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A Neurodiverse Safe Path

A Functional Legacy Mindset

At the end of an initial consultation, I ask clients, “What are your goals for therapy?" It is at this point that I can feel my mind racing and heart pounding with excitement, as there are so many things my mind wants to communicate. I take a mindful seat and feel the privilege of witnessing a journey that begins.

Learning Healthy Ways of Sitting with Distress

The diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM-5) differentiates between feelings, thoughts, physical sensations, and behavioural urges or actions. Diagnosis feels less threatening when we remove judgment and curiously observe the mind repetitively returning to a destination, and the urges or actions that may follow. For example, major depressive disorder may result in the mind continually returning to an existential headspace (What is the meaning of life? Who am I connected to? What do I create in life?) which may lead to overwhelm and adversely impact day-to-day functioning (I.e., mood, sleep, appetite, memory, concentration, etc.). Generalised anxiety may result in the mind focusing on what is outside of our control and lead to an urge to seek reassurance (regarding the likelihood of feared outcomes).

Learning healthy ways of sitting with distress involves gaining an awareness of its common triggers and understanding the warning signs that signal that we are experiencing distress. Once you become aware of your triggers and warning signs, you are in a better position to apply helpful coping strategies. A structured, research-informed learning experience promotes both positive and sustained growth.

Schema Therapy is a powerful treatment approach that allows people to identify psychological defences and self-defeating patterns that begin early in life. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy provide coping skills to challenge problematic cognitions (thoughts) and behaviours that can amplify distress. Learning to be mindful of your emotions in a curious and non-judgmental manner (Acceptance Commitment Therapy) allows clients to change how they pay attention to an emotion and sets the framework for managing distress in a healthy way. Dr. Bruce Perry’s model of Sequential Engagement and Processing (regarding brain states) is highly impactful to teach clients how to regulate (self-soothe) and relate (with emotional attunement) before attempting to reach the learning part of their brain (which is futile when people feel dysregulated and disconnected). Exposure Response Prevention Therapy is a process of confronting fears until they subside (the process of habituation). Perceptual shifts allow people to center the mind and body.

A Neurodiverse Safe Path:

Neurodiverse individuals are acutely aware of their differences energetically, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Many clients block their emotions and mask (camouflage) due to societal discrimination and a lack of accommodations designed to meet the neurocognitive needs of neurodiverse minds. An important first step to removing the mask is one of acceptance before we can identify and embrace the many strengths and beauty of neurodiverse minds. When we can come to accept our whole selves, we can remove the mask that makes us feel hidden, rejected, and disconnected.

It is important that clients feel safe enough to reach out for help before they reach breaking point (develop maladaptive thinking about their plight) and believe that they have utilised all-of the responses in their coping repertoire (including seeking help). Repression of emotions and masking (suppressing your natural way of existing and camouflaging), may lead to burnout, disconnection, and isolation. Whilst it is important to teach people about refraining (holding back), repression has a different energy in which you are afraid to express your emotions or feel the need to suppress your natural way of existing. To refrain is a healthy response, rather than a reaction, that is a choice rather than a requirement. You don’t grow out the way your mind works, rather you grown into it. A great tragedy is going through life disconnected from our brilliant minds, because we see the self as broken.

Personalising treatment for precision goes beyond challenging thinking and treating avoidance behaviours to allow people to embrace their authentic self. A strengths-based perspective does not deny that neurodivergent disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, and Bi-Polar, carries potentially life-threatening risks and deficiencies, however, it also seeks to acknowledge the talents, interests, and skills upon which the person can build a life of success and joy. If a person is genuinely proud of who they are, it helps them to navigate the world better. In this way, expectations become more realistic and do not require the person to meet standards that are unreasonable. A safe path in the form; of a healthy self-identify (integrating a healthy sense of self), self-compassion, accommodations, energy accounting, supporting an interest-based nervous system, creative flow, and connecting with your tribe, allows people to minimize any negatives and leverage on the positives.

Dr Kerry Chillemi
Dr Kerry Chillemi Neurodiverse Safe Path
Source: Dr Kerry Chillemi

The Functional Legacy Mindset approach was designed by Dr. Kerry Chillemi (Clinical Psychologist) to educate people on how different minds function, to embrace their strengths, and portrays the legacy of such minds in terms of the benefits to society. The different minds discussed in the Five Mind Model | Functional Legacy Mindset includes, The Focused Mind, The Awe of the Autistic Mind, The Problem-Solving Mind, The Existential Mind, and The Entrepreneurial Mind. The Functional Legacy Mindset approach acknowledges the contributions and richness (the unique constellations of strengths and challenges) of each of these minds and seeks to address environmental factors that may be adversely impacting neurodiverse minds.

The discipline of psychology is evolving at a rapid pace, with a move away from the idea that people need to meet neuro-normative expectations in-order-to succeed in life. When you build a healthy self-concept, clients are eager to learn and are more likely to develop a self-compassionate mindset that acknowledges that support is vital and needed. In order to promote neurodiversity in society, we must move beyond seeing the challenges and start seeing the opportunities offered by difference. In addition to neurodiverse individuals developing new skills to promote their wellbeing, acceptance and understanding from others is needed. A curious approach that entails a desire to understand and see neurodiverse individuals as having equal rights, value, and worth is important. Ultimately, we want to empower neurodiverse individuals to feel comfortable to ask for the accommodations and support they need. By offering respect, support, and flexibility (accommodations in the workplace), we will encourage self-determination, empowerment, and innovations for the good of all.

The theory of a Functional Legacy Mindse approach is grounded by the therapeutic benefits of embracing the authentic self, to promote a sense of purpose, in which clients feel empowered to embrace their unique strengths and abilities to contribute to society in ways that feel authentic and meaningful to them.

Greatness is achieved through diversity of thinking!