Serving nerodiverse clients is a big job. Not because nerodiversity is too much, but because our society is too ignorant. I feel, it is our duty as human beings and especially as birth workers, to understand as much as we can about all of the humans we serve and their experiences. Nerodiversity is a deep and wide umbrella. To remain inclusive, accessible, and to protect our clients, we owe them, and ourselves intentional education and thought on this subject.
It is vital to gain at least a basic understanding of nerodiversity if you are serving nerodiverse clients. I would encourage all birth workers to study in this area, even if they are not catering specifically to nerodiverse clients. Many many nerodiverse people are undiagnosed, or unaware of their nerodiveristy. There are huge pools of incorrect and negative stereotypes, there are outdated policies and diagnosis criteria in too many places of care, and there is a lot of harmful bias and shame surrounding nerodiversity. Birth, for a nerodiverse person, can be very different from the nerotypical experience.
Nerodiversity is in a way, it's own language. Speaking a different language does not make a human less or more, it does not make their experiences any less valid. It does however, create a lot of barriers and challenges. Being nerodiverse in a nerotypical environment and system- is very much like speaking a different language. There are not enough interpreters. The scariest part, is that many times the healthcare system and professionals will treat the nerodiverse person as if this barrier is not real. As if they are making up the language for attention, or being willfully ignorant, difficult, or manipulative. One specific common misconception and related label for this ignorant behavior is the phrase "well everyone is a little autistic/a little OCD/etc." This couldn't be further from the truth. This phrase invalidates the nerodiverse experience in every way. There are many others, but I trust you can do your own research into the basics. They may be called the basics, but they are a very important base to building an inclusive healthy environment on this subject. Please do not skip them. Keep reading for advice on where to start.
Nerodiverse individuals are often labeled inappropriately, especially by healthcare professionals. Instead of accepting a healthy and explanatory label like autism, depression, OCD, ADHD, etc., they dismiss these, and apply their own labels. "difficult, dangerous, ignorant, manipulative, emotional, dramatic, blunt, rebellious, non compliant" are a few examples.
I can not speak for everyone but from personal experience and experience serving nerodiverse individuals, I can say that at least 90 percent of the time, if a nerodiverse person is being difficult, rebellious, or any of those things- they are confused, afraid, triggered, or all of the above.
So, what can we do to help? How can we best serve our nerodiverse clients?
Before anything else, do some research. Here are some things I urge you to dive into. The best place to learn about nerodiverse or autistic experiences, is from the people who experience them. Get on TikTok and instagram, and listen to other autistic adults. Why autistic adults? While autistic children experiences are important and valid, a child opinion and views are intertwined with their parents at these ages. Most parents of autistic children are serviced by companies and professionals who have continued to practice harmful therapies and mindsets surrounding nerodiversity, despite most autistic adults coming out and expressing how much these things damaged them as children. In order for us to truly understand what's best, we have to listen to those who have gone through it all, who have found what works for them and what doesn't. You don't have to agree, or understand everything, you just need to listen. To a wide variety of nerodiverse people.
- Adult women who are diagnosed with autism late in life
- The stereotypical and biased diagnostic criteria that prevented them from an earlier diagnosis
- Autistic stereotypes that are held up too strongly in media
- What a meltdown looks like
- Inclusive language and definitions of different nerotypes and experiences
- How racism affects nerodiverse people
- Nerodiverse people across different cultures and races
- Why most Autistic adults do not support certain therapies like aba, certain symbols like puzzle pieces, or groups like autism speaks.
- Sensory challenges and stimming
- Why autism is not a linear spectrum, but more like a color wheel
- Why functioning labels are harmful
- How empathy, skills, mathematics, and other stereotypical subjects in nerodiversity, are not one fits all, and vary from one extreme to the other just like in nerotypical people.
I would LOVE to talk with you about these things, or to help you on this path. Please message me any time, or schedule a mentorship call with me. This can help you find answers and resources, and any donations or payments will help me continue to serve on these and other very important topics.
There is not a lot of information out there specific to autistic birth, or nerodiversity and birth, and that's part of why I have been working on this series.
The most important thing to understand when serving a nerodiverse client, is that their experience should not be compared to anyone else's.
Every autistic person is different. Meaning:
The 5 year old autistic boy you know, has absolutely nothing to do with the autistic birthing person in front of you.
Don't compare them verbally or mentally. Listen to your client in front of you.
Hold space for them and their experience however they are presenting it to you. Just like we strive to avoid projecting our own birth experiences on our clients, we need to strive to avoid projecting our views, believes, and educations or experiences with nerodiversity (whether we are lacking or abundant in them.)
They may be forthcoming with their nerodiversity, or they may prefer not to include it in conversations. It is not your job to point it out, ask about it, or push them into corners because you know or suspect their nerodiversity. What you can do, is make sure your business and speech represent a safe environment for nerodiverse people publicly. This will make them more likely to share with you. Another important thing, is that if they do share it with you, they may be forthcoming with this information or withholding it from their medical providers. This is based on comfort levels, and safety precautions and is a very personal choice. Never use language they are not using for themselves, especially in relation to other professionals or birth team members.
It shouldn't have to be said, but don't treat your nerotypical clients like they are ignorant, childish, or stupid. Even if they do not communicate or operate in the way that you do. They deserve your full level of respect and attention, just as any other client. Their nerodiveristy or disability does not make them less capable, less intelligent, or less in any other way.
It is not harder to serve nerodiverse clients. It does require specific knowledge and respect though. Mostly, it requires you to get to know your client, and have professional compassionate understanding.
In some situations, you may be able to help your client bridge gaps in care and prevent trauma with this understanding. But you are not saving, fixing, or curing anything for them. You are, just as with any client, a resource.
Nerodiversity is not an illness, it does not require a cure. It is a disability only in relation to the society we live in. It is not a mental illness, though nerodiverse people are prone to mental illness.
There is a lot of information here, and its going to keep coming. In my future posts, I will be sharing more on specific situations and solutions while serving nerodiverse clients, and birthing as autistic or nerodiverse individuals.
For now, use this as a starting place to fuel your own self education and progress in this subject. Be openminded, willing to unlearn, and most of all- strive to be a safe space. Give yourself grace and forgiveness for any ignorance in the past, but know that now that you are here, hearing this from me; you need to make a choice. That choice will shoulder a responsibility. Learn, or remain ignorant. And know that your choice directly effects your clients in ways you may never see with your own eyes.
Thank you so much for reading, sharing, and striving to be a safe place for nerodiverse individuals. If you have experience on this area, if you are a nerodiverse birth worker or birther, or have a unique point of view here- reach out and offer to write a guest blog here on these topics. This space is growing with new voices. <3
-Your Wildwood Birthkeeper,
p.s. fun fact- the sunflower is a "silent" representation visual that symbolizes Autism. In airports, and in some hospitals, it is recognized and honored. This is often represented on a lanyard with sunflowers on it, or with a button or pin. When professionals who are enlightened on the subject see this, they know to act accordingly and hold space for this person even if they communicate or present pain, comfort, and needs differently.