging to reframe traits associated with ADHD and Autism as not a personal failing. You are okay just the way you are, and it is even okay to struggle in accepting that statement.
Websites (ADHD & Autism)
Books (ADHD & Autism)
Apps (ADHD & Autism)
Podcasts (ADHD & Autism)
Social Media (ADHD & Autism)
MeetUp Groups (Online/Remote)
Reframing Differences (Autism)
Many people have stereotypes in their minds about how an Autistic person looks and behaves. They might say things like, "You don't look Autistic" or "You make eye contact so you can't be Autistic" or "Maybe you're Autistic, but it must not be that bad because you're able to work." These kinds of comments are incorrect and based on outdated ideas.
Many Autistic people engage in repetitive behaviors known as "stimming." These behaviors are an important means of self-regulation and therefore shouldn't be reduced, eliminated, or altered (unless they are harmful). Many Autistic people (particularly undiagnosed/late diagnosed) channeled this into nail biting, cheek biting, fidgeting, or holding their hands in fists.
Consistent routines and repetitiveness in general help to establish a level of predictability in a social world that feels very unpredictable. Such routines also shouldn't be reduced, eliminated are altered (unless they are harmful).
Autistic people tend to have more focused and intense interests than neurotypical people. Research suggests that engaging in these interests is positively associated with wellbeing and helps Autistic people develop emotional awareness, social skills, and coping skills. Accordingly, they are encouraged to pursue these interests, even if other people find them "too intense".
There is nothing wrong with needing support for tasks that other people can do without support. Our culture is highly individualistic, but other cultures highly value interdependence and relying on each other. What level of help is "socially acceptable" is highly arbitrary and varies based on cultural standards.
Managing the Sensory Environment
Autistic people have a harder time filtering out distracting sensory information. Accordingly, they often benefit from tools like noise-canceling headphones, ear plugs, and other devices to help the regulate their sensory experience. For example, playing loud music through headphones while grocery shopping to help drown out some of the other overwhelming sounds might be beneficial.
Other tools that may be helpful are weighted blanket, weighted clothes or sensory toys.
Because the sensory environment is so important, it is important to be thoughtful about your physical space. The may mean keeping sensory and self-care tools nearby, reducing clutter, dimming lights, using rugs or insulation to reduce noice, and having help keeping the space that way.
It is perfectly reasonable to be thoughtful and discerning about clothing. There is nothing wrong with dressing in a way that allows you to be comfortable. Reducing the decision around clothing can also be very helpful. For example, if you find clothes that feel comfortable, purchasing multiples of those clothes and wearing them constantly is totally reasonable.
Social Engagement (Autism)
One thing Autistic people are taught by society is that they should endure discomfort for the comfort of others. For example, they should make eye contact even though it makes them uncomfortable. This makes it mush more challenging for Autistic people to know when they're feeling discomfort (as they have been taught to ignore and discard it) and set boundaries that they are actually comfortable with. Learning to monitor discomfort, set boundaries and conceive their own boundaries as acceptable is an import goal for Autistic people.
Many Autistic people benefit from preparing for new situations by researching them ahead of time and getting a very explicit and clear understanding of expectations. For example, if you're going to a new restaurant, it is often helpful to look at the restaurant's website, seeing how the outside of the building looks on Google Street View, reviewing the menu, and knowing ahead of time where the bathrooms are.
Autistic people often need more scripting and pre-planning for social events than neurotypical people. This means that they benefit form more time to prepare for events, which is a normal and reasonable thing.
Autistic people tend to do better with digital communication than real time communication as this allows them to take the time they need to process information.
I hope this was helpful. If you have questions, thoughts, or things to add to this blog, post a comment below or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mindy Amita Aisling
Life Coaching for Big-Hearted Overthinkers & Entreprenerds
🐲Own Your Weird
🌎 Change Your World
⬇️ DIY Courses
Mindy Amita Aisling, is a professionally trained and board-certified leadership, authenticity, and entrepreneur coach.
Mindy exceeds all requirements set forth by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) for Master Coach certification.
Mindy is also a licensed mediator, communications coach, and conflict resolution practicer. As a mediator, she has worked both in private practice and as a court appointment mediator at her local county courthouse.
Through her innovative approach, she assists clients in examining their limiting beliefs, questioning their assumptions about how the world works, and releasing the notion that they are anything less than perfect. As a result, individuals who work with Mindy cultivate the ability to stand firm in their beliefs, live authentically and decisively, and discover an experience of life that is easy and graceful.
In 2021, Mindy founded How to Be Human and Entreprenerd. These programs have enabled her to share her wisdom and knowledge with a broader audience in service of her vision of helping others live authentic lives This, in turn, has empowered more individuals to lead their most TRUE and COURAGEOUS lives.
When she is not working, Mindy can be found playing outdoors in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, creating art, spending time with friends & family, or with her nose deep in a book.
You can sign up for her newsletter here.
ICF Certified Life Coach
Affordable Online Life Coaching