Thoughts on ChatGPT and Neurodiversity

A robotic hand reaches upwards into a network of interconnected lines and points.

By Yamila García

During the last few months, there has been a lot of talk about artificial intelligence. New technologies of chatbots based on artificial intelligence have been launched and since then have been under analysis by the scientific and technological community, and basically for all those who feel curious about it. Even in one of my classes we have studied the benefits and difficulties that this technology can bring, and how to handle the challenges that may arise when incorporating these tools in different areas of our lives. Personally, I have tried it for some searches and found it quite efficient. However, I know there have been some concerns regarding bias and the generation of hateful and dangerous content. 

Considering the misinformation out there online and the amount of so-called "authoritative voices" on neurodivergence who write from a flawed perspective on the various conditions, I wanted to test this technology on the matter. I decided to do a search on what neurodiversity meant for this ChatGPT. And it turned out to surprise me for good.

I asked: “What is neurodiversity?” and it replied:

“Neurodiversity is the concept that there is natural variation in human brain function and that these differences should be respected and valued just as any other type of diversity. It recognizes that people have different ways of processing information, learning, communicating, and relating to others, and that these differences are part of the natural variation in the human population.

Neurodiversity includes a range of conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, Tourette's syndrome, and other neurological differences. While these conditions may pose challenges for individuals in certain contexts, they also offer unique strengths and perspectives that can be beneficial to society as a whole.”

I am pleased that it emphasizes differences in processing information, communicating, and learning, and that it not only focuses on the challenges we face but also highlights our unique strengths. I invite you to look for information about any specific condition. This technology is fed through the feedback it receives from users and the answers we give it, can be analyzed by it to improve future searches.

A Few of My Favorite Things

By Yamila García

It is never an easy task to incorporate something new into my life. That’s why every time I have to do it, I try to smooth the process with the help of “known things.” These things are not just anything, but specific things that make me feel comfortable and safe. It can be my favorite sweater, the most comfortable, old sneakers I own, the softest fabric T-shirt (and without tags of course) that I have, a piece of fabric, a textured keychain that I can scratch, or my favorite candies. I always have some of these things with me, but when I know I have to go through a change or incorporate something new into my life, I try to have them all! Having them gives me a feeling of security, of a “controlled environment” and makes the process I have to go through much easier. I know that everyone has their “favorite things,” but for me, more than wanting them, I need them. Only then can I feel the ground under me and be present in a moment of great pressure and stress.

I know and accept that this helps me a lot, but it wasn’t always like that. For a long time, I tried to ignore this need for comfort in things that I thought were “dumb.” I was embarrassed that I had to so illogically “depend” on a keychain or a particular cloth to get through common situations in my life. That dependency frustrated me a lot because I considered it a weakness. I was wrong, of course! What weakness can there be in knowing yourself? Knowing what works for you, and being able to help yourself is something to be proud of. Taking care of yourself, knowing how to regulate your emotions, and reducing discomfort in stressful situations, do nothing more than ensure your well-being. So, if like me, you also pack your backpack with your “life savers” every time you face a challenge, be proud! It is the most responsible thing you can do for yourself.

See Yourself as a Friend

By Yamila García

Many of us get used to not fitting in. To be told that we are odd, different, or that we are going the wrong way. Bearing this in mind, it is often difficult to see value in ourselves. We go through life thinking that everything that makes us be seen that way is something negative and in reality it is not. We are valuable! And in many more ways than perhaps we can see today. We are valuable even if others cannot see it. And we should not need the approval of others to feel that we are useful or talented. But I understand, we live in a society and much of what we do or feel depends on the feedback received in interactions with others. It feels good when external approval is received and it is very easy to give it to others. But what about the approval we give ourselves? What about celebrating ourselves and our abilities? Or congratulating ourselves on the challenges we overcome every day? Because the effort that a neurodivergent person has to make to do what everyone does in a world where everyone seems to have an instruction manual that they didn’t give us, is clearly not the same. When I have a hard time seeing the good in me, I try to do a meditation where I get out of my body and see myself as a friend. What would I say? How does thinking of myself as someone else change the way I see myself? Why is it so difficult to see in oneself something that we see so much more easily in others?

Seeing the good in ourselves is an essential part of developing our abilities and building confidence in our potential. No one is totally good or bad, so if you’re not seeing something good in yourself, you should try again. And yes, sometimes it also helps that they tell us how good they see in us. That is why it is a good exercise to say it to others. I guess everyone, in some way, at some moment, has a hard time recognizing their own self-worth.

The Dilemma of Disclosure

By Yamila García

Since the moment I learned that I am neurodivergent I found myself in a dilemma. Should I say it or not? Should I fully expose who I am so I can advocate for myself or should I hide it in order to avoid further prejudice and rejection? I believe that most neurodivergents can relate to having been rejected for being different. People are often afraid of what is different and have an automatic rejection reaction. Knowing this but considering our own needs, it becomes difficult to discern when the benefits of standing up for ourselves outweigh the harm and discomfort of rejection or lack of understanding. 

Some time ago, in a situation that was too stressful and overwhelming for me, I decided to request accommodations. I needed to get out of that situation as soon as possible. Naively, I thought that since it was a large public service company, people would be prepared to do it. I was asking to avoid a long line so I could get out of the noise and overstimulation I was in. I don’t usually ask for help and just hide everything, but I had been there for many hours. I approached the person who was at the door to ask for help, but every time I tried to explain my situation, they interrupted me, not allowing me to speak. Finally, after many attempts, this person managed to hear me and shouted, “Ohhhhh mental! It’s a mental condition!” This was in front of dozens of people and in the highest tone you can imagine. It was painful for my ears, but even more painful for my heart, as I was trying to learn to ask for help after so many years of “enduring” in silence. It broke my heart just thinking about people who can’t “bear” in silence like me and who have to receive this treatment just out of ignorance. It makes me think how useless any attempt to ask for help is if those who have the power to do so don’t know who we are and what we need. I really hope that this experience I had is not the usual treatment that everyone receives when they ask for help. I hope that even if it is the usual response, we don’t stop trying, because it is our right to ask. The world has been shaped for neurotypicals, but we also live in it.

Fighting Self-Doubt

By Yamila García

The worst mistakes are made when we don’t trust ourselves. I am fully aware that self-confidence is not an easy thing to build. But I also know that there are some tricks that we can use to build it little by little. At every beginning of the semester (or anything else) I find myself in a situation of overwhelm and despair, convinced that I will not be able to overcome the challenges that come my way. And every end of a semester, surprised once again, I tell myself: I don’t know how it happened, but you did it! Anyone would think that after the same thing happens repeatedly, one would have learned… but no, it doesn’t work that way. You remember, but somehow you manage to think that those previous times you overcame everything you did, was by accident, luck, or whatever but your hard work or intelligence. Considering that this always happens and it is statistically complicated that luck is what every semester makes us overcome all the challenges, I think it extremely necessary to force ourselves to remember and to try to be objective. 

Now, every time I think I’m not going to be able to face the next challenge, I ask myself: This feeling is the same thing I experienced last semester, right? That felt impossible, right? What evidence do I have to think that I cannot achieve it? How is this different from everything I have already lived and overcome? And even, what would be the problem if I couldn’t get over it? I can always try again. It doesn’t have to be perfect! In this new beginning of the semester, as ugly as every beginning sounds, I hope that you can be your own best friends and remind yourself that you have already achieved many things that at first seemed impossible, and that you will do it again this semester. Put sticky notes everywhere, set alarms on your cell phones, and write on your notebooks and blackboards whatever reminds you how brave you were in the past. Here’s to another semester that ends up surprising us because we did it again!

Why swim when you can fly?

By Yamila García

I am a morning person. I love the fresh air and enjoy how quiet and clean is everything early in the morning. The morning feels like a blank page, like an opportunity to do things right and go home with that wonderful feeling of having completed our responsibilities for the day. When I have the possibility to organize my days to my liking, I always decide to put all my tasks in as early as possible to finish the day earlier and not “cut” the day. It’s as if my mind needs to check all the items on my to-do list to get to relax. So, when for example I have an activity at 3 PM and nothing before that, it is almost impossible for me to focus on doing something else until that box has been checked. It feels like I’m “on hiatus” until I complete those tasks and it is a great loss of time and energy for me.

Some people may think: that I am overthinking things or that I am exaggerating. But it is my reality and that of many neurodivergents. We think and function differently than neurotypicals, and this should not be ignored. And I’m not saying it shouldn’t be ignored because I don’t want it to be, but because we could all benefit from a world where our differences are respected and taken advantage of. We are asked to swim when in fact we have wings and can fly. No matter how much effort we make, no matter how much will we put into learning to swim, it will never be the way in which we can get the most out of our abilities. We swim every day in a world that was not designed for us.

Be kind to your neurodivergent friend, what is natural for you is more than challenging for them. This is the reason why many of us are tired all the time. It is exhausting. Every day we have to adapt the way we communicate to the way neurotypicals do. The same with how we learn, we have to accept and adapt to how things are taught in the classroom because it is implicitly assumed that we all learn in the same way. We adapt how we actually feel about something, to how we are expected to feel, so as not to be once again branded as weird. And the worst part is that we are evaluated as if we are on an equal footing with others. What I am saying has nothing to do with abilities, but with the conditions and environment in which we are required to function.

Learning to Stop

By Yamila García

After an intense and exhausting semester, comes the difficult task of stopping. When we move at a significant speed, whether in a vehicle or running, we do not come to a complete stop in a second… Inertia makes us keep going beyond the goal, for a few meters until we come to a complete stop. Keeping up with the intensity of the classes is not easy, but neither is stopping. When we cross the finish line after running a race, our body is still active, alert and so it feels weird to be still. The same thing happens when we finish all our tests and assignments. It takes a little time to get the body and mind comfortable in the calm. Some, like me, perhaps fill up with activities to keep their minds busy, or we could even say silent. And so, stopping becomes a threat. So what should be the best or easiest part, turns out to be the opposite.

However, stopping does not have to be synonymous with disorganization or improvisation. We can also have an agenda for our leisure time. Many times during the year I find myself wishing I had time to do this or that. “I wish I have time to paint”, “I wish I have time to watch a tv series”, “I wish I have time to get a few coding projects done” and so many other “I wish”, but when I finally have the time, I can’t find a way to enjoy it. Sometimes because I don’t have a plan and the days just go by, and other times because I try to fulfill other things that I couldn’t do during the semester such as appointments, paperwork, etc. Therefore, this year I have decided to plan what I want to do during the winter break. Not in such a structured way, but more like a wish list. I deeply believe in the importance of nourishing our minds with things that make us laugh, enjoy and relax. I believe that we should all take care of our mental health with the same responsibility we put on our jobs and other commitments. I’m learning how to do it, I’m seeing the benefits while doing it and I want everyone to be able to work for their own joy.

Work for your enjoyment, commit yourself to taking care of yourself, value and be grateful for each day of your life, because although sometimes it is hard, we have overcome more than we ever imagined we could do and we will marvel at what awaits us.

A Little Fix it All

By Anonymous

Here’s a little pill, here’s a little fix-it-all, okay? It’s all okay.

Words from Madison Beers’ “Effortless.” It’s easy to believe that one little pill is the answer. The little
white pill, the little fix-it-all. 20 mg of Lexapro and your problems are over. It’ll help you, why not take
it? Everything will be fine.

Why, then, did it take me years to get an anxiety diagnosis in the first place? Why, then, do I feel like
taking the medicine is just the easy way out? I shouldn’t need it—I don’t need it—I don’t want it—I
can’t live without it.

Nothing with it, nothing without it.

Anyone who says it fixes anything is kidding themselves. Anyone who thinks they can survive without
is kidding themselves. It fixes everything, it fixes nothing, everything’s fine, everything’s not fine.

You’re in your head too much, don’t be afraid of medication, it’s just a tool to help you. Maybe
someday, you won’t need it anymore.

I don’t want it. I wish I didn’t need it. I don’t need it. I’m just fine. I’m doing fine. I’m perfectly fine.

I’m kidding myself, aren’t I?

Medication isn’t an easy subject. You can’t understand until you’ve experienced it—the shame, the
denial, the dependence, the stigma. It’s hard to explain why something that’s supposed to help you can
feel like the end of the world.

I don’t want it while I have it but if I lose it it’s game over.

I don’t feel like anyone. The world is mad, and they say I’m the crazy one?

I wish it really was a fix-it-all.

Unintentional Damage

By Yamila García

The lack of knowledge is a dangerous thing. Sometimes not knowing can be good, but other times it can cause a lot of damage.

Every time I’ve approached a professor for help, I’ve always been greeted with a lot of enthusiasm and appreciation for taking the plunge and showing interest. Never during the time that I have been studying in this institution, has a professor not given me the help that I needed. They always made me feel that they really care that we learn, that they take pride in their work, and that they want us to get the most out of their class. Considering these experiences, I can say that I am sure that they want the best for us and that they have a lot of goodwill. However, given the format of some of their classes, many of them have hurt me more than helped. But knowing their goodwill, I have to assume they just don’t know how we neurodivergents work. So all they do is random, it may or may not work for us. Not knowing what works for us is like wanting to guide us on a trail without knowing the way.

Many times, when I have found things in their classes that do not work for me, I have become frustrated. I know I shouldn’t because in reality there is no bad intention on their part, just a lack of knowledge on how to make the class accessible to different ways of thinking. It’s just that. They don’t know how we work. So this year I decided that at the end of the semester I will email my professors, telling them what worked and what didn’t work for me. They will be simple lists indicating what made my life easier and what was a great challenge for me and how it could be avoided. It won’t make a difference in my semester, but it can make them realize that we all don’t work in the same way. I believe that whenever we have the opportunity, we should make neurotypical people know our way of seeing the world. The hope is that one day “their world” will be friendlier to us. We have to give them the chance, we are the ones who have to tell them about ourselves.

When the battery is running low

By Yamila García

The fact that I didn’t know I was neurodivergent for so long made me an expert in “enduring” whatever I had to live through. It’s hard for me to stop and understand that I deserve free time and fun. I grew up believing that if others could do certain things, I had to be able to too. It didn’t matter how much it cost me, or how many crises I had, I always ended up doing what I had to do because “I had to.” I did not understand why some activities were so difficult for me, but I refused to accept it and thought that they were just silly things in my head and that I was just overthinking. I forced myself for a long time but now I’m learning to listen to myself.

We are officially 4 weeks from the end of the semester and I can already feel my battery is low. All the effort made at the beginning of the semester to adapt, the struggles with classes, assignments, and due dates, and the anxiety of exams, seem to have consumed a good percentage of our energy, and only a little remains. It is not that it happens on a pre-established date. Instead, I realize it because, for everything I do, I need more time and more effort, and I feel that I already carry a good dose of stress. At other times of my life I would have sworn that it only happened to me, but today I know that there are many of us who are going through this. We need to be patient with ourselves, we need to respect our body, our mind, and the time it takes us to do whatever we have to do. We have already done a good part of the semester’s work, we should be proud of it, and although what is coming is important, we will not be able to do it if we do not arrive in a good physical and mental state at the end of the semester. Go for a 10-minute walk, listen to your favorite song several times in a row as many of us like to do, play with your pets for a while… Stopping studying or working for 10 or 15 minutes does not have a great impact on these activities, but it can have it on our mental health, renewing our energy and serving as the push we need to get to December on our feet!

Listening to ourselves is not being weak, but being intelligent. Our body and our mind are what allow us to do what we want to do. How are we supposed to do it without taking care of ourselves? The lower our battery is, the more things we have ahead of us, and the more difficult what is to come… the more we need to give ourselves time and care.