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Neurodiversity: Are You an Orange Trying to be an Apple?

Many of the clients I work with are neurodiverse, primarily being autistic, having ADHD, or both. And one frustration common to both is the experience of seeming to fall short when comparing their brains to the brains of “neurotypical” people. Our society views neurotypical as the “correct” way to be, as the standard of being, so being neurodiverse in some way automatically makes people defective in this point of view. It’s a terrible way to see oneself (and a terrible way to see others). So I have proposed that neurotypical people are apples and neurodiverse people are oranges. There’s nothing wrong with being an apple, of course, but also there is nothing superior to being an apple. Apples have their own good points but they are not oranges. Oranges have a zing to them that you don’t get with an apple. Apples and oranges also thrive with different growing conditions.

So when my clients start to buy into the prevailing idea, the idea they’ve been taught all their lives, that they are a terrible, defective apple, I now say, “That’s because you aren’t an apple. You’re an orange!” Of course apples do this or that, but you are an orange and oranges do some of things in a different way. One isn’t better than the other. It’s possible to enjoy both apples and oranges. The world would be poorer without both. But they are different, even though they are both wonderful kinds of fruit. And so are people. We neurodiverse people are wonderful in our own ways that are different from the neurotypical ways. It can take some getting used to and some time to understand some of the differences, but that is easily possible. After all, if you’ve been given apples to eat your entire life and then you encounter an orange slice, you’re in for a big surprise that first bite. Not expecting the difference or understanding that difference, might at first cause you to think there is something wrong with this fruit. But if you realize it’s not an apple and don’t try to make it fit into the characteristics of an apple, you can appreciate it’s wonderful characteristics for itself.

Taking this metaphor one step further, I had a client comparing themselves to other neurodiverse friends and wondering why they were a little bit different than the friends. “Ah!” I said, “That’s because you are a Sunkist orange and your friends are Lima oranges, navel oranges, and Mandarin oranges. You’re all oranges, but slightly different varieties.”

Whether you are someone who is neurotypical and perhaps struggling to understand a neurodiverse person in your life or whether you are neurodiverse and struggling to make yourself be neurotypical (an exhausting quest not likely to end in success), I hope you will think about this metaphor of apples and oranges. Both are valuable. Both add variety and goodness to our lives. But we will be disappointed if we expect one to be just like the other. The failure is not in being neurodiverse or neurotypical, it is in expecting people to be the same.

If you are neurodiverse and working on understanding how this impacts your life, I invite you to give me a call to set up a free 15-minute consultation to see if you and I think I can be helpful to you. Call or text 816-226-4678.

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