Month: May 2023

An Open Door

Close-up image of an open door.

By Yamila García

Some changes are coming in my life, and having to adapt to something new is always a great challenge for me. I don’t usually get along with changes, but I recognize that they are necessary. I have talked before about being able to recognize when we need support, but I always find it difficult to put it into practice. I have this illogical idea that I “should” be able to handle everything. But no, I can’t, and that’s why this time I asked for help.

I will take a class in the summer simultaneous to those changes that I mentioned before. I know how those changes will affect me. I know I’m going to feel like I’m floating, without anything to hold on to, and that it’s going to take me a while to adjust. I know that this class is going to be a bigger challenge than it would be in times of stability. I contacted my professor, explained my difficulties in adapting to changes, mentioned that I usually take the first few weeks to adapt and end up missing the opportunity to learn, and expressed how uncertainty doesn’t help me adapt more easily.

I asked my professor for the class syllabus and any additional resources they could offer to help me prepare. My professor not only responded immediately but also showed extraordinary kindness and understanding. They sent me the syllabus and slides from previous semesters and expressed that even though they are not neurodivergent, they understand and strive to make their classes inclusive for everyone, regardless of their needs, abilities, and interests. Additionally, my professor offered to meet with me to discuss additional ways to support me in the class and showed their full and complete support.

I understand that professors like mine seek to understand, gather information, and make themselves available to help others, making their path easier. I know they do it consciously and with the intention to support, but even so, the impact they have on students is much greater than they can imagine. I have thought a lot about how this makes me feel, and I believe the best way to express it is that it feels like “an open door.” In many classes, I feel like I’m looking through a small window from the outside, trying to grasp something of what’s happening inside. But in this class, I already feel like I’m being invited to learn and that my presence is welcome. It feels as if my professor has truly opened the door for me and said, “Here is a place for you too. Here, you are not a nuisance or something that bothers me.” If there are professors who, without being neurodivergent, can demonstrate this sensitivity toward students who function differently, I believe that at this point, not being this way is simply a choice.

No One’s Path is Linear

A woman holds a walking stick as she prepares to walk through the desert.

By Yamila García

Over time we all learn how to handle some of our difficulties. Sometimes we do it so well that they are no longer so hard. Other times, those struggles continue to accompany us throughout our lives. Many of the difficulties we learn to handle also depend on the situations in which we find ourselves. Therefore, it is common to see them reappear. In specific situations in which various aspects of our lives are not in order, struggles that we thought we had under control reappear and are more difficult for us to handle. It’s not that we relapsed, it’s not that we took a step back or unlearned something. It is simply that we are human and we rely not only on our knowledge to function but also on our state of mind and general well-being. I know that ideal conditions rarely occur, but when I talk about complex situations, I am not referring to simple everyday difficulties, but to those moments where all the problems seem to come together at the same time in our lives. In those moments new needs appear.

These needs that appear are are what we need to do to continue to function and go through the situation we are going through. They are a kind of temporary need, which we do not require all the time but which sometimes, given the difficulty of our current reality, become essential to be able to do what we should or want to do. And when these needs appear, many times they also come with a feeling of guilt. We blame ourselves for needing support we thought we didn’t need anymore, we shame ourselves for having to ask for help or not being able to do something we think we “should be able to.” However, this is part of our learning as well. It’s hard to recognize our limitations, I know, but much harder is to pretend we can do something when we really can’t, at least right now. Our value goes far beyond what we can do today, but we are also much more than the sum of the achievements and defeats achieved so far. We are not a mathematical formula and no one’s path is linear. It shouldn’t be. It wouldn’t make sense if it were. Ask for help when you are struggling. That won’t take away value or merit from your struggle and learning. You will still be as valuable as you are. We all need a push eventually.

The Power of Understanding

By Yamila García

Recently, I have been fortunate to experience the value of the support of others. I want to tell you about 2 particular situations that made me see how necessary it is for others to know about our needs as neurodivergents and also gave me hope about how everything can continue to improve.

The first situation occurred with someone I met a short time ago but who is also neurodivergent. From the moment we met we saw many similarities between us and I quickly felt comfortable with her. Over time we both told each other about our differences and it was clear why we understood each other. At one point, a somewhat overwhelming climate was generated in a place where we were, with a lot of noise and external stimuli. She, without me saying anything, realized that I felt overwhelmed and brought her phone closer to me with a texture strip on the back that she uses for soothing. Not only did this get me through the moment, but it made me feel so good to know that someone sees what’s going on and understands without having to explain. You have no idea how significant that was to me, since I grew up believing that we all perceived things the same way but that I was just weaker than the rest of the world. Seeing that someone was able to recognize an overload of stimuli in me felt like one of those tight hugs from the people you love the most.

The other situation occurred with someone I’ve known for a long time and who, despite having communicated my struggles to him, did not seem to really understand how that felt to me. Since he isn’t neurodivergent, I think it is difficult for him to associate external stimuli that are not harmful to him, with something that does me harm. However, this time, when someone was showing me something on his cell phone with a very high volume, I felt that someone was watching me. At that moment, he asked to lower the volume and I smiled. If you’re wondering why I didn’t ask him to turn the volume down, I wonder the same thing myself. I think maybe it’s the habit of masking and hiding anything so as not to expose my differences. Clearly, I do it without realizing it. Anyway, the point is that this person for the first time saw that I was struggling with something and linked it to the correct stimulus that was causing me to overload.

This was only possible thanks to education. We need to continue educating those close to us so that they can understand us. I don’t think there are people who like to make others feel uncomfortable (well maybe yes, but they won’t be the majority). The more we talk about how we perceive the world, the more situations like this we will have. Those who don’t see the world like us neurodivergents won’t understand if we don’t tell them. I know that sometimes it is not easy to speak, especially for fear of prejudice and for the habit of masking, but it is necessary and it can only benefit us in the long run.