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When People Say That My Explanations Are Excuses as a Neurodivergent Person

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“I’m just trying to explain,” is a phrase I often use when arguments start. I’ve often gotten accused of making excuses for my actions. This is a thing I’ve noticed many autistic and ADHD people do. Language and how neurotypical people perceive what is being said are important. We are expected to empathize and validate the emotions of the person and try to understand why they are upset. This can be difficult, as I usually think that if I just explain what went wrong, then maybe the person would not be mad at me anymore or they will understand my point of view. Because of this, I notice I’m always trying to explain myself. I don’t use explanations as excuses or manipulation, I just want to be understood.

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Miscommunication happens often between autistic/ADHD individuals and neurotypical people. I often find myself trying to explain what I was trying to say that caused an argument or why I did or didn’t do something. An explanation for me usually comes before an apology. This isn’t because I’m not sorry for something, it’s because I’m trying to help a person understand what happened and what I was thinking in hopes that it could resolve the conflict and let them know I wasn’t trying to upset them.

I’ve noticed that many people take this as manipulation or as making excuse for behavior, that I’m not being empathetic. However, it’s the opposite. It can help when someone tells me what I did to hurt someone, especially if it was done unintentionally, I then try my best to correct my behavior. I think being able to explain my side can be helpful because I have trouble with social cues and I can sometimes be accidentally rude. If I explain myself, I can assure the person that I wasn’t trying to do anything to purposely hurt them.

When I’m explaining my actions to someone, they usually retort by telling me what I did that caused the argument and how it made them feel. I usually then try to explain again because I didn’t obviously try to cause harm. However, it’s usually said that they don’t want an excuse or they feel like they aren’t being heard. I’ve never understood this. Usually, when people try to explain their actions it comes as a relief to me because then I have an insight and it can help me calm down from being angry at them.

Many autistics and individuals with ADHD have spent their lives being misunderstood. We have trouble understanding social cues and many of us tend to be literal thinkers. I spent most of my life as an undiagnosed autistic. Being undiagnosed until I was older has caused trauma. I was bullied and teased for my odd behaviors and how I socially interacted with people. I’ve spent my life feeling misunderstood, which has caused me to usually over-explain myself to people.

It takes me time to process what people say and it takes me longer to respond. This processing delay can make communicating super frustrating when people are talking and expecting a response. If someone tells me to do something that is super vague I might not do it, or do it wrong because I don’t understand. This can be perceived as not paying attention or that I purposely didn’t do the task. As a child, I was told I wasn’t listening to directions and I’d try to describe why I didn’t understand, but it was usually perceived as an excuse.

If you’re neurodivergent and notice someone’s anger is increasing due to your explanation, try to ask them what you did to cause it. Do your best to validate their feelings, let them know that you are listening to them and you are just explaining what is going on in your head. For those who are neurotypical, If you feel like your neurodivergent friend or family member is arguing with you or you feel like they aren’t listening, step back and listen to what they are saying. Are they just trying to explain themselves? Ask them if they understand why you are upset. If they don’t, explain your reason. Let them know you heard them.

I hope as time goes on people will understand that when I say I’m just trying to explain, it’s not because I am ignoring or invalidating feelings. It’s because I don’t want to be misunderstood. I’m trying to let them into my world.

Have you ever felt like this in an argument before? How do you try to defuse the situation?

Getty image by SDI Productions.

Originally published: January 20, 2022
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