Written for and published by Sangeet Foundation- the charity bringing together mental health and music.
Much of our anxiety comes from the need to fit in.
And fit in where? – of course in a template carved out by the ableists, for the ableists. As if creation was ever intended to be uniform! Yet our society seeks out this unnatural state of being where everybody is expected to conform to its norms – a template which is established looking through a narrowed lens.
The neurotypical paradigm has defined and dominated society for centuries, be it in education, jobs, healthcare services, technology, or even social relationships. Goals are set in compliance with the neurotypical expectations. Standardised tests/assessments are geared towards the neurotypical standards. Some therapy approaches can be highly coercive, almost bordering on being abusive and disrespectful towards the neurodiverse population. The neurodiverse population ever so often have to mask their needs and work extra hard whilst disintegrating inside, in order to fit in the neurotypical world and be seen as a productive member of society.
We are all different and beauty is in the variance. Accepting how we are by our own-selves and others around us, is important. Whilst we seek support from services, professionals and our loved ones, it is important that we see ourselves as who we are and not through the eyes and definitions of others. It is important we do what is comfortable for us. Some people may love to socialise, talk in a certain way and be a certain way socially. Well, not everybody needs to be that way. Some may be more solitary and find comfort in their own company. This is absolutely okay too. For example, people with autism may find, giving eye-contact intimidating and anxiety provoking yet, they may be forced to look at others to meet their targets set by well-meaning professionals.
As a society we disregard anything we cannot handle easily and put in measures to tame the situation instead. Let us take another example from my personal experience as a mum and as a speech and language therapist, and, which also includes the neurotypical population- teenagers. Schools in particular, treat teenagers as their opponents who they have to win against and conquer. When I walk through school corridors, I feel I am in a battle zone where the teachers and staff are the more powerful- dictating, shouting, instructing in a tone which severely assaults my senses. These children spend 6 hours of their day in an environment which does not treat them with kindness and respect. They are rather treated like robots to obey and take instructions through a system of punishment and reward so that they can can be groomed to meet the expectations of the adults.
People who are differently abled – cognitively, physically, emotionally or even spiritually, need to be accepted, embraced and celebrated. Yes we all have goals and would love to achieve them, but the goals should be personally relevant goals set by our own selves and not because others have told us what they should be.
I’m happy that the shift toward a neurodiverse paradigm is happening. I have never been a ‘mainstream’ aligned person. ‘Mainstream’ to me smelled rotten of exclusion. I rather liked to see life as a garden or forest, where life forms of different kinds coexisted. Nature is the best teacher! As a speech and language therapist, I am always trying to incorporate that image of garden in my practice. My work includes seeing people with conditions such as stammering, selective mutism, transgender voice issues, autism, ADHD, speech disorders, where mental health issues can feature high. Joint goal setting, asking what my clients want, helping them steer away from negative self talk which stems from not meeting the neurotypical expectations, is vital.
Only when I can help foster acceptance, kindness and compassion in my clients for their own selves, my job as a therapist can be successful. Only then I can be a true advocate for them and support them to be their own advocates.