Dee is exhausted and burnt out, but loves researching and talking about neurodivergence nonetheless. Last month, I asked Dee a series of questions on her experience of having ADHD and being Autistic. Here she gives advice to those with ADHD who might be wondering whether they are also Autistic.
You mostly tweet about ADHD and Autism. When did you realise you had ADHD and were Autistic?
Regarding ADHD, two things happened pretty closely together. A friend kept insisting I had ADHD and I couldn't figure out why, because the usual 'symptom lists' didn't really fit. I asked my trauma therapist at the time about it and she was like, “ohhhhh yeah, that could explain a lot.” This was many years ago, though, so almost no middle-aged women were getting diagnosed yet.
Regarding Autism, growing up, I always felt different, odd, like I was not fully human, but I wasn't sure why. There was nobody getting diagnosed with Autism back then, regardless of age or gender. Many years later, my trauma therapist (a while after the ADD diagnosis) said she thought I might have 'something like Aspergers', but we didn't pursue any official diagnosis because they didn't diagnose adults, especially women. Also, there were many requirements I couldn't fulfil in terms of getting input about my childhood, apart from what I could personally recall. So, I mostly kind of filed it away under 'whatever' and literally forgot about it (ADHD!).
You mentioned that you previously saw a trauma therapist. Have you considered seeing an ADHD coach?
I have had several coaches, but they were not ADHD coaches – although one of them had ADHD herself, which was helpful to how we worked together. My current therapist also has ADHD, and it makes a big difference to not have to overly explain yourself or pay to educate someone about ADHD. I now have an autism coach who is also very helpful. In terms of actual ADHD coaching, I’d like to try a group coaching approach I think – it’s on my list of things to do.
You created the hashtag #ADHDAutism on Twitter. Tell me more about what prompted you to create the hashtag.
It only became clear to me that the many-years-ago 'Aspergers' mini-diagnosis was actually true when I suffered a trauma, a major meltdown, and debilitating Autistic Burnout. That is definitely learning the hard way, do not recommend! I already had confirmed the ADHD diagnosis a few years previously, but not having taken the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) one seriously landed me in a crisis situation. I then started studying about both obsessively and trying to figure out where one stopped and the other started, as well as how they fit together with my own particular spiky skills. At the same time, there were many in the Neurodivergent community on Twitter wondering if they had both, so I impulsively (ADHD!) just squished them together, so we could all learn more from each other’s lived experiences.
What would you say are the commonalities with ADHD and Autism?
I believe they're like close cousins, some people think they're even together under a larger umbrella or extended spectrum. They commonly share things like executive dysfunction, poor working memory, communication challenges, focus (too much/too little), missing social cues, etc.
What advice would you give to someone with ADHD who think might be Autistic as well?
My primary advice, always, in this situation is to listen to the voices of #ActuallyAutistic people, particularly those who are the same age, gender, late diagnosis status, etc. Listen to their experiences of autism rather than reading articles or studies, which aren't very accessible in terms of 'seeing yourself' in them. You might have always wondered if you were autistic or you might never have even thought of it -- either way, if it resonates for you, dive right into studying all about it. If you have the resources, time, and inclination to pursue a professional diagnosis, I've seen how that can be helpful for some people. If you don't, self-diagnosis is fully valid and learning more about yourself can only be helpful in terms of how you interact with the larger Neurotypical world and practice the kinds of specific self-care that you need as an Autistic person.
Which ADHD trait do you like the most and which ADHD trait do you dislike the most?
I really have enjoyed and benefited from my ability to see the big picture and connect ideas that don't naturally go together, as well as to creatively problem-solve with endless new ideas. The thing that has always been hardest for me is emotional dysregulation and Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD). Adding impulsive ADHD to RSD is a recipe for some big blurts and a few actual meltdowns.
Some people refer to ADHD as their superpower. Is ADHD a superpower for you?
As much as I like some aspects, it isn't a superpower for me. It's a disability that requires accommodations or I will inevitably do something wrong and it will not likely be met with grace or forgiveness. In a neuronormative world, I need support to be at my best, and that is the definition of disability for me. I think it could be a superpower for any of us if we have the right supports and opportunities, so I still hold out hope based on that. The neurodiversity movement is still nascent but it gives me a glimpse of what could be.
To keep up to date with Dee’s tweets on ADHD and Autism, you can follow her on Twitter: @ADDeeCee
Rach, with ADHD.