The best thing about my Autism diagnosis? … the instantaneous feeling I had of absolutely having “arrived home”. The worst thing about my Autism diagnosis? … the secondary [and also almost instantaneous] feeling of recognising immediate ableism.
Seriously, the ableism was everywhere. And as soon as you’re catapulted into a minority group following diagnosis … you learn, you unlearn, you relearn, and you subsequently see the ableism everywhere and it’s a wild ride that has often made me feel so angry before I’m able to move into something more constructive [more constructive meaning advocacy, but the advocacy is … tiring].
With all of that said, constructive advocacy for me looks like using my platform and its influence to speak candidly about my personal and professional experiences of being an Autistic Mother, wife, sister, friend and CEO of The Digital Picnic … and the candour that I speak with online has genuinely played a role in others’ learning from my lived experience as a neurodiverse woman.
On today’s blog? I want to walk you through the almost-affirmative statements I’ve had to develop [slash “rules of play”] in order to overcome the many ableist things I’ve encountered as an Autistic business owner.
Are you ready to go on the journey with me?
I’m not oversharing, I’m sharing … which is how neurodiverse people connect [and almost the only way we know how].
This one has been a huge one for me, tbh.
The majority of the people who choose to connect with TDP [and the content we share online] do so because they’re really attracted to the radically transparent way in which we share … and then there’s a really small minority [<1%] who mock us [me] for the way I [and therefore we] share content online.
I won’t share specific examples [because f*ck giving that air time], but it’s generally along the lines of “why would she share that?”, or “how could she share that?”, or “that’s an overshare that shouldn’t have made its way online”, or “you’re sharing this because you’re toxic, but you don’t realise this about yourself”.
Let me answer the above really simply;
Why would she share that: because I’m Autistic, and sharing is how I connect.
How could she share that: because I’m Autistic, and sharing like this is how I connect.
That’s an overshare: to you? Yes. But what oversharing is to you [and your brain], is simply sharing to my brain and the unique way in which it’s wired. Not one part of my rainbow brain with its 1,000 extra connections registers what you deem to be an “overshare” as anything other than … sharing. To connect. If I were to censor my brain to suit a neurotypicals’ censor on what is [over]sharing, I would be masking. And masking leads to Autistic burnout, and you, uh, don’t want that for an Autistic person [I promise].
You’re sharing this because you’re toxic: no, I’m sharing this because I’m Autistic, and sharing like this [truthfully, and often very literally, and almost always without apology or scaffolding] is how I connect. I can’t change this about me, but – more importantly – nor do I want to.
In a nutshell? The same way you share that feels right to you [and for you], is exactly what neurodiverse humans are doing when they share in a way that feels right to them [and for them].
Just like I don’t judge what you share [which – admittedly – has my neurodiverse brain sometimes thinking, “but where is the heart? And where is the soul? And where is the depth?”], please don’t judge when I [over]share … because I’ve deliberately placed that “over” in square brackets, as the “over” in the word overshare only exists to you [and not me, and nor does it exist within my brain].
When you shame a neurodivergent person for oversharing? … you’re shaming us for – quite literally – the way we’re wired, i.e sharing to connect.
I can’t “just try harder”, I have executive functioning challenges.
Ever been writing copy with a fly buzzing around a window near you? How annoying is that buzzing, yea? How much are you just not able to concentrate on the thing that you’re doing, because all you can focus on is the buzzing?
… imagine that same fly buzzing around. But it’s buzzing around in your head. Welcome to my neurodiverse mind, where no amount o’ swatting, or Mortein, or Mr. Miyagi’ing ever gets rid of that fly [nor the buzzing].
For neurodiverse people? It’s never about “trying harder” and always about trying to keep the most important things at the forefront of our brains, whilst simultaneously swatting buzzy flies away. Like, 24/7.
… Ritalin helps, though [and I take it daily].
I’m not “dumb”, I have Dyscalculia.
I’m pretty sure this word didn’t exist when I was young, but I wish it did … because it would have explained so much, and had it been properly understood? Some pretty basic accommodations could’a been put in place to ensure that I didn’t walk out of maths feeling the way I almost always felt.
Whilst this word exists now, it was still underlined as being spelt ‘incorrect’ when I typed it into this Google doc, despite being spelt correctly [meaning it’s still not really recognised].
But it’s real.
Dyscalculia is a learning disorder that slows down calculation processes [meaning I basically stand at a counter hoping to God a cashier has figured out the change I am owed properly, because I sure as heck can’t in 0.0005 seconds]. It doesn’t mean calculation processes aren’t possible for those living with Dyscalculia … it just means that we need more time [quite a lot, actually], as well as different remedial tools to help us get there.
In the early days of TDP? I remember a point where we were about to engage accounting support for the business, and the person we were looking to engage ended up turning their back to me throughout most of that first meeting [they’d figured out that my business partner was able to grasp the concepts they were presenting quicker than I was, and so I subsequently became pretty “redundant” in that meeting … and for the remainder of that working relationship, actually].
The impacts of this? Finances ended up not being “allowed” to be my responsibility: at all.
When my business partnership ended, finances obviously became my area because it was now [solely] my business. I had – by that time – begun working with a neuroaffirmative accountant, who presented information to me in a way that I understood … and I subsequently took TDP from being an unprofitable/mostly-in-debt business, to a multi-million dollar agency.
I’m not “dumb”, I just have Dyscalculia … and I need mathematical/finance’y information presented to me in a really accessible and inclusive way.
When I have that? … I can actually make it “rain”, if you let me just be little-ol’-neurodiverse-me. #WhoDaThunkIt
I’m not “rogue”, I’m a visionary.
I regret this one, big time … but I let myself be called “rogue Clonan” at TDP, because it was always said with so much love [and I ended up adopting this exact phrase to describe myself to my team, regularly].
Oh that’s just rogue Clonan, rogue Clonan’ing … but within a few years? It paints the picture of a “rogue” Founder without the level of business acumen that I have [which is a lot], and it’s also pretty harmful language that has played a role in my not being able to attract buy in when I present ideas, as well as negatively impacting my desire to build the level of trust I need for my team to have in me [because who would trust a “rogue Founder”, after all].
After a lot of consideration [and a lot of sessions with a leadership consultant, as well as a confidence coach], I stopped using the word “rogue Clonan” to describe myself … and I now do my best not to allow that expression to come up again internally.
It’s a bummer, because I have a bloddy good sense of humour [and this expression was initially coined out of love, respect, and an appreciation for our good sense of humour] … but if I kept this expression going? I ultimately don’t command the respect I crave to have within this workplace [especially with new employees who don’t understand the context behind the initially fun – and funny – “rogue Clonan” story].
Mostly though? It’s actually not true … because I’m actually not “rogue”, I’m a visionary. And companies like TDP need visionaries like me to build out what I [and we] have built here. It’s not rogue [at all], it’s visionary.
Let me sit with bad or sad news a little longer, I’m rejection sensitive.
This one is an important affirmation for every ADHD’er organisational leader, because rejection sensitivity dysphoria is something you need to know of [and subsequently own, and continuously work on] so that you’re able to give yourself a longer amount of time to unpack sad [or bad] news.
I’ve recognised this area of my own neurodiversity, and subsequently worked on it [extensively so, with the view to basically continuously work on it].
Thanks to doing that? I now know how long it takes me to effectively manage perceived rejection, i.e 48 hours for something smaller, and 4-5 days for the bigger stuff where I might be sitting in so much rejection that I can feel legitimately intense rage [I’m not going to give specific examples, because that’d be unprofessional of me … but if you’re managing a growing team? You’re going to experience disappointment. For an ADHD’er? That can feel significantly more intense].
For this reason alone, I have pretty firm boundaries on how long I need to respond to particular organisational leadership’y things … so that I’ve always slept on something, and let it go through my own little ADHD’er rejection-sensitive-dysphoria-roadmap.
And when I do that? … I’m in a really constructive place.
The simplest accommodations can be the difference between disabled, and differently abled for a neurodiverse person.
And I don’t apologise for needing them now like I used to [I used to literally just about apologise for existing, and it was almost always related to needing very simple accommodations].
The right accommodations for me are the difference between feeling disabled within my workplace, to differently abled. There have been many times where my very own workplace has made me feel disabled instead of differently abled, but it’s almost always come back to my not advocating for my neurodiverse accommodations loudly [or proudly] enough.
Not any more: I’m loud, and I’m proud.
I’d love to connect.