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Neurodivergent-Style Communication Resources

Let's talk about communication skills.. but make it anti-ableist 😘😘This article discusses Neurodivergent Style Communication Skills and provides FREE resources for baddies that want to communicate, not mask.


light pink background, dark pink teddy bear with an angry red emoji on it's abdomen crying tears. Text says "No, I'm not sad! I have Neurospicy feelings" with stars around "Neurospicy"

Neurospicy folx like myself communicate differently than Neurotypical people do. You can read more about the differences in communication in my Neurodivergent Communication article. We have different communication styles and different barriers to healthy and effective communication. Contrary to some outdated information, having a Neurospicy diagnosis such as Autism, ADHD, or C-PTSD doesn’t automatically mean that someone has “communication deficits”. However, many of us do have things that get in the way of our ability to communicate effectively. This article will focus on ways in which we can be aware of and/or cross those barriers so that we can communicate and interact effectively with the people we spend time with.


One thing I would like to be very clear on in this article is that I do not believe in the need to conform to Neurotypical communication to be able to communicate effectively. This is not a how-to on masking your communication style to fit in. I am an AuDHD (Autistic and ADHD) person who also has C-PTSD and I have a passion for helping other people like me lead mentally well lives and kick a*s on the daily. Although we don't need to conform to the "norm", we do often struggle with feeling misunderstanding or needing clarification. Those are the things that I intend to help you cope with through Neurodivergent Style Communication Skills.

As mentioned in my previous article, DBT is a great resource for interpersonal effectiveness which covers healthy/effective communication. I have Included a FREE handout with the top 3 Interpersonal Skills used in DBT.


DBT Interpersonal Skills
.pdf
Download PDF • 164KB

In addition to the DBT skills, I want to provide you with some skills specific to some of the personal barriers Neurospicy people struggle with. There is a lot of overlap in personal barriers to communication and the other facets of life with which these barriers interfere. Because of this, I will be focusing on a select few of the most common barriers that can be overcome by using coping skills. These include the following:

  • Emotional Dysregulation

  • Alexithymia

  • Cognitive Distortions


 

Communication and Emotional Dysregulation


Emotional Dysregulation is the difficulty or inability to manage feelings and emotions. This can present itself in the form of impulsivity, physiological symptoms (like overheating, shaking, or upset stomach), outbursts, burnout, self-harm, and an inability to move past a negative emotion (fixating or spiraling). When your emotions aren’t regulated, rational/cognitive thought is minimal because the emotions take precedence. People can become dysregulated for a multitude of reasons, but specifically for Neurospicy people, sometimes there is no easily identified reason or the reason is not “normal” for the response (like an Autistic person having a meltdown because of small change in routine, an ADHDer being made to sit/be quite for a stretch of time, or someone with C-PTSD being reminded of their trauma by a comment or someone’s facial expression).

When dysregulated, your brain and body are stuck in a state of distress that monopolizes your thoughts and energy. This can make communication (even that of your needs or distress) extremely difficult. Emotional Regulation is a significant issue and needs to be addressed regardless of its impact on communication – a great resource for coping with Emotional Regulation on the whole is DBT. Below are some tips to accomplishing effective communication when you deal with dysregulation.


How to Cope


The STOP Method

S – Stop what you're doing

T - Take a coping break - (The TIPP skill works great here)

O - Observe yourself and your surroundings

P - Proceed mindfully


The TIPP Skill

T - Change your temperature

I - Engage in brief intense exercise

P - Paced Breathing

P - Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Move awareness from your head to toes progressively engaging (or tensing) each muscle in your body one at a time. Then, progressively relax one muscle at a time from the top of your head down to your toes.


Grounding Exercises (Observe)


5,4,3,2,1

Find the following:

5 things you can see

4 things you can touch

3 things you can hear

2 things you can smell

1 thing you can taste


Body Scan

Close your eyes and breath slowly

Bring awareness to the top of your head

Move from the top of your head to your face

Continue to bring awareness to body parts one at a time

End at your toes

Breath slowly

Open your eyes


Breathing Exercises (Paced Breathing)


Square Breathing

Inhale for 4 seconds

Hold for 4 seconds

Exhale for 4 seconds

Hold for 4 seconds

repeat for 30 seconds or more as needed


478 Breathing

Inhale for 4 seconds

Hold for 7 seconds

Exhale for 8 seconds

repeat for 30 seconds or more as needed


Use neutral words to avoid letting negative emotions take over the conversation.


If all else fails, ask for an intermission. If you are unable to regulate, the conversation doesn’t need to go on. You need to be able to regulate yourself before you can engage in healthy communication.



 

Communication and Alexithymia


Alexithymia is the difficulty or inability to identify your emotions and name them. This can look like answering “ok”, “good”, “bad”, or “upset” when asked how you’re feeling rather than using an emotion word such as “disappointed” or “hopeful”. This difficulty isn’t due to a lack of knowledge and doesn’t always apply to one’s ability to identify emotions in others (read up on the ablest theory that Autistic people have no “Theory of Mind” to learn more about that Neurotypical nonsense. Alexithymia is less about the emotional vocabulary and more about a lack of awareness of one’s own emotional state and the difficulty they may have describing it to others. As with the other two barriers listed in this article, it causes more important issues internally than just communication, but as you can imagine, being unable to identify and verbalize your emotions can get in the way of communicating effectively with others. Below are some tips to communicate emotions effectively when dealing with Alexithymia.

When engaging in communication and dealing with unhelpful emotions, refer to the emotion regulation skills above. Once you are feeling regulated, move on to the tips listed below.


Identify Your Emotion "symptoms"

Physical

  • Energy level

  • Temperature

  • Pain/unease in body

  • Tightness in body

  • Breathing difficulty/too fast/too slow

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Posture (rigid/slumped)

  • Tears

Behavioral

  • Avoidance

  • Yelling

  • Blaming

  • Becoming defensive

  • Shutting down/mute

Identify the “logical” emotion


Picture is a handout titled "Understanding Emotions" with columns for anger, fear, happiness, love, sadness, shame, disgust, and envy along with sections for "in need" and "masking and apathy". Each column lists emotion words, reactions to emotions, and signs of emoitions.
Understanding Emotions

Communicate about emotions effectively

DO

  • Use I statements and emotion words. "I feel lonely when I don't hear from you"

  • Use active listening and clarify emotions. "What you're saying is that when I don't text you back, you feel lonely, is that right?

  • Be ok with not knowing! If you don't know for sure what you feel, it's ok to communicate that if you want to. "Are you mad?" - "I'm not sure what I feel right now."

AVOID

  • Avoid equating emotions with blame "You made me angry, that's why." "If you're sad then I must have done something wrong."

  • Avoid assuming the emotions of others "You're just pissed off."



Get an IDEA about your feelings!

Light blue background with blue and purple words. Underneath each word is a ribbon with more words. Picture says "Identify the feeling, Determine the cause, Embrace and accept, Adjust with coping skills".
IDEA Coping Skill

IDEA

I - Identify the emotion

(using the skills above)

D - Determine the cause

(trigger or contributing event)

E - Embrace and accept it

(understand that emotions are

temporary and morally neutral)

A - Adjust uncomfortable emotions

with coping skills




 


Communication and Cognitive Distortions


Last, but not least, cognitive distortions are the internal mental filters through which we see the world (and ourselves). Everyone has mental filters, and some can be helpful (like using prior information to help figure out new problems), but some can be unhelpful (like being unable to believe that anyone loves you because someone lied once and now you can’t trust). Cognitive distortions are mental filters that distort reality in a harmful way.

There are 15 cognitive distortions - click this article for a free Cognitive Distortions Handout. They are common, but Neurodivergent people are more likely to deal with them (and many of them) than our Neurotypical counterparts. Below are some tips on how to avoid letting cognitive distortions negatively impact your communication.

  • Find the grey- When you feel yourself making assumptions or believing one extreme or the other, look for the middle ground.

  • Trade perspectives - When emotions fuel your reactions, try to see the conversation from another perspective.

  • Find the facts - When you jump to conclusions, take things personally, mind reading, or overgeneralize; weigh in objective facts rather than just a few factors.

  • Separate the conversation from the people - avoid labeling or assigning blame or responsibility to yourself or others based on feelings or differences of opinions.

  • Respect the feelings - respect your feelings and the feelings of others while recognizing that feelings aren't facts.

  • ALWAYS give yourself grace - Avoid blaming yourself when distortions take over. Allow yourself to mess up and do better next time.


 

By no means are these topics the only issues that come up for Neurodivergent people when it comes to communication. Just like everyone else, we are all different and require individualized help when we have struggles. That being said, I hope that these tips can help some of you to find healthy ways to communicate your needs, emotions, and desires. Stay tuned for Neurospicy info and more free Handouts!!


Stay Weird,

Neurospicy Therapist

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