“Larissa has a strong commitment to disability justice and the neurodiverse movement. Our group is essentially founded on these topics, and Larissa embraces them.” 

[ Facilitator from Austin Adult Neurodiversity Support Group ]

"I learned a lot, I kept taking notes."

[ Audience member]

The Importance of Teaching Socio-Emotional Skills in Schools 

🌍 It’s reaching the end of Mental Health Awareness Month! I want to discuss the importance of teaching socio-emotional skills in schools. While some schools in the U.S. touch upon these skills, we need to expand their inclusion in schools.

🧠Kids and teens benefit from learning essential skills like handling rejection, people-pleasing, perfectionism, imposter syndrome, self-control, active listening, and setting boundaries. At the same time, the curriculum should incorporate inclusivity and give examples of how people may actively listen or communicate differently. Let's teach these skills in a way that embraces everyone's unique strengths.

🎓 Equipping young people with socio-emotional skills isn't just about boosting their job prospects, but also about helping them navigate the challenges of higher education or vocational schools. Moreover, these skills have the potential to transform their school experience and elevate their academic performance.

💬 Effective communication and active listening are essential skills that can lead to success in multiple fields. Let's teach students the importance of meeting others halfway, especially when communicating with people whose brains are wired differently from their own.

🧠 Learning about rejection-sensitive dysphoria empowers individuals to develop a growth mindset and gain a deeper understanding of their emotional responses. Conquering challenges like perfectionism, imposter syndrome, and developing self-regulation skills help students avoid burnout and conserve their mental energy. Creating supportive environments that embrace diverse needs and perspectives is crucial to their growth.

🔒 Establishing boundaries and overcoming people-pleasing habits positively impact all aspects of life. Let's pair this with a trauma-informed approach, recognizing that people-pleasing often stems from defensive mechanisms. 

🔑The above skills are often overlooked. These skills contribute to academic success, employability, and overall well-being. It is essential for schools to teach these skills because mental health resources are not easily accessible to everyone.  

✨ Together, let's advocate for a comprehensive curriculum that equips students with the socio-emotional skills they need to thrive in school, work, and life. Join the movement for 

#MentalHealthAwareness and #SocioEmotionalSkills to build an inclusive education system that improves lives. 

#MentalHealth #Autism #Autistic #Neurodivergent #Education#AccessibleEducation #Inclusion #Neurodiversity #Disability #InclusiveEducation#MentalHealthAwarenessMonth #Schools #MentalHealthMonth

How I Realized I Wasn't Lazy: My Experience With Executive Function Challenges 

When I was a child, I was often called messy and I didn’t manage my time well. Looking back, I believe I was in autistic burnout part of the time in various stages of my life. Autistic burnout isn’t formally recognized yet but it has been studied. Autistic burnout occurs when an autistic person chronically uses up more energy than they have to spare. Autistic burnout can last anywhere from months to years. I believe that anyone that is neurodivergent (those that have a brain variation), could experience neurodivergent burnout. This is something that has been grossly understudied but I have talked to numerous neurodivergent people that describe something that is similar to autistic burnout.

An increase in executive function dysfunction is a challenge that some autistic people experiencing burnout have. Executive function is a set of cognitive skills involved in organizing and self-regulation. These skills are used in planning, monitoring, and completing goals. Executive function skills include flexible thinking, self-control, and keeping data temporarily in your mind while using it to complete a task (working memory). I remember periods of my life when I was very disorganized and scattered. Since I experienced extensive stress, I suspect I was in autistic burnout during those periods of my life. When I was much younger, I would hop from project to project without completing a project. There were times when I was unable to even start a project or task; I wouldn’t know how to begin. My past challenges with organizing, planning, perseverance, and task initiation can be explained by executive function dysfunction that was worsened by autistic burnout. 

I did not find out about my ADHD until I was a teenager already in my second year of college. Then, I was able to undergo treatment. My ADHD medication helped with some of my executive function challenges. However, ADHD medication only goes so far in improving executive function challenges. I find my ADHD medication most beneficial for helping my hyperactivity, attention, and focus. I have dyspraxia, I’m autistic, and I’m neurodivergent in other ways, all of which can impact executive function. I wouldn’t find out about executive function until years later, after all of my diagnoses. Once I was able to learn about executive function, I started making a lot of progress. 

Executive Function Challenges Mistaken as Character Flaws

Most importantly, as I was learning about executive function, I learned that people were inaccurate all of those times that they accused me of having character flaws. I wasn’t lazy or not trying. Anyone who knows me knows I’m the opposite of lazy.

I experienced first-hand negative assumptions and unfortunately, this is a story that I hear often. Too often when someone has executive function dysfunction as their baseline, their daily challenges are misattributed as character flaws. They're mislabeled as lazy or not trying. In reality, many people with executive function dysfunction are the opposite of lazy because they often have to work hard to get things done. Someone with executive function dysfunction wants to complete a task but struggles with initiating or completing it, usually resulting in anxiety. There are also other considerations to keep in mind including episodes of major depression that could result in someone not being able to be motivated to initiate tasks. This can sometimes result in apathy or appearing to not care about not being able to do the work. While a person that is just lazy doesn’t attempt to do the work, and actively avoids it, without feeling guilt or anxiety over not doing the work. They also are not experiencing challenges like depression. 

What I Find Helpful for my Executive Function Challenges
With time, I learned strategies to utilize my strengths to complete high-quality projects. Currently, my organizational skills, time management, and my ability to complete projects are considered strengths. Each weekday, I make a to-do list on my computer for that day and color-code each item as red, yellow, or green. If something comes up that day, I add it to the list and color-code it. I also use visual cues like checking off bullet points after I complete an item so I can track my progress.

My preference is to have a relatively flexible structure to my day and I find this approach to be effective for me. These days, my schedule requires a more rigid schedule that I am adapting to. For certain tasks, I will set a timer and then take a break. I utilize my calendar and watch to manage my time. Setting reminders on my phone is helpful for ensuring I remember to complete tasks and go to meetings. I also try to estimate how much time it will take to complete a new task, then I try to time a task and record the actual amount of time it took to complete the task. Another strategy that I find helpful is to set two different times when I have a hard stop. I set a ten-minute "wrap-up" reminder that goes off ten minutes before my hard stop timer. Then, I shift to finishing up my conversation or task. Depending on my needs that day, I may set a third timer that goes off five minutes before the hard stop timer. 

Additionally, I utilize Google Drive to stay organized by creating folders and labeling them. Before I start a project, I create an outline and plan it out. There are assistive technology apps that I use to help with my executive function

Ultimately, I believe managing my energy and preventing autistic burnout was very helpful in restoring my executive function. Additionally, I have specifically been targeting executive functions for years now. People who know me now would be surprised to know I didn’t always have these strong organizational and project completion skills. 

Other's Unconscious Biases Contribute to Autistic People's Social Challenges

It is difficult to explain that just being yourself can lead to being excluded for some of us. In elementary school, kids asked not to sit next to me in class. For most of my life, I desperately wanted acceptance. It would take years after I knew I was autistic & ADHD before I developed a positive autistic identity. Now, I have mostly neurodivergent friends.

Besides an appalling unemployment rate, autistic people are more likely to experience social rejection, loneliness, and bullying than their neurotypical peers. This chronic trauma contributes to serious mental health complications and a shorter life expectancy. The cause of death is a preventable one that building a more understanding and inclusive society would help.

Studies show that non-autistic people tend to form negative impressions of autistic people within seconds of meeting them, sometimes even before the autistic person even uttered one word. Autistic people also had the same negative first impressions of other autistic people but were more willing to talk to and interact with them. However, I believe unconscious biases are impacting the unemployment rate for autistic people and our mental health.  Unfortunately, most people aren't aware that they may have unconscious biases.

I created this acrostic as a tool to remind people to try to be open to communicating with those that have different perspectives. The acrostic PAUSE is based both on my personal experience and on findings from studies.

Try to be mindful when communicating with people. Next time you find yourself forming a negative opinion of someone that you just met, try to pause and think about why you are not liking them. Is it based on superficial data like their speaking style and mannerisms?

I created this acrostic as a tool to remind people to be open to communicating with those that have different perspectives. It is not meant to encompass every possible presentation of autism since every autistic person is unique. 

I encourage you to be mindful when communicating with people.  Next time you find yourself not liking someone that you just met, try to pause and think about why you are not liking them. Is it based on superficial data like their speaking style and mannerisms?

What you can do:
Educate about differences, disabilities, autism, and other types of neurodivergence at an early age. 

Encourage authentic neurodivergent representation in the media, including in children’s programming.

Practice including neurodivergent people at an early age.

Discuss unconscious biases.

Talk about autism and other kinds of neurodivergence.

Educate employers and hiring managers on possible unconscious biases.

Pause and ask yourself why you are forming a negative first impression of someone.

Correct harmful autism myths and misperceptions.

Share info like this.

The Importance of Supporting Executive Function in the Workplace

There's been an increase in awareness about neurodivergent people including those with ADHD, autism, and learning disabilities commonly having executive function challenges. But I've heard less about the substantial amount of disabilities and chronic illnesses including autoimmune diseases that can affect executive function. Chronic illnesses and disabilities that cause fatigue, pain, stress, inflammation, anxiety, depression, or cause someone to expend more energy can impact executive function. A high percentage of long COVID-19 cases experience4 executive function challenges. Each person with executive function dysfunction is affected differently. Not everyone with a diagnosis or neurodivergence will experience executive function dysfunction nor will all aspects of executive function be affected in all people that experience it.

To improve support for disabled workers, it is critical to learn about executive function. Executive function is a set of cognitive skills involved in organizing and self-regulation. These skills are used in planning, monitoring, and completing goals. Executive function skills include flexible thinking, self-control, and keeping data temporarily in your mind while using it to complete a task (working memory). Challenges with executive function can make it difficult to start a task, focus to complete a task, manage time, switch tasks, stick to a goal despite setbacks, manage feelings, and keep track of one's performance. 

Everyone undergoes temporary executive function challenges during periods of high stress, sleep deprivation, or grief. More people are experiencing executive function dysfunction during the COVID-19 pandemic due to chronic stress. Some of us experience executive function dysfunction as our baseline. These daily executive function challenges are often mistaken for being lazy or not trying. In reality, someone with executive function wants to complete a task but struggles with initiating or completing it, usually resulting in anxiety. Falsely blaming a character flaw is a common mistake.

It is important to ask the individual how they can be supported because everyone is different. Assistive apps, chunking (breaking information into chunks to remember better), reminders, visual schedules, reducing distractions, and breaking down complex tasks into a series of smaller steps can help support executive function. Providing a clear prioritized to-do list of tasks with deadlines can be helpful. Some workers might benefit from an estimated amount of time to complete a task but this could increase anxiety for some. Giving workers clear-cut guidelines on expectations of quality can help support workers who have challenges with flexible thinking and tend to be perfectionists.

A considerable amount of talented people with disabilities are effective hard workers. Overlooking a qualified individual because of executive function dysfunction stunts an organization’s potential. Different perspectives are essential for growth and betterment. A worker's true ability level may be underestimated as a result of their executive function challenges. Luckily, the work environment can be optimized to support executive function. There are numerous easy-to-implement free or low-cost accommodations for executive function challenges. In addition, increasing accessibility also supports non-disabled workers who can experience executive function challenges in a distracting environment and during stress. Increasing accessibility can include time and cost-effective options like allowing all job candidates to bring notes to an interview.

Disabled workers bring a diverse perspective to a business and contribute to a company's potential. It is worth investing some time into low-cost workarounds so you do not miss out on talented qualified individuals. The benefits are definitely worth it!

Rethinking What Confidence Looks Like

Recently, on LinkedIn, the article How to Build Your Confidence by Timothy Mably was circulating around that discussed the importance of appearing confident during an interview. The article draws attention to a common factor that may lead to a negative outcome in a job interview. It gives some useful tips on how to build confidence that focuses on mental health.

Timothy's article discusses that the hiring manager’s perception of a job candidate’s confidence affected the outcome of the interview. It specifically mentions body language and eye contact during the interview. While the article has several valuable tips and points, it does not discuss neurodivergence or other reasons why someone may avoid eye contact or have unexpected body language. This is likely beyond the scope of the article but education is important. It is time that we adapt what we think of as confidence and reconsider other ways this could look as well. If smiling, eye contact, and body language aren't essential to the job, efforts should be taken to minimize how these behaviors are weighted during an interview.

Eye contact can make it hard for some people to focus and cause anxiety. Some autistic people report that eye contact causes them physical discomfort or even pain. Eye contact also doesn’t give everyone the same social benefit and is just an extra stressor to some. There can also be cultural differences in eye contact.

The article mentions closed body language specifically crossing arms as leading to candidates being rated as less confident. It suggests that crossing arms is associated with negative emotions. The author’s intention wasn’t to pathologize behavior but it is important that we are mindful when associating differences with negative emotions. Someone may sit a certain way because it is comfortable for them. Crossing arms is a type of self-soothing behavior and it can improve focus in some people. ADHD people might cross their arms in specific ways to counteract distractions from the environment, allowing them to give their conversation partner their undivided attention. There are also at least fifty different ways to cross your arms so assuming that crossing arms has limited meaning is over-simplifying the situation. Additionally, studies suggest that crossing arms may even be associated with pain relief so it could be someone’s natural instinct. The article misses an opportunity to discuss how hiring managers' misperceptions of the meaning of body language could impact an interview. 

Alexithymia or difficulties identifying emotions in the self and in others is commonly co-occurring in neurodivergent individuals. While alexithymia is not formally recognized as a diagnosis, studies suggest that it contributes to differences in facial expression production and perceiving cues of others' emotions. Someone with alexithymia that infrequently changes facial expressions could be misidentified as not being enthusiastic about the job they are interviewing for.

Studies and Moving Forward to Inclusion

How to Build Your Confidence references Twin Employment's survey findings that “nearly 40% of interviewers state that the quality of a candidate’s voice and their overall confidence was a reason for not taking their candidacy further.”

While not yet formally recognized in diagnostic criteria, Autistic people commonly have differences in their voice including vocal quality when compared to non-autistic people. People with various disabilities can have differences in their voices and use of body language. While speech-language pathology can be utilized, it does not seem reasonable to tell someone that their differences need to be changed. Tolerance of harmless differences is something we should teach about at an early age. Furthermore, many neurodivergent people undergo speech-language pathology therapy and still have differences in their voices.

Timothy discusses how fidgeting can also lead to a candidate not moving forward in a job.  It is unhelpful to pathologize non-harmful stimming or self-stimulatory behavior including rocking and fidgeting. Additionally, offering a walking interview option to all candidates when able helps candidates that need to move around to focus and regulate their sensory environment. We need to rethink how we view fidgeting in the interview. 

One study with several limitations revealed that autistic people were rated as less confident than non-autistic people during mock interviews. The hiring managers rated written transcripts of the mock interviews so there was an absence of external indicators of confidence. These results contradict other studies that showed the impressions of autistic candidates improved in the absence of visual and audio data. Due to discrepancies in how the studies were conducted, further study is indicated. The study utilized multiple interview modifications that improved the hiring outcome for both autistic and non-autistic job candidates.

We should continue to increase accessibility.  To effectively combat unintentional bias, employers can shift from interviews to a competency-based format when possible. A blind hiring process can also help. Working interviews could be a viable legal option if an employer is going directly through a temp agency. Employers not going through a temp agency could consider offering a day contract for a prospective employee.

When possible, a skills assessment could allow job candidates to shine that may be overlooked during an interview. Consider utilizing a career portfolio or a work sample during the hiring process.

My Final Thoughts on the LinkedIn Article How To Build Your Confidence 

How to Build Your Confidence fails to suggest alternative ways that hiring managers can choose to assess job candidates. However, the article offers several useful tips to build confidence and protect mental health. For instance, it suggests that we are mindful of who we choose to spend our time with since negative influences can drain our energy. It also suggests we set boundaries and do not say yes to something just to people please.

The article gives several helpful suggestions but since it was beyond the scope of the article it doesn’t remind the readers that some people have neurological differences that put them at a disadvantage when interviews are used. Employers need to find a way to find the most qualified employee for the job. 

My Experience with RSD(Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria)

Ways I Experienced Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD)

<p>Rejection sensitive dysphoria or RSD&nbsp; is a concept that has been developed to explain why some people have intense emotional reactions to criticism, rejection, and social embarrassment. RSD is more than simply having rejection sensitivity.

I developed an intense fear of being rejected, embarrassed, and criticized. With this, I developed defense mechanisms to protect myself.  By the time I was in sixth grade, I was a perfectionist and I started people pleasing. Additionally, I was very sensitive to criticism.  I eventually started isolating myself during part of middle school and high school. After my ADHD diagnosis, I began to recognize the signs of RSD and with mental health professionals, I developed strategies. However, it wouldn't be until years after my much later autism diagnosis that I began to truly recover from RSD and developed a growth mindset that recognizes the importance of constructive criticism. 

Why I May Have Developed RSD

RSD is not a formal diagnosis. RSD is not recognized in the DSM or Diagnostic Statistical Manual. RSD is thought to occur more often in neurodivergent people. Neurodivergent people have a brain variation that differs from the majority. ADHD people are thought to be susceptible to RSD but so are autistic people and other neurodivergent people.

I was often corrected growing up. It would feel like just the act of me being was somehow something that warranted correction. In elementary school, teachers even scrutinized how I sat in class, my handwriting, and my interests. This continued even through high school. I was also bullied and experienced social rejection. In the fourth grade, other students in my class even requested to their parents that they sit away from me, so I was on an "island" by myself in the classroom. When I asked my parents to request that I switch classrooms, this request was denied by the school. This attitude would continue throughout my childhood and teenage years. I was told by a youth group when I was a senior in high school that some people just won't make friends. It was repeatedly made clear that there was something wrong with me and that it was my fault that I was rejected. Looking back, if my differences had been recognized as differences and I was met halfway, I believe I would have had a positive outcome much sooner. Fortunately, I eventually developed coping strategies to deal with RSD.

How Autistic Masking Contributed to My RSD

Autistic masking ironically likely contributes to RSD. Autistic masking is thought to occur when an autistic person either unconsciously or consciously has to hide or minimize their autistic traits to appear less autistic. This is commonly a subconscious defensive mechanism usually a social survival response to trauma. I have spoken with numerous neurodivergent individuals who also identify as masking, so I believe it is valid to consider neurodivergent masking.

I was masking long before I knew what autistic masking meant. I remembered studying television shows and reading books out loud to practice how I would say something. Repeatedly, I would copy the delivery style of others. I remember feeling like I could not be my authentic self if I wanted others to like and accept me. This heavily affected my self-esteem and confidence. Luckily, I learned that my authentic self is pretty awesome. I also am very careful about whom I choose to spend my time with.

How I Addressed RSD Related Defensive Mechanisms

I found it crucial to target defensive mechanisms in myself because my behaviors were negatively impacting my social interactions and reinforcing my RSD. Earlier I mentioned that I developed people pleasing as a defensive mechanism for dealing with RSD. Over time, I would become resentful and would make myself go to social events that I did not wish to go to. One strategy I find helpful is creating a pro and con list. Additionally, asking myself the reason behind wanting to do something can reveal people-pleasing behavior. Setting boundaries and learning to say no eventually helped me become more confident. Eventually, people would invite me to things more and I believe my developed ability to say no was a factor in this change. 

To combat setting too high of standards for myself and to minimize my perfectionism, I developed strategies. I am a content creator that makes videos for social media. I find it helpful to watch my video after I have all the clips in order. Then, I make a list of everything I need to do. Then, the next time I edit my video, I stick to the list of corrections. If I see something new that needs correcting, I consider if it actually needs to be fixed or I ask myself if I am nitpicking.

What I Found Helpful for Dealing with RSD
After I started working on defensive mechanisms, I also started to reframe my mind. In recent years, I started to come up with an alternative explanation when thinking someone is rejecting or excluding me. The alternative explanation is ideally neutral or positive. If I can come up with at least one plausible alternative explanation, this casts reasonable doubt on my initial fears. I also am careful to not dismiss my feelings since my feelings are valid. Sometimes there may be intentional exclusion but other times there could be a different logical explanation. Not every intentional exclusion is malicious.

I find it helpful to try to take someone else's perspective. I ask myself what else might the person have been thinking. While I cannot mind read, I am able to remind myself that there are usually non-hurtful explanations. For instance, I thought someone was being critical of my leadership skills when it turned out they were afraid of their own leadership ability. While I came up with that possible perspective on my own, the incident happened with someone that I felt comfortable enough to engage in a conversation about my feelings. The person confirmed that they were self-conscious about their own leadership abilities. 

Depending on the circumstances, I will ask a trusted person how they perceive a situation that they were present at. I use this to help check my perceptions. I find talking to my neurodivergent therapist during therapy sessions to be very helpful. 

Over time, I had to minimize when I will ruminate or obsessively think about social situations. Not going by the play-by-play after a social situation can help with RSD. I realize that going over everything that happened will only feed my RSD. I started off by distracting myself after social interactions but over time, I have found that I no longer regularly ruminate over social interactions in my head afterward. This is still something I keep in check. 

How I Addressed Sensitivity to Criticism 

For sensitivity to criticism, I find it helpful to evaluate the criticism to see if it is constructive. If the criticism contained a suggestion on how to improve then it is constructive. When someone gives me negative unconstructive criticism, I try to ignore it. I also ask myself if the feedback is on something objective or subjective. Criticism related to art is often subjective, especially in abstract art. However, objective criticism warrants listening. Objective feedback includes correcting errors that are actual errors and not a preference. Examples of objective criticism include grammar and spelling mistakes. On the other hand, if the criticism was just someone being rude, ignoring it is a valid option, depending on the circumstances.

There's hope: wrap-up

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria wreaked havoc on my self-esteem and relationships. Working with a Neurodivergent therapist and developing strategies helped me. I believe it is important to create a more understanding and inclusive environment that celebrates differences to minimize rejection sensitive dysphoria. 

Celebrate Differences!

📢 I want to call attention to the diverse range of human behaviors. There are numerous ways to navigate our environment, actively listen, and communicate! 

🗨 For instance, I am an info-dumper but it's also my way of enthusiastically sharing! I may be a kinetic listener at times and look around my environment while engaging in self-regulatory movements as I actively listen. If I am expected to stay still, make eye contact, and nod my head instead, I would be unable to listen and may experience physical discomfort. 

🧠Many autistic people have talked to me about how they have pressure to conform to a traditional appearance of interaction when it comes at a great cost to their mental well-being and learning. These expectations can lead to poor outcomes in school, work, and social settings.

👉 Too often, neurodivergent individuals are compared to a neurotypical standard. Often, these social expectations results in social exclusion and contribute to autistic masking and burnout. Autistic burnout is associated with serious and even dire consequences. Please be mindful of the multitude of valid approaches to interaction! I created this visual to demonstrate and celebrate these differences! 

Alternative text:

An abstract rainbow colored brain consisting of circles is on the top of the tan visual. 

Reframing Language

Neuroaffirming Vs deficit

Strategic explorer/preference for routine vs Rigid behavior/routines

Kinetic listener/active engagement vs social communication challenges

Enthusiastic sharing vs dominating conversations

Echoic learning vs echolalia 

Created by Larissa Minner

#Autistic #Neurodivergent #Communication #Education #Inclusion#Neurodiversity #Autism #ADHD #Disability #CelebrateDifferences#Advocacy #Diversity #ReframingAutism #AutisticPride#NeurodivergentPride #AutisticAdvocate #BreakTheStigma#AcceptanceMatters #NeurodivergentLives #EmbraceNeurodiversity#MentalHealthMatters