Communication Styles in Neurodivergent People

About two weeks ago, my cousin’s husband died from SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy). He showed no signs of having experienced a seizure (no biting his tongue, for example); he simply went to bed one night and never woke up. He is bereaved by his daughter, who turned 7 years old a few days ago, and my cousin.

My cousin turned to me to talk about SUDEP. I warned her that while I knew this would be a difficult topic to discuss, I had a tendency to be very blunt about these things. But it turns out that’s exactly what she was looking for. She wanted to know the truth: Was there anything she could have done differently? And almost everyone on the planet would have told her no, because it’s the “right” answer. But she wasn’t looking for the “right” answer. She was looking for the “true” answer.

I explained that SUDEP doesn’t always follow a major seizure (it’s different than dying from status epilepticus). If the brain is like a computer, then a seizure is like a glitch, and SUDEP is like a system failure. Sometimes your screen glitches up and recovers. Sometimes it glitches and shuts down. But sometimes a broken computer just shuts down with no warning at all. In the latter case, there is nothing that could be done.

Neurodivergent people are often told that we need to be softer in our social approach — less honest, direct, blunt, or whatever you want to call it. But I’m a big believer in playing to our strengths. People with autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and other conditions have unique ways of communicating that have value. My cousin later told me that she understood my computer metaphor and it helped her, just a little bit, to begin the process of moving on with the rest of her life.

There’s nothing wrong with being a “blunt” communicator. Sometimes, that’s exactly what is needed. There are a lot of autistic people who won’t lie to you just to make you feel better, and that in itself is actually a virtue.

As for bipolar disorder, I think a lot of us have highly emotional communication styles. There are always going to be situations where this comes in handy, even if some people consider it a downside. People have always been open with me about their suicidal ideation or urges to self-harm because they knew I could take it and I would be there for them without freaking out or telling them they needed to go to the hospital if they didn’t really.

All neurodiverse people have their own styles of communicating, and they all come with benefits in the right situation. What do you think?

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