Nonspecifically Neurodivergent

Epistemic status: Seems legit.

Hermeneutical Status: I think this is useful? It’s useful to me and other people seem to think it’s useful to them.

Here’s a joke for you: Suppose you take subclinical manifestations of about six different recognised conditions and disorders and mix them together, what do you get?

Speaking from personal experience, what you get is very annoyed.

I’ve started using the term “nonspecifically neurodivergent” to describe myself recently. Other people have been saying that the term also resonates with them, so I thought it would be useful to write it up in order to make it more broadly available.

What does it mean to be nonspecifically neurodivergent? Well, roughly the feeling I’m trying to capture here is normal people are really weird.

The goal here is not to describe any particular aspect of how our brains work, but instead the shared experience of whether you get to reliably assume other people’s brains work like your own.

Roughly what I wanted is a term that would capture how I feel in the following two conversations patterns:

Neurotypical: *tells amusing story about themselves, a bartender, and a goat*

Me: Hmm. I see, I see. There’s one bit I didn’t understand… could you back up to the thing where you assumed that all of their minds worked exactly like yours and that didn’t stress you out in any way?

NT: Huh? Which bit was that?

Me: Literally all of it.


More or less any neurodivergent person: *describes some aspect of their lived experience that most people would find deeply strange*

Me: Hmm. I do not necessarily share this experience but yes that seems like a sensible model of how brains work. Good. Carry on.

I can describe specific ways in which my brain is weird (Objection: my brain isn’t weird, normal people’s brains are weird! Counter-objection: Unfortunately weird is a consensus term and I’m outvoted), but often the most salient part of my experience not the specifics, but instead the fact it’s weird at all: it works in ways that require a high degree of effort to relate to the experience of people around me, in both directions.

One of the nice things about realising this as a pattern is that it makes a lot of sense out of who is and isn’t an easy person for me to have conversations with. If the other party does not have this experience then not only do I have to carry the load of translation, the very fact that I am doing that will be counted as a mark against me. If we both know that translation is required, it just becomes part of how we talk to each other and that’s fine.

To some extent this is just an aspect of the experience of neurodivergence, but I think “nonspecifically” adds something to it, which is that I feel much more comfortable self-describing as “nonspecifically neurodivergent” than I do “neurodivergent”. It captures two important aspects for me:

  1. I do not have, and probably am never going to bother to acquire, anything in the way of a formal diagnosis. It’s possible I don’t even clear any of the thresholds that would be required for such.
  2. What is important in this particular context is the aggregate effect more than any specific manifestation.

I don’t know if this is a particularly good term to be using, but it’s been helping me, and other people I’ve talked to about it seem to instantly get it and also find it helpful, so until something better comes along I’m probably going to keep using it.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .

One thought on “Nonspecifically Neurodivergent

  1. Jessica D Alexander

    Yes, this seems useful indeed. I am glad you are writing and sharing your experiences. I appreciate your insights. Thank you.

Comments are closed.