neurodiversity neurodiversity is a metaphor

The Climate of Neurodiversity

In December last year I got into a discussion on twitter about labels and specifically about whether labelling oneself as neurodivergent, (or as autistic, ADHD etc) was positive or negative.

In summary, and I apologise if I’ve misunderstood the point of view, labels made this person uncomfortable as to them they were pathologising the individual instead of the environment.

If a bunch of flowers in your garden bed withered and died, would you wonder what is wrong with the flowers? Or would you wonder if maybe they are not suitable for their growing conditions? Or maybe the soil itself is unhealthy?
first tweet in my garden thread back in december. Click through to read the full thread on twitter.

I responded in a tweet thread that you can read here if you like but you don’t need to because I’m going to write it in long-form here.

I think that discovering that you’re neurodivergent can be like finding out that your garden is in a completely different climate than other people you know.

Everyone’s garden is different. Even within the same neighbourhood you might have different soil and drainage conditions. And you can’t just follow textbook watering advice and planting schedules because everything needs to be adapted to your personal conditions…

But the climate that you’re gardening in can make some advice and recommendations completely irrelevant. Some advice and recommendations you’ll need to ignore rather than adapt. Knowing your climate helps you to find relevant help when something goes wrong.

some of my most interesting (I think!) succulents from my succulent collection

For people with trauma backgrounds we might never have had a flourishing garden. Our parents didn’t teach us how to weed or prune our brain-plants. So we can be very very reliant on teachers, friends and therapists to help us care for our minds and our brains.

So maybe people keep telling you “you need to plant your seeds inside two weeks before the last frost date and then harden your seedlings before transplanting into their final position!”

But nobody can explain what “frost” is. And when you ask people when the last frost date is likely to be some people say February or March. Or April. They encourage you to work that out for yourself because it varies from person to person! Because it depends on exactly who you are and exactly what you want to plant…

But if you live in, say, Brisbane… there is no frost. January and February are the hottest months of the year. You need a completely different set of instructions for what to plant and when.

In my real life gardening adventures I need to convert farenheit temperatures to celcius. I need to know that southern hemisphere seasons are reversed compared with the northern hemisphere and I need to know that it’s hot and humid here.

ADHD and Autism aren’t withered plants. They’re not failing gardens. They’re different climates and soil types. Following neurotypical planting dates and watering schedules is going to lead to a failing garden: because we need to follow different advice to help our gardens thrive.

close up of ferns and mosses from one of my terrariums!

And by classifying those differences we can articulate them and find relevant help when our gardens aren’t doing well. Because sometimes different problems sound similar. Sometimes different plants have the same name in different areas.

Knowing your climate is important because maybe when you mention your watering schedule other people are horrified. And you’re filled with self-doubt. Are you doing it completely wrong?

But being able to know or say “oh! well it almost never rains here at this time of year and it’s very hot so I actually do need to water my cucumber plants twice a day or they start to wilt” is a huge relief. Or to be able to say “well I mostly plant succulents and cactus so they don’t need frequent water!”.

a close up of green and black basil – some of my basil has been chomped by a grub!

Because it’s all very well for someone to tell you “just find what works for you and keep doing it!!” but when what you’re doing isn’t working you need to be able to find advice that might be helpful and not harmful. And if you say “the leaves of my plants are all droopy and floppy” people will ask “when did you last water them?” and you will say “um… like a week ago but…” and people will say “you need to water them more often!!”. But if it’s the wet season and it’s been raining every day for a week maybe your plants have root-rot and need drying out. “just water your plants!” is the wrong advice for you even though your problem looks similar to one that could be solved that way.

And when you have a label for your climate – when you have a way to say “it’s raining literally ALL THE TIME right now” you can take that into account when talking about how much to water your garden.

If you don’t know how much climates can differ you’re stuck doing trial and error against and onslaught of advice, recommendations and “common sense” that somehow just keeps making everything worse.

And you have some simple words to add to your search terms which gives you information that’s more easily adaptable to your unique garden which isn’t exactly like anyone else’s garden… but is different from typicalgardens – and similar to some other people’s gardens – in some very specific ways.

some of the succulents and cactuses in my succulent collection