Lived Experience: Why it matters, deciding whether to disclose it, and finding a psychologist with it.
By coming out as neurodivergent, you become part of the change. You publicly own it, you become a shining light for other neurodivergent people who might be too scared, too ashamed or too unsafe to do the same. You become a force that says "I acknowledge the state of things, I acknowledge I shouldn't have to do this, AND yet, I'm here, I'm neuroqueer, and I'm used to it. One day you could be too." Neurodivergent people shouldn't 'have' to come out any more than gay or trans people should have to. And some literally can't. But it is the coming out that makes the change. Without Pride and Mardi Gras - both of which should never have been 'necessary' - the LGBTQIA+ community would still be where they were. They'd be riddled with shame, discrimination, abuse; there's no way Gen Z would be where they are with fluidity and self-exploration if the people who came before them only advocated from behind hetero-presenting masks. It took 'loud and proud' for LGBTQIA+ people in the closet to find some self-acceptance and self-ownership they could look up to. The same has been the case for people living in larger bodies. Look at Taryn Brumfitt. Her reversed before and after photo shouldn't have been necessary - but it was necessary because fatphobia exists in the world. How can we change fatphobia without neutral and positive exposure to body fat? Taryn chose to be part of that change, which required a certain kind of ownership over her own body - an "I'm not scared of my body, it is what it is, and here it is" kind of ownership. She could have lost everything by doing that. It was a huge risk, and she did face a lot of negativity in doing it. But doesn't that just highlight her reason for doing it in the first place? Taryn could have just spread her body acceptance message while she was still bodybuilding, but instead, she decided to accept her body and acknowledge, not just with words, but with complete embodiment, that fatphobia is wrong. She allowed her body to find its natural state and that's what she publicly embraced. That's what she put out into the world, and despite all of the risk, she helped others to see that a healthy and happy body is an okay thing to be okay with. Now, Taryn has been named Australian of the year for 2023 and her body image movement reaches millions around the globe. The truth is, people in larger bodies never catch a break from fatphobia. And If people in larger bodies can't catch a break, then neither can people in smaller bodies - because both end up fearing fatness. The same goes for neurodivergent people. Those who can't mask never catch a break from ableism. And if neurodivergent people who can't mask can't catch a break, then neither can people who do mask - because both end up fearing neurodivergence. That's the stigma cycle, and it's fuelled by a world that constantly convinces its minorities that something is wrong with them. That's why people in larger bodies needed Taryn Brumfitt to publicly own her real body, and that's why neurodivergent people need their own advocates who can do the same. People need to see the acceptance happening in front of them, undeniable and blatant, in those who are actually living in and embracing bodies and brains just like their own. They crave that. Don't we all? That's why proudly disclosed lived experience will always be the most powerful liberator of any stigmatised minority. There is a lot of power in someone standing up and personally demonstrating, to whoever wants to know: "Yeah, this is me. This is exactly who I am, and I see no reason to hide." But, there are only a handful of Autistic and ADHD people, public figures, and professionals who are able to do that on a public scale right now. They are sharing perspectives that are real, they are setting the record straight on many false, neurotypical-endorsed and neurotypical-led narratives about the neurodivergent community, and they are part of the reason why the conversation is safe enough to have, and powerful enough to gain traction. It has not been without risk for them, either - they could have lost so much: public respect, safety, their careers, their rights, certain freedoms, and they still could! Coming out with lived experience is not all sunshine, lollipops and workplace accommodations - not in a world with so much stigma. Yet, without those Autistic & ADHD professionals and public figures who have outed themselves with pride, like Greta Thunberg, Hannah Gadsby, Chris Rock, Wentworth Miller, Chloe Hayden, etc, the entire movement would be a lot harder and slower, and maybe non-existent. If no-one came out, there would be no examples of actually Autistic or actually ADHD people liking themselves and setting the record straight about their experience. Shame would be everywhere, and change would be nothing more than a nice idea. So yes, those who have disclosed their lived experience have done, and are doing, a world of good for the neurodivergent community. Should you do the same? Only you get to decide that. If you can come out; if it's safe enough for you to do, if you want to be part of the change in that way, if you are aware of the risks and you have ways to protect yourself, if you are passionate about change, and if lived experience is part of the reason why you are so passionate, then maybe there is something in self-disclosure for you. But if you're not ready, then trust that you are doing everything you can from where you are, and you can find your own way to help the change along. You can come out (or not) in your own time. Noone has any right to make you feel pressured either way. People who disclose their lived experience are undeniably the biggest drivers of positive for their communities, and at the same time, they are some of the most vulnerable people around because of it. Many people and professionals, including psychologists, are somewhere in-between right now: wanting to be part of the change and doing their bit wherever they can, while grappling with the decision to come out, struggling with the fact that it even has to be a decision at all, and continuing to live the neurodivergent experience every day, while being overlooked and occasionally even dismissed by those who assume they are not neurodivergent. It's a reflection of the times; not every person in a larger body can be Taryn Brumfitt, and not every neurodivergent person can be Chloe Hayden. But every member of a minority - out or not - has valid lived experience which they can pay forward however they choose. If you're looking for a professional near you who has neurodivergent lived experience, they're probably closer than you think. You know how you can find them? Look for the passion, the interest, and the desire to be part of the conversation. Here's to change.