Autism and ADHD aren’t just “trends”

We’ve always existed — maybe you just weren’t paying enough attention

illustration of a disgruntled looking person with the rainbow neurodivergence infinity symbol above their head
ILLUSTRATION: Alyssa Umbal / The Peak

By: Olivia Visser, Opinions Editor

If you’re a social media user, you’ve likely noticed a rise in posts about autism and ADHD on your timeline. Neurodivergence — the state of having a different brain from those without mental conditions — has been a hot topic in online communities over the last few years. As more people come to the realization that they experience life differently from their peers, social media has become a safe haven for those who have shared experiences and may have trouble fitting in offline. In light of this, others are latching onto the idea that these conditions are being overdiagnosed, faked, or exaggerated. Any potential truth behind such claims pales in comparison to the damage this rhetoric does to neurodivergent acceptance.

I was diagnosed with ADHD at 11, and with autism a whopping 10 years later. One of the reasons for this time disparity is a shift in public perception about autism. In 2010, few people would assume that the child who gets good grades in school and has a couple friends might be autistic. As a result, I went through my youth confused about social norms and friendships, yet blamed myself for being “weird.” 

Nowadays, more people are coming to the realization that autism is a vast spectrum encompassing all sorts of different traits and personalities. The rise in autism diagnoses means individuals are increasingly able to understand themselves and access support that meets their needs. This is a good thing. However, there are always those determined to criticize strangers on the internet. A Vox article from 2021 claims “social media is now basically WebMD for mental health.” The writer argues TikTokers overpathologize behaviours, which causes division and renders these labels essentially meaningless. 

To an extent, I can understand where they’re coming from. It can be irritating to scroll through videos that claim having strong passions equals autism, or that getting bored easily means you have ADHD. Sometimes, these videos appear to be as broadly relatable as possible to increase view counts. Likewise, many companies do the same thing when marketing their products to increase sales. There seems to be an increasing notion that being aloof or introverted means you’re neurodivergent, which isn’t necessarily true. At the same time, those who complain that “everyone is neurodivergent now” overlook the fact that late diagnosis impacts many adults. While there may be something to be said about reducing conditions to miniscule traits that most humans experience, there’s also something to be said about downplaying neurodivergent perspectives.

Most people with a late diagnosis of autism or ADHD find that their life suddenly makes sense and are able to more easily accept themselves. After all, if these conditions are “spectrum disorders,” there can’t be a strict archetype that each individual must fit into for a diagnosis. The increasing criticism towards neurodivergent people who share their experiences online has made me afraid to be open about my own diagnoses. I’m sure others feel the same way. These conditions don’t define me, but they play a massive role in shaping my daily experiences and interactions. Discovering that I wasn’t alone in my struggles allowed me to accept myself. Talking about this doesn’t make me attention-seeking.

It’s also important to recognize the barriers that prevent many neurodivergent people from seeking official diagnoses. An adult autism diagnosis is at least $2,000 in BC, and can follow a lengthy wait as well as require an interview from a parent or relative. An ADHD diagnosis is also around $300. Keeping this in mind, we shouldn’t label people as “fakers” for being unable to access an assessment. The government needs to step up its resources for neurodivergent adults, and that shouldn’t invalidate an undiagnosed person’s experiences. 

It can be easy for some to roll their eyes at social media posts they disagree with, but it’s just as easy to scroll past what you don’t like. In fact, Instagram and Twitter now offer the option to mute posts with unwanted words. I’d say this is far more productive than engaging in harmful discourse about other people’s mental health and identities.

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