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Left-Handedness

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Most of us know someone who uses her left hand for writing, feeding – in short – left hand dominant. While this is somewhat rare versus right-handed people like most of us, but sometimes we wonder why left-handedness occur (or why we have a dominant hand side like right-handed or left-handed).

But first let’s define handedness.

Handedness is a better (faster or more precise) performance or individual preference for use of a hand, known as the dominant hand.[1][2] This means each one of us has a dominant hand in doing skills like writing, playing an instrument, cooking, carrying a light object using one hand, feeding, etc. We can be either right-handed where our right hand is stronger or left-handed where our left hand is stronger. Some people can have both hands that are dominant i.e. can write legibly using both right and left hands – that is called ambixterity and some people can do tasks perfectly using one hand side and other tasks on the other hand side. These people have cross-handedness.

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Handedness is the hand used for activities that require a lot of practice and fine motor skills (e.g. writing) or the coordination of large muscle groups to carry out smooth actions (e.g. throwing a ball), both of which are activities employing many neurons in the brain and requiring tightly concentrated and specialized neurological wiring.[3]

Aside from the four types of handedness mentioned above, another may be considered as a type of handedness though it can be more of a disability. It is called ambilevous (or ambisinistrous) handedness[3] where people have equally poor dexterity (are equally clumsy), with both hands. This is a very rare occurrence, usually resulting from a debilitating physical condition[3] like dysgraphia

Most people (90% of the world’s population) are right-handed with approximately 60% of people being strongly right-handed (performing ALL activities with the right hand).[3] Around 10% (possibly more) of the world’s population falls into this category, although only perhaps 3% are strongly left-handed (performing ALL activities with the left hand). Cross-dominant people are slightly more common at 35% while ambidextrous people are only 1% of the world’s population.

While right-handedness may be considered the”normal” type of handedness, much wonder is made why there are left-handed people and other hand dominances.

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Image courtesy of learning4kids.net. This girl is right-handed. She uses her right hand to put the sring to the cylinder.

Why is there left-handedness?

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Image courtesy of The Independent. This is a left-handed person. He uses his left hand to write.

Different theories present a reason for hand dominance. One is is called the Division of Labor theory where since people’s speaking and handiwork require fine motor skills, its presumption is that it would be more efficient to have one brain hemisphere do both, rather than having it divided up. Since in most people, the left side of the brain controls speaking, right-handedness predominates. This theory also predicts that left-handed people have a reversed brain division of labor.[1][4]

How is this?

We know that our brains has two hemispheres, the left and right. Each hemisphere controls every activity we do. In right-handed people verbal processing takes place in the left hemisphere, whereas visuospatial processing is mostly done in the opposite hemisphere. Left-handed individuals have a heterogeneous brain organization in which their brain hemisphere is either organized in the same way as right-handers (but with the hemispheres reversed) or even such that both hemispheres are used for verbal processing.[1][4]

In short right-handed people have their motor skills done in the right hemisphere and speech at the left hemisphere while left-handed people have their brains reversed that’s why their left hand is more dominant.

Genetics is an obvious factor. Chances are if one or both your parents or someone in your immediate family or relatives is left-handed you will be left-handed also.

Penatal exposure to a drug called diethylstilbestrol (a synthetic estrogen-based fertility drug) can be a contributing factor to left-handedness in males. A 2003 study endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control determine that males with in-utero exposure to this drug are more likely to be left-handed[1][5] than those who were not exposed to it.

Presentation of the baby’s head during last trimester of pregnancy can also determine handedness. About two-thirds of fetuses present with their left occiput (back of the head) at birth. This partly explains why prematurity results in a decrease in right-handedness. Previc argues that asymmetric prenatal positioning creates asymmetric stimulation of the vestibular system, which is involved in the development of handedness.[1] People with reduced right-handedness may have either delay or anomaly in their vestibular system.[1][6] This is called prenatal vestibular asymmetry.

Ultrasound can also contribute to left-handedness. It may affect the brains of unborn children, causing higher rates of left-handedness in children whose mothers received ultrasounds during pregnancy. Research on this topic suggests there may exist a weak association between ultrasound screening (sonography used to check on the healthy development of the fetus and mother during pregnancy) and non-right-handedness.[1][7]

How common are left-handed people and how they are in everyday life?

Since right-handedness is the common hand dominance, left-handed people find it quite difficult to adjust to the right-handed world. From classroom armchairs and spiral notebooks to vehicles with steering wheels at the right side, that presents some problems if you’re left-handed. Many objects like scissors can be a struggle for left-handed folks since scissors are usually made for the right-handed.[8] Even in socialization lefties (left-handed people in short, just my coined term) have some sort of a problem like when shaking hands or giving high fives[8] especially with a right-handed person.

Left-handed people are also stereotyped. In fact, a Psychology Today article explains some of the stereotypes lefties have. Left-handed people are thought to be intelligent.[9] There are anecdotal accounts of artists and musicians tending to be left-handed, an observation given wings by the overly simplistic notion that the right-hemisphere (which controls the left hand) is the seat of creativity.[9] But as psychologist Chris McManus explains in his award-winning book Right Hand Left Hand, “although there are recurrent claims of increased creativity in left-handers, there is very little to support the idea in the scientific literature.”[9]

Left-handed people also are said to have weaker immune system and die earlier.[9] But that is only based on a statistical research of left-handed athletes who have died young.[9] Like the myth of left-handed smartness, this theory is also a myth.

This is a fact. Left-handers are less likely to be left-hemisphere dominant for language.[9] In the vast majority of the population, language function is nearly always localised to the left hemisphere.[9] Among right-handers, left-sided dominance for language approaches upwards of 95 per cent prevalence. However, among left-handed people this drops to 70 per cent, with the others either having language localised to the right hemisphere, or spread evenly across both hemispheres.[9]

In terms of income, there is no clear correlation of left-handedness to salary. One study claimed that lefties earned 10 to 15% more than their right-handed counterparts.[1][10] But a 2014 US study  published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Harvard economist Joshua Goodman finds that left-handed people earn 10 to 12 percent less over the course of their lives than right-handed people.[1]

Left-handers are said to be common interactive sports like tennis, badminton and cricket.[1] Fencing has a lot of left-handers.[1][11] And lefties have an advantage over right-handed people in these sports. How?

Here’s a quote from Wikipedia.

The advantage to players in one-on-one sports, such as tennis, boxing, fencing or judo, is that, in a population containing perhaps 10% left-handers and 90% right-handers, the left-hander plays 90% of his or her games against right-handed opponents and is well-practiced at dealing with this asymmetry. Right-handers play 90% of their games against other right-handers. Thus, when confronted with left-handers, they are less practiced. When two left-handers compete against each other, they are both likely to be at the same level of practice as when right-handers play other right-handers. This explains why a disproportionately high number of left-handers are found in sports in which direct one-on-one action predominates.[1]

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Image courtesy of mirror.co.uk. Rafael Nadal is an example of a left-handed tennis player.

When it comes to distribution among genders, left-handedness is said to be more common in homosexuals and asexuals (people who have no sexual preference or never become attracted to any person in a romantic or sexual way).[1]

Left-handedness is also common among sexual paraphilias (people with uncommon way of sexual arousal like fetishes or sadomasochism).[1]

If this is so, why is there discrimination to left-handed people?

Because of the presentation that left-handers have, they usually face more discrimination especially in the past. They are discriminated the way autistics, slaves, and women were discriminated before. Many tools and procedures are designed to facilitate use by right-handed people, often without even realizing difficulties placed on the left-handed. John W. Santrock has written, “For centuries, left-handers have suffered unfair discrimination in a world designed for right-handers.”[1][12]

Before Industrial Revolution (when modern technology started to develop), all tools are made for right-handed people without consideration for left-handed people. Writing before was made for right-handers also using ink blot pens. When ink blot is used with left hand, stains and blotches occur[1], making the left handers more clumsy and inadequate making them prejudiced for a long time.

Languages do also refer left as wrong and right as right. Wikipedia quotes the following paragraph regarding repressing left.[1]

Moreover, apart from inconvenience, left-handed people have been considered unlucky or even malicious for their difference by the right-handed majority. In many European languages, including English, the word for the direction “right” also means “correct” or “proper”. Throughout history, being left-handed was considered negative.[1]

In French, gauche means both “left” and “awkward” or “clumsy”, while droit(e) (cognate to English direct and related to “adroit”) means both “right” and “straight”, as well as “law” and the legal sense of “right”. The name “Dexter” derives from the Latin for “right”, as does the word “dexterity” meaning manual skill. As these are all very old words, they would tend to support theories indicating that the predominance of right-handedness is an extremely old phenomenon.

That is really discriminating though. The worse is left-handedness was associated with black magic (witchcraft) hence called left-hand path.[1][13]

Discrimination still exists up to this day, but let us remember that left-handed people are just a variation of hand dominance just like variation of hair color like blonde or black.

Left-handedness Advantage

Nevertheless, being left-handed has advantages do like being good at sports stated above. Aside from this some more advantages of being left-handed are enumerated below[14]:

Lefties have a greater chance of being a genius- or having a high IQ. Researchers aren’t sure why, but those who are left handed seem to make up a disproportionately large part of those who are highly intelligent. For example, twenty percent of all Mensa members are left-handed.[14]

Left handed people adjust more easily to seeing underwater. Bizarre as it may sound, one of the benefits of being left handed is being able to adjust more easily to see the world around you when you’re underwater. While you may not need this ability very often, it could come in handy if you live by the sea or enjoy swimming.[14

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(C) Disney. Does Sebastian think of Ariel as left-handed?

Lefties are better able to multitask. One of the advantages of being left-handed is that it forces your brain to think more quickly. What this means for everyday life is that those who are lefties may find it easier to multi-task and deal with a large, sometimes unorganized stream of information.[14]

More advantages of left-handers are some of them have sharper memories, left-handed stroke patients are able to survive more than their right-handed counterparts, and also they are better in playing video games.[14] The reason is not so known but maybe because  lefties need to train both their left and right brain hemispheres, which means more brain power.

Left-handed people are also visual thinkers making ideal for an artistic occupation[14] like in arts programs.

Can left-handedness be part of neurodiversity?

Yes. Just like dyslexia and Asperger’s syndrome, left-handedness is just another brain outcome representation and absolutely not a malady that needs to be corrected. After all, left-handedness add color to human brain variety.

Reference:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handedness
  2. Holder, M.K. What does Handedness have to do with Brain Lateralization (and who cares?). Retrieved 11 August 2012.
  3. http://www.rightleftrightwrong.com/what.html
  4. Banich, Marie (1997). Neuropsychology: The Neural Bases of Mental Function.
  5. Titus-Ernstoff, L. (2003). “Psychosexual Characteristics of Men and Women Exposed Prenatally to Diethylstilbestrol”. CDC.
  6. Nonright-handedness, central nervous system and related pathology, and its lateralization: A reformulation and synthesis.
  7. Salvesen, K. Å. (1 September 2011). “Ultrasound in pregnancy and non-right handedness: meta-analysis of randomized trials”. Ultrasound in Obstetrics & Gynecology 38 (3): 267–271. doi:10.1002/uog.9055.
  8. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/08/13/lefthanded-problems_n_5674374.html
  9. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-myths/201303/three-myths-and-three-facts-about-left-handers
  10. Waldfogel, Joel (August 16, 2006). “Sinister and Rich: The evidence that lefties earn more”. Slate
  11. Diana Widermann, Robert A. Barton, and Russel A. Hill. Evolutionary perspectives on sport and competition. In Roberts, S. C. (2011). Roberts, S. Craig, ed. “Applied Evolutionary Psychology”. Oxford University Press.doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199586073.001.0001.ISBN 9780199586073.
  12. Santrock, John W. (2008). Motor, Sensory, and Perceptual Development. Mike Ryan [Ed.], A Topical Approach to Life-Span Development(pgs.172–205). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left-hand_path_and_right-hand_path
  14. http://www.anythinglefthanded.co.uk/being-lh/lh-info/advantages.html#sthash.I43eZA0j.dpbs

 

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Emotional Intelligence in Neurodiversity

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Happy Hearts Day! Hmm, want your heart to be happy? Have a high emotional intelligence. Eh??

It’s a happy Valentines’ Day to all. Yeah it’s kinda sweet this mushy season especially if you’re with someone special. Oh, it’s quite common in neurodiversity to find a someone special. Believe me. But, like me, am six years single since my last relationship and haven’t found another one, it’s okay. Don’t fret. Don’t be jealous. Maybe for us neurodiverse people (and all people of course) we need to learn more about emotional and social intelligence before we worry about finding that special someone.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ) is the knowledge of awareness and dealing with emotions or feelings. It is the capability of individuals to recognize their own, and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.[1]

Usually most people do acquire emotional intelligence as they learn to navigate the world from their childhood ie by slowly learning to control their feelings like learning to delay gratification by not whining or throwing tantrums as they get older. Or when they become adults they try to calm down when being nagged by an angry employer or lover and not just shout back and curse them unless they cause so much harm or have an emergency situation.

Now, the problem with neurodiverse people, people with learning disabilities and developmental disorders and people with extremes in intelligence, their emotional intelligence is usually less developed than most people or the typically developing people. Why is this that so? Because these people usually has atypical or not so usual brain development ie too rapid cognitive development like giftedness, errors in brain chemicals that govern the brain and its activities like in ADHD or lack of theory of mind or the ability to read other people in cases of autism spectrum disorders, these can cause less development of the emotional intelligence.

What is the implication of the lack of EQ to neurodiverse people?

The thing here is because neurodiverse people have less developed EQs, their dealing with emotions is much harder to control. Let’s give child prodigies as example. Usually parents of child prodigies just harness their children’s area of gift (usually classical music or math) and they train these kids harshly as if they’re robots that do nothing but practice all day or study without teaching them to be more aware of themselves – their strengths and weaknesses. Now prodigies do excel in their gifts, but that cannot be sustained. Why? Because these kids tend to become their own uinverse thanks to parents who want them to be always the winner and being a loser means they’re rubbish and a loser anyway, they tend to lash out when they lose or may become withdrawn and quiet, not able to deal with their own emotions. This is not good as it can result in having emotional problems later on in life.

People in neurodiversity have more problems picking up and understanding emotions but this is not due to their laziness or sort but because of the brain structure. In children in ADHD, some brain parits are actually smaller than the brains of children without ADHD. Overall rain size is generally 5% smaller in affected children than children without ADHD.[2] This means that the part of brain dealing with emotions is somewhat less developed. This makes children with ADHD less attuned with their own feelings and just blurt out hurtful words or become too emotional that is not appropriate for their age ie a middle schooler throwing tantrums and behaving like a 2-year-old.

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Image courtesy of quotesgram.com. Oh! this dog is too cranky. People with lower EQ have much more tendency to be cranky all of the time especially when they can’t get  what they want.

What are the complications of having a low EQ?

Psychological problems may arise from not being aware of their feelings. they may become more obsessed with numbing their emotions by having a vice (illegal drugs, casual sex)  or become more dependent too other people (as security blanket – hmm I’m guilty of this as I used my mom as my security blanket to hide my emotional inadequacy). Also, by not being aware of your emotions, you’ll also never to learn to be aware and support other people’s feelings. You become more selfish and childish in your ways just trying to consider only yourself not other people. That is so bad. People will get avoid and dislike you, which si the reason why a lot of neurodiverse people are single or have turbulent relationship history.

Not good right? Now, what are the characteristics of people with high emotional intelligence and how neurodiverse people can learn from them?

Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist, developed a framework of five elements that define emotional intelligence[3]:

  1. Self-Awareness – People with high EI are usually very self-aware . They understand their emotions, and because of this, they don’t let their feelings rule them. They’re confident – because they trust their intuition and don’t let their emotions get out of control.[4]
  2. Self-Regulation – This is the ability to control emotions and impulses. People who self-regulate typically don’t allow themselves to become too angry or jealous, and they don’t make impulsive, careless decisions. They think before they act. Characteristics of self-regulation are thoughtfulness, comfort with change,integrity , and the ability to say no.[4]
  3. Motivation – People with a high degree of EI are usually motivated . They’re willing to defer immediate results for long-term success. They’re highly productive, love a challenge, and are very effective in whatever they do.[4]
  4. Empathy – This is perhaps the second-most important element of EI. Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around you. People with empathy are good at recognizing the feelings of others, even when those feelings may not be obvious. As a result, empathetic people are usually excellent at managing relationships , listening , and relating to others. They avoid stereotyping and judging too quickly, and they live their lives in a very open, honest way.[4]
  5. Social Skills – It’s usually easy to talk to and like people with good social skills, another sign of high EI. Those with strong social skills are typically team players. Rather than focus on their own success first, they help others develop and shine. They can manage disputes, are excellent communicators, and are masters at building and maintaining relationships.[4]

All these five are needed in order to have a high emotional intelligence. Easier read than applied, right? Especially if you have a learning disability right?

Yes. That’s only a part, but trust me, all people do have to learn how to have emotional intelligence. In short everybody. But also we need also EQ, needed it more than IQ in order to be more satisfied in life and in ourselves.

How to increase your EQ?

Awareness and acceptance are the key elements in developing your EQ. To develop your EQ you just first be aware of what are you feeling. Note your emotional reactions to events throughout the day. It’s easy to put your feelings about what you experience throughout the day on the back burner. But taking time to acknowledge how you feel about experiences is essential to improving your EQ.[5]

Pay attention to your body. Instead of ignoring the physical manifestations of your emotions, start listening to them. Our minds and bodies are not separate; they affect each other quite deeply.[5]

Wikihow gives some examples of feelings with physical signs[5]:

Stress might feel like a knot in your stomach, tight chest, or quick breathing.
Sadness might feel like waking up with slow, heavy limbs.
Joy or pleasure might feel like butterflies, your stomach, a racing heart or increased energy.

Observe how your emotions and behavior are connected.[5] For example when you see your crush, what do you do, do you hide? Become speechless and run away? Or when you’re angry, you throw things like I used to do. This is very important especially for people who can’t fully express themselves verbally (autism, expressive language disorders and the like) as behavior can make or break in dealing with other people. Especially if a person behaves destructively. She can hurt herself as well as other people. This can cause social isolation and can lead to more severe psychological problems like depression.

And accept your feelings wholeheartedly. No judging. Even if you feel ashamed (I’m still guilty of this but am trying to fight it). Feel it. Accept your feelings as your own. But please don’t wallow on them.

Practice deciding how to behave. You can’t help what emotions you feel, but you can decide how you want to react to them. If you have an issue with lashing out in anger or shutting down when you’re hurt, think about how you’d rather react.[5] It’s actually hard. Promise, but really practice makes perfect. And when you fail to do, don’t punish yourself. Don’t also use escapist behaviors like binge eating/drinking, compulsive gambling etc.

More tips[5]:

Be open-minded and agreeable. Consider other people’s point of view. Not just me, myself and I. That’s emotional immaturity.

Improve your empathy skills. Instead of just pitying another person who has problems, imagine yourself in that situation that person has as if it’s your own. Very hard because you have Asperger’s? Yeah hard, but you must. Now when you imagine that you have that problem, it’s much easier for you to understand and support your loved one in trial.

Read people’s body language. How? Observe how people act and they say and compare them to see if there’s any discrepancy. Hard? Literally study people as if they’re academic subjects. Also you can watch your favorite television show and observe how characters behave.Here you’ll learn about body language and you can compare a sincere person or not.

Practice being emotionally honest. Don’t ever lie about your feelings like telling “I’m fine” but in fact you’re cranky. That’ll lower your EQ and you are being dishonest to yourself and other people.

See where you have room for improvement. Being intellectually capable is important in life, but being emotionally intelligent is just as essential. Having high emotional intelligence can lead to better relationships and job opportunities.

Be more light-hearted at home and at work. When you’re optimistic, it’s easier to see the beauty in life and everyday objects and spread that feeling to those around you. Practice this everyday and poof all people will be drawn to you. Be negative and people will avoid you for good.

Hope this will help all of us here, whether neurodiverse or neurotypical. Maybe that special someone will come to you and have a sweeter Valentine’s day or even if not, at least you’ll become more content with your emotions and life as well.♡

Reference:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_intelligence
  2. http://www.additudemag.com/adhd-web/article/5008.html
  3. http://www.danielgoleman.info/topics/emotional-intelligence/
  4. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCDV_59.htm
  5. http://m.wikihow.com/Develop-Emotional-Intelligence
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Stress in Neurodiversity

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(C) Psychology Today. Stressful with your laptop?

Stress… everybody’s favorite (lol) word. Of course it makes us sick, confused, even wish just to go to sleep instead of dealing with it. We dread everyday stressors like heavy traffic, unruly bosses (and even quarrelsome lovers) but what if you have ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, dyslexia or other learning disabilities or neurodevelopmental conditions? Chances are stress is much more complicated. You already have a difficult condition and double it up with stress, that’ll drive you nuts!

But first let’s define what stress is:

Stress is simply a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium. In other words, it’s an omnipresent part of life.[1] This is usually our response to any action or reaction life has to offer.  Stress is a body’s method of reacting to a challenge. According to the stressful event, the body’s way to respond to stress is by sympathetic nervous system activation which results in the fight-or-flight response. Because the body cannot keep this state for long periods of time, the parasympathetic system returns the body’s physiological conditions to normal (homeostasis).[2]

Stress can be positive or negative (sounds like a magnet though) depending on human life circumstance that can alter a person’s lifestyle. The positive kind of stress is called eustress – this is when euphoric or very happy life events happen to you like graduation from school, job promotion, first kiss (or sex), birth of a child, etc. People thought that stress is a negative feeling, which is called distress – the negative kind of stress. This is the tragic events that happen in a person’s life ie divorce, death of a relative/loved one, war, having a disease, etc.

Stress, if handled properly, can produce positive results like becoming more motivated or inspired like when you failed a test you try it again until you pass by studying harder. Otherwise, stress can make you frustrated and sick and even can cause death if not handled properly.

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Image courtesy of universitypost.dk. Lots of homework? Thesis? Hmm.. a classic example of stress.

How is stress handled?

When stressed out, we usually tend to find ways to divert our attention from the stressful event like binge drinking/eating, compulsive shopping and hooking up or talk with people. Sometimes we run away from the stressful event or we just keep quiet and withdraw into our caves and hide. Actually there are three kinds of stress coping mechanisms[3]:

For the emotionally mature or calm person, he calmly confronts stress by communicating with another person and find ways to handle conflict calmly without becoming angry or aggressive. This kind of stress management is called social engagement.[3] Other people become defensive or run away from the stressor ie walking away from your nagging spouse. This is what we call mobilization [3] Still others just freeze and become stuck in their own heads, making the brain stop thinking, frozen in time. This stress management is called immobilization[3] and it is said to be the least evolved response to stress and used by the body only when social engagement and mobilization have failed.[3]

Neurologically typically developing humans usually do mobilization technique when facing stress (daily stressors ie traffic jam, bossy teachers). Calmer people can do social engagement. But all of us become immobilized by life-threatening events like disasters. Nevertheless people in neurodiversity (learning disabilities, ADHD, autism spectrum etc) experience stress in a more difficult way be it a daily stressor or life-threatening event. Neurodiverse people are more prone to hard dealing stress than the neurotypical people.

Why people in neurodiversity experience more stress with difficulty?

If a person has a different brain presentation like having a learning disability, ADHD or autism or even giftedness, stress is experienced in a different light. Imagine, a neurodiverse person already has struggles in learning how to deal with the world ie learning to socialize to neurotypical people or control hyperactivity doubled up by various life stressors and poof it’s a stressful world.

One explanation why neurodiverse people experience more stress than neurotypical people is through hormones (body chemicals that regulate body functions). It is said the the hormone cortisol (its the hormone used during stress) are much higher in people with autism[4] and the severity of a child’s autism may be directly linked with the level of stress or anxiety they experience on a day-to-day basis.[4] This means that the more severe the autism is, the higher the cortisol level, and it is very hard for very high cortisol levels to lower down.

stress level conceptual meter indicating maximum

Image courtesy of drhyman.com. Stress levels among neurodiverse people are exceedingly in the maximum range

Aside from hormones, neurotransmitters (brain chemicals that send signals to the brain to command what to do, similar to hormones) also can contribute to the stress level a neurodiverse person has and also how they are carried out to. It also depends on how the learning disability is presented. Let’s have an example: ADHD. As we know ADHD has three types: inattentive, hyperactive, and the combined type. Different neurotransmitters are affected in the three types of ADHD which contribute to high stress levels aside from the ADHD itself.

For example, patients with predominantly inattentive ADHD had changes to their norepinephrine transporter gene, which affects norepinephrine (a chemical released from the sympathetic nervous system in response to stress[5]) levels in their brains. Patients with predominantly hyperactivity-impulsive ADHD had changes to their dopamine (neurotransmitter that helps control the brain‘s reward and pleasure centers, regulate movement and emotional responses[6]) transport gene, thus affecting dopamine levels in the brain.[7]

Huh?

Okay. Now how these neurotransmitters affect stress level of a person with ADHD? Since there is lack of certain neurotransmitters in the brain stress can be more difficult than from a neurotypical person. In a person with inattentive ADHD, since he has a very short attention span, he can become more stressed up because he becomes more easily distracted, thereby having “information overload” which can bring too much stress. It’s like you have too many academic subjects to memorize in a very short period of time. Isn’t it that stress?

For people with hyperactive ADHD, since they have less dopamine to control their gratification, they can be more stressful because they cannot control their cravings ie food or danger like illicit drugs. They can be easily bored in one activity they’re not interested with that’s why they just walk away from that activity and can be more prone to risk their lives. They can be more prone to unwanted fights as well because they have difficulty controlling emotions, which can of course can add stress to them.

Why is this? Because people with ADHD are actually understimulated thanks to the lack of neurotransmitters to control their feelings and cravings and they need to fill in the neurtransmitters in order to get relaxed. This is why it’s common for someone with ADHD who has either tried all sorts of medications, participated in extreme or deadly activities, or become sexually promiscuous just to fill in their lacking relaxing hormones.

For people with learning disabilities such as dyslexia and dyscalculia, school is a big, big trouble for them because school involves a lot of letters and numbers which can be a great deal for them to learn. Not only at school but when it comes to work/career, learning difficulties can add to stress levels which is of course not good for their mental health.

For dyspraxia, being clumsy and having repetitive errors in skills can make them particularly stressful because of the mistakes they cause. Surely they don’t want a failed work.

Not only people with ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and learning disabilities do suffer from more stress, but also with people with other neurodevelopmental disorders like Tourette syndrome and cerebral palsy, and people who are extremes in intelligence (giftedness or disability) can have more stress too than the average person.

There’s another reason neurodiverse people are more stressed than anybody else. It’s their very nature. Being neurodiverse. Yes life is difficult and we can have problems all the time but if you are a person wired differently, it’s another story. Unless you or people around you are informed enough of neurodiversity and understand your wiring, either you or them or both can be stressful because they or you cannot understand yourself and people may think of you as crazy. Ouch!

Now, how neurodiverse people relax themselves?

Neurotypical people relax themselves by going out with people, play sports, have compulsive eating, drinking or shopping, have one night stands or take illicit drugs or gamble. Although neurodiverse people can do these things too, the majority of them relax by doing unconventional things most people do. And these make them look like crazy.

Let’s give Asperger syndrome (AS) as an example. Usually AS people relax by either twisting hair, stimming fingers or rocking legs, or talk about their favorite topic (which is relatively uncommon like astronomy). Now because these techniques are not practiced by most people AS people are usually labeled as crazy which can of course can add more stress and even anxiety and depression because they were discriminated.

People with sensory processing disorder can be stressed with too much stimuli (things that elicit our senses of sight, hearing and touch, etc). This means they can be burned out by loud sounds at clubs and bars, too much lighting at bars too and some malls, and so they withdraw inside their houses and relax by either sleeping or reading a book.

Biter

Image courtesy of My Asperger’s Child. Nailbiting is also common relaxation technique in neurodiversity. For most people this can be alarming but actually it’s not.

Although by doing things that enable neurodiverse people to relax, they can still be stressed out because people judge or discriminate them by forcing them to have relaxation techniques like all people do. This is a recipe for disaster because it’s like forcing them to be someone else! This causes them to have mental problems like anxiety and depression.

What to do then for the neurodiverse to relax like us?

You cannot change how a neurodiverse person’s brain wiring. This means that you cannot force him or her to relax himself or herself just like the way we do (umm… actually it’s what you do if you’re neurotypical because I might be neurodiverse as well). People in neurodiversity have differently wired brains so they experience stress in a different (and sometimes difficult) light. This means they have to be relaxed in a different manner as well. This is why it’s important that neurodiverse conditions should be made to be more known as well as being able to understand and accept how neurodiverse people become stressed and how they relax and most of all being aware of the risks that they face in order to prevent more chaos or accident to them when stressed.

That’s why you shouldn’t force them to relax like you. For example, in sensory processing disorder (SPD), if your friend prefers to relax at home over coming with you to a bar, don’t force her to come with you because she doesn’t become relaxed there. This doesn’t necessarily mean she’s a wierdo but that’s how she’s relaxed. Maybe she can’t take loud noises. If you do force her, you may risk your friendship because you’re forcing your friend to be like you in relaxation, which is a kinda bad. You will also make her more prone to anxiety because she can’t stand being with loud sounds which is a major stressor to her. Not good right? What if you’re in her place and your friend forces you to come to a place where you’ll be more stressed out?

That’s how stress in neurodiversity is presented.

More neurodiverse = more stress

More stress = more and more relaxation technique intensity

This means neurodiverse people need more extreme form of relaxation like what I wrote above.

What if you’re neurodiverse and stressed out?

Don’t worry. It’s not too late for you to become more relaxed. First of all, accept who you are and your condition you’re having as part of you. This is usually done by referral to a mental health professional who’ll assess you the right way. Or you can observe yourself and search about a neurodiverse condition (usually a learning disability or neurodevelopmental disorder) that is nearest to your symptoms. Then you can be seek also help from a psychologist in order to deal with your stresses and emotional issues to help you realize that you are really stressed, meaning you recognize your own stresses and your own emotions as well. This way, you can develop your own strategies of relaxation without hurting yourself or other people. Also with the right recognition of your condition and who you are, you can also develop your own strategies in managing and living as a neurodiverse person.

Want more tips for relaxation techniques?

The Adult Aspergers Chat website gives some tips for relaxation techniques in Asperger syndrome. I think this may also apply to other neurodiverse conditions like ADHD and dyspraxia. Click here for tips[8].

Okay, some more tips from me:

Breathe in, breathe out –  a classic technique. If you feel you’re about to explode in your stress, breathe deeply and focus on your breathing. You can be more relaxed that way.

Count 1,2,3 to infinity – another classic tip. When you’re feeling stressed, count as much as you like until you feel relaxed or calm.

Walk away from the stressor – if breathing and counting don’t work, walk away from the source of your stress. If that is a person, say politely excuse me or may I just leave for a while to cool down (this applies to working and personal relationships) before you explode. And please as much as possible don’t throw things at them. When you’re away from the stressor it’s more relaxing.

Throw soft things only – I’m guilty of throwing objects and breaking them or scare people away. Yes we’re neurodiverse but that’s not a license for breaking property or hurt yourself or other people. But if you really can’t help yourself throw things (it’s quite common to autism spectrum and speech and communication difficulties because they find it hard to express themselves verbally) throw a soft object like a pillow or a small stress ball. At least it’s soft and doesn’t cause damage to property or injury to a person.

Do your favorite activity – afraid you’d be ridiculed by peers? They’re not real friends actually if they do. So don’t be afraid of doing your favorite activity regardless if that’s unpopular ie staying at home (hey that’s actually quite common but media made it unpopular), playing your favorite classical instrument or singer or reading The Grand Design[9], do it. This relaxes you.

Find some peace and quiet – for neurodiverse people, peace and quiet is the real heaven. Because they have less hormones to calm them or too sensitive senses which makes everything exaggerated, peace and quiet is needed to feel relaxed. It’s usually at beaches (not the commercialized one), parks, churches/temples/synagogues or even at your own home where it’s quieter than most places. It’s relaxing to be peaceful, right even with neurotypical people.

Seek professional help – if these don’t work at all, maybe you’ll need a little help from the mental health experts. Don’t be afraid to seek help especially if you can’t deal with your stress. This can really help you relaxed as there is someone to support you. Also read stress management articles and books too.

Find solace in your family/friends/lover who accepts you as who you are – the most important thing at all is acceptance. Your loved ones must be a helping hand in supporting your stress (except if they’re burned out by you). When surrounded by them, more relaxation as you never felt any burden. You’ll be more relaxed then.

bahai-meditation

Image courtesy of callonfaith.org. Meditation is a sure way of relaxation.

Conclusion

Stress is everyday part of life. It is the way of us responding to any stimuli or change. But stress is presented differently in neurodiversity as it poses different challenges for them and also different strategies of relaxation. Anyway, stress, whether neurodiverse or not, is still stress. Phew!

Reference:

  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/stress
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stress_(biology)
  3. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-symptoms-causes-and-effects.htm
  4. https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2015/06/03/autism-severity-stress/20354/
  5. http://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-norepinephrine-effects-function-definition.html
  6. https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/dopamine
  7. http://psychcentral.com/lib/neurotransmitters-involved-in-adhd/
  8. http://www.adultaspergerschat.com/2012/04/anxiety-reduction-techniques-for-adults.html
  9. http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-grand-design.html