Neurodivergent adults and self-care
We went looking for the resources aimed at self-care for neurodivergent teens and adults. Finding and sifting through them can be overwhelming at best and impossible at worst. That’s why we wanted to help by walking you through some articles that might make navigating through life a little easier. We don’t wish to claim that it’s comprehensive, but we hope that it’ll be a good start.
We’d recommend starting off by reading Self-Care, Compassion and Adult ADHD by Sandy Pace. Catch it, check it, change it are the three Cs that Pace personally lives by. Rejection sensitive dysphoria is extremely common among people with ADHD, so this stress on self-compassion is something to be appreciated and cultivated.
Further resources will be sorted by topic, although some may span multiple.
While predominantly aimed at younger autists and their parents, Autism Wellbeing CIC’s downloadable resources are still very valuable. They cover brushing teeth and hair, getting dressed, and much more. Resources that are possibly more relevant to teens and adults include: video calls, menstruation, and smear tests.
We talked about rejection sensitivity above, but problems with executive functions is an extremely common symptom for autistic people and those with ADHD. Basically, it’s really difficult to get into gear and execute plans—even simple ones. That’s why you may have trouble with things neurotypical people find easy, e.g. personal hygiene and taking showers. Sam Spadafore talks about this in more detail in their article, Task-Switching with ADHD: is THAT why showers are so hard?
A daily routine isn’t all about maintaining your body. Looking after your mental health is also important, and it’s important to find hobbies you can enjoy on a regular basis like reading, watching films, listening to podcasts, gardening, knitting, scrapbooking, painting, and other creative pastimes.
Food and Nutrition
ADHD cannot be cured, but you can curb its symptoms to some extent. Medication helps, but self-care is also important. Beyond Genes: Leveraging Sleep, Exercise, and Nutrition to Improve ADHD by Joel Nigg, Ph.D. covers certain vital aspects of daily self-care. In this section, we’ll be focusing on nutrition.
Nutrition is a very important element in managing ADHD symptoms. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of brain-friendly food and avoiding sugar as much as possible is key to this. Individuals with ADHD have trouble with consistency and tend to live in the present rather than the future. However, while implementing new food habits can be daunting, it’s important to try and engrain these now rather than later to be healthier and because your metabolism slows down as you age. We recommend you find a book about nutrition that focuses on incorporating certain types of food into your diet long-term, rather than for a specified timeframe. This is the healthiest way to approach food.
Here are a few books that cover this:
- Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D. and Deepak Chopra, MD: “Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being”.
- Dr. Nicholas Perricone, MD: “The Perricone Promise” and “The Perricone Prescription.”
Sports and Exercise
For anyone, including neurodivergent individuals, exercise and physical activity will have a positive effect on their overall physical and mental health. Exercise can raise your serotonin levels, reduce your cholesterol, and just generally help build a healthy body. The feel-good factor that accompanies exercise of any kind is evidenced enough of this. People with ADHD have reported feeling more settled and focused after an exercise session. Plus, there’s the added bonus of the satisfaction of having finished a task.
Think about how incorporating exercise into your routine would improve your daily life. What would it do for your mood, your outlook and your self-esteem? Don’t be intimidated now. There’s plenty of research that shows that walking just 30 minutes each day can do wonders for one’s mind and body—your daily exercise wouldn’t need to be very strenuous or lengthy.
If the thought of exercise appeals to you, our site also has a separate page on recreation that may be helpful.
A potential inspiration on the spectrum is Scott Frasard, a seasoned marathoner who provided 15-year-old Jonah Papovich with the aid he needed to begin running himself. For further details you can read Ashley McCann’s article Autistic Triathlete Helps 15-Year-Old Boy With Autism Complete His First 5K Run. Frasard helped set up The Ordinary Marathoner Actually Autistic Athletes Program, which provides some sources on how running is helpful for autistic people.
Sleep and Rest
Sleep issues are linked to almost every kind of neurodiversity. Your brain needs rest, and learning difficulties tend to be neurodevelopmental disorders, so sleep is highly important… but also easily disturbed.
In fact, for families with autism members sleep issues are a widespread concern. However, it also happens to be among the least-studied aspects of autism. The National Autistic Society (UK) has a page on sleep and autism that contains potential explanations and useful tips. It’s split into two categories for different target audiences: autistic adults and caretakers and parents of autistic children.
To truly understand how all-encompassing sleep issues are when it comes to neurodevelopment disorders, here is a study on insomnia in tourette syndrome and chronic tic disorder. The results show that the odds of people with TS/CTD seeking treatment for insomnia within the study period was 6.7 times higher than the general population. That’s 32.16% total, approximately one in three. People with comorbid ADHD and those taking ADHD medication were given extra scrutiny.
ADHD medication can disturb sleep. In general, though, sleep therapy is an essential element of ADHD management. Many individuals with ADHD experience sleep problems, even when unmedicated—getting to sleep, staying asleep, difficulty getting up in the morning, bad quality of sleep, etc.
Sleep deprivation exacerbates ADHD symptoms significantly and correlates strongly with unhealthy eating habits and obesity. Did you know that you tend to be hungrier when tired, compared to when you’ve got a good night’s rest? That being said, if you do suffer from sleep issues you should get tested for sleep apnea first. ADHD and sleep apnea have similar symptoms, including forgetfulness, demotivation and sleepiness throughout the day. The comorbidity rate of sleep apnea among people with ADHD is also high.
If that wasn’t enough, a high proportion of people with ADHD have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (sometimes called Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder or DSPD), which means that they produce melatonin later at night than their non-ADHD peers and their cortisol levels are similarly out of sync in the morning. It’s been described as suffering from constant jet lag. DSPD can be managed, but since consistency is key it can be a challenge for those with ADHD.
To sum it up, sleeping well can be a bit of a problem if you have ADHD. If it’s significantly impacting your life, it’s best to find a professional who can advise you. We understand that taking that step can be overwhelming though, so here’s something you can check out in the meantime; Sleep Deprivation and importance of sleep for Dyslexia, LD and ADHD by Zahavit Paz is an easily digestible article that touches on sleep and learning difficulties.
Another helpful resource is an ADHD and Sleep Webinar with Prof. Sandra Kooij wherein she discusses the delayed sleep phase syndrome with regards to ADHD, ADHD and the biological clock, melatonin, and light therapy.
For further research about sleep and ADHD, see: Bijlenga, D., Vollebregt, M. A., Kooij, J. J. S., & Arns, M. (2019). “The Role of the Circadian System in the Etiology and Pathophysiology of ADHD: Time to Redefine ADHD” (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders, 11(1), 5-19. doi:10.1007/s12402-018-0271-z).
Health and Medical Treatment
Interoception is the automatic feedback between brain and body that helps keep your blood pressure regular, or the signals that help to stabilise your blood sugar levels. Many of these sensations—such as the tension in your muscles, the clenching of your stomach, or the beating of your heart—should be available to the conscious mind, at least at times. The ways you read and interpret these can have important consequences for your wellbeing. To find out more about interoception, you can read David Robson’s article Interoception: the hidden sense that shapes wellbeing.
Sometimes, self-care means letting someone else examine and take care of you. Going to the doctor can be difficult for anyone, but neurodivergent individuals face their own unique challenges. Trust issues, touch aversion, and symptoms presenting differently than one’s neurotypical counterparts are just a few of those issues. It can all be very overwhelming.
This article from the British Medical Bulletin goes into detail about the implications of the neurodiversity phenomenon for medical practitioners. Most people go into the medical field to help others. However, a great many doctors have simply not been trained to deal with those who are neurodiverse. When viewed through a neurotypical lens, something that makes us who we are may seem deliberate or eccentric. Explaining and asking for accommodations can help to an extent.
The most important thing is finding a general practitioner or specialist who you can trust and who is willing to listen to you. Please don’t neglect your mental health either. Amaze has a guide for autistic women on approaching the GP about your mental health.
Chronic Pain and ADHD
Along with anxiety and depression, ADHD is a common comorbidity among patients with chronic pain. Chronic pain and ADHD tend to exasperate each others’ issues: pain can be distracting and ADHD is characterised by attention issues; limitations due to chronic conditions can be worsened by ADHD symptoms; etc. Two healthcare practitioners detail the comorbidity of chronic pain and ADHD from a medical perspective in an article, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder And Patients With Pain, which may make an interesting read if you are so inclined.
However, what should really be kept in mind is that chronic conditions and ADHD seem to go hand in hand. A small study of 45 individuals suffering from chronic pain seems to suggest that a third of those with the condition may also have ADHD. There’s also been at least one study on how some individuals with ADHD report symptoms that are typical of fibromyalgia syndrome and chronic fatigue, i.e. unexplained fatigue and widespread musculoskeletal pain.
You’ve probably heard of burnout. It’s not uncommon in our fast-paced, high-energy society, and those with autism can burn out easier than most. Constant “masking”, dealing with sensory discomforts, and the other struggles of autistic life can be incredibly exhausting… to the point where it becomes too much. To stress this day-to-day pressure a new term was coined, “autistic burnout.” Andréas RB Deolinda goes into more detail about what exactly autistic burnout entails in their article, What is Autistic Burnout?
Basically, surviving as an autistic individual in a neurotypical world means managing your energy levels so that you don’t get fatigued and eventually burn out. The National Autistic Society (UK) has a guide for autistic adults on the subject. Of course, it may already be too late. If you recognised yourself in the term autistic burnout, there’s a checklist by Dr. Alice Nicholls for you to read through. The symptoms are neatly divided into six different categories, to make it less overwhelming.
It is a fairly new term however, and formal research on it has been limited. “Having All of Your Internal Resources Exhausted Beyond Measure and Being Left with No Clean-Up Crew”: Defining Autistic Burnout aims to characterise autistic burnout, understand what it is like, the causes, and prevention or recovery methods. It is a first step in starting to understand autistic burnout well enough to address it. Unfortunately, the study is quite small.
Burnout is not limited to those with autism. Every neurodiverse individual struggles to cope with the challenges that they have been given, and sometimes this results in burnout. ADHD and women has produced an e-book on burnout in women with ADHD. It covers some interesting topics, including how burnout combined with ADHD does not present itself as typical burnout.
We’re all out of resources, but we hope that this has helped kickstart your research into neurodiversity and self-care. Please stay safe and happy.