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The Truth About Appearing 'High-Functioning' as a Neurodivergent Person

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I never experienced the grief process when I realized I might be neurodivergent. Nor were there any feelings related to a loss of “normalcy.” Instead, it was a feeling of belonging, relief in discovering an explanation for what I am going through; finally, I gained the ability to put into words the life I have always experienced.

I recently had a neurology visit and I asked the doctor about a neurological condition I experience in which both right and left eyes do not work together, called amblyopia. He examined my eyes and proceeded to tell me that even as a trained professional, he never would have noticed that I had this condition. He said this was because I don’t show more severe clinical symptoms, such as weakness in depth perception, that others with the condition may experience. But what he also couldn’t see upon examination is that despite the lack of more severe symptoms, I still do experience difficulties each day due to my condition.

Despite LASIK, my vision will never be perfect. My eyes will never work together, and my brain will continue to ignore the information it receives from the stronger eye. Without glasses or contact lenses, I will always only see as good as my weakest eye. In fact, a mere five to six years after LASIK surgery, I began requiring a prescription for my vision again. As a result, I will always have more difficulty seeing in the dark or driving at night. When I am tired, my left eyelid droops further than the right, even though it may be difficult to notice which is the lazy eye. However, on the flip side, my optometrist indicated that I may not need reading glasses or bifocals as I age due to this unique condition. I cannot change the way my brain is wired, nor would I want to.

Much like my amblyopia, most cannot tell that I am neurodivergent. I am able to communicate effectively enough with my peers and appear to hold a job well enough — but at what cost? I live alone inside these experiences, affected by the neurological condition that is my brain wiring. I experience sensory and emotional regulation challenges consisting of sensitivities relative to touch, smell, taste, and sound, while also regulating my sensory-seeking needs. In addition to generalized anxiety, I struggle with OCD-like repetitive body-focused behaviors including skin picking and nail-biting, as well as joint hyper-mobility, depression, social anxiety, panic attacks, weaknesses in adaptive skills, and executive functioning challenges, among others. My body is constantly moving in subtle ways: bouncing my leg, biting my lips, or rubbing my feet together.

But much like the neurologist, you may never notice any of that from the outside, nor will it show up on any measurable test. My difficulties are largely internally experienced, comparable to amblyopia. I put on the “mask” to fit into a neurotypical world, quite similar to the way I put on a pair of contacts in order to see more clearly to go on about my day.

Getty image by Jacob Lund.

Originally published: November 8, 2021
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