The 5 Neurodivergent Love Languages
Updated: Sep 16, 2022
Oooh, I’ve been waiting to write this one for a while, ever since I saw some post on Instagram about the Neurodivergent Love Languages… I love the 5 Love Languages, so these have been something I’ve wanted to dive into.
Some of you may be familiar with the classic 5 love languages: Quality Time, Physical Touch, Gifts Received, Acts of Service, and Words of Affirmation.
The 5 neurodivergent love languages (and this is not science, or a book or anything other than internet sensation, I think originally posted on IG by @neurowonderful) are actually really kinda true if you must know, and include: Infodumping, Parallel Play, Support Swapping, Please Crush My Soul Back Into My Body and I found this cool rock/button/feather/leaf etc and thought you would like it...
Next week is my birthday…I turn 48. I think I’m going to like that number…it feels round, supple, inviting…and 4 +8 =12 which is my favorite number, and 1+2=3 which is another favorite. Actually, so are numbers, and patterns and numerology, and I also love mystical shit like astrology and energy reading. Uhoh…I sense some special interests popping up.
Hmmm…that kinda falls under the category of Infodumping.
Let’s start there.
INFODUMPING: That’s when your neurodivergent person just has to tell you all about everything that’s in their brain at the moment…their day, their special interest, what they want to eat…anything. It’s a dump…full on, possibly no word in edgewise, let’s just get this out of our brain and then maybe I can listen to you kind of a dump.
I was trained as a clinician…a Speech Language Pathologist, and I didn’t internally identify with the autistic community until 2 years ago, so…although I was always client-centered, I didn't know it as a lived experience…which means a current special interest is learning about all of this from the internal perspective. So fascinating! So…as I learn about this from a new space I get all kinds of cool lingo, like SpIns for Special Interests…and I learn that my community doesn’t really like the term “Special Interest” because “Special” is often a euphemism for “disabled” or “retarded” (e.g. special education, special Olympics, oh…they’re ‘special’), therefore, they’re referred to as SpIns and they are EVERYTHING to our community…
It’s like falling in love. We get intensely focused on something that takes our interest…it can last weeks, years, maybe even days or decades…we want everything about it all the time…read more, hear more, talk more, learn more…it’s like when you’re in a new relationship with the New Relationship Energy (NRE) and you can’t get enough…it consumes you and you love it…that’s a SpIn for an autist. We also love hearing about yours, even if we don’t share the same ones. It’s just…awesome…to have so much passion in one place. We support yours, and we love it when you support ours, or at least give us space for it. The sharing of knowledge and information is always welcome…and yes, sometimes it can get overwhelming even for us within our own community…but it’s actually considered a sign of caring and deep friendship to let others talk to you about their SpIn…because we know how ridiculously happy infodumping makes us, so we celebrate yours too.
I’d like to actually go into a version that I haven’t seen discussed, but I do think it falls into this category, and that’s what I’ll call “Foreshadow Freakout Infodump.” It’s basically where I think of the worst case, or inevitable end or change to something (like my dad dying, my daughter growing up and flying to the coop, or the world falling apart) and I obsess, cry and freak out about it waaaaay ahead of time and then, when the time comes, I’m fine. I notice that my neurotypical friends tell me to stop worrying until the moment is there, but my neurodivergent ones generally just let me process. It’s somehow necessary in my life, I don’t stay in that space, but it helps me prepare for when it comes. During a process, I'm known to infodump...I'll tell you all about my freakout.
Oh, and oversharing: doesn’t exist. No much is too much. It’s all on the table, and we’ll respond by letting you know we understand you by giving our own story that relates to yours…that relates to how we have felt a similar way or had a similar thing happen. Which leads us to our next topic…
PARALLEL PLAY: Vitally important to both autists and ADHD’ers. This is when we share space. Maybe it’s while one of us is absorbed in a SpIn, maybe it’s while we’re doing a task that we get distracted on if we’re all alone…like folding the laundry, cleaning up, organizing…In that situation, parallel play allows us to have an anchor, to keep us grounded while we’re doing something that generally keeps us from staying focused. Parallel play is also just...sharing space…
I think in the original 5 Love Languages it would be “Time Spent Together.” Indeed. Parallel Play is so vital…we love being in our own heads and we also love being around others. Being in our own heads while around others is everything.
I think, during COVID, this became extra apparent in my family. We shared so much space together, we grew together as a family just by being alone together day in and day out. We developed some family SpIn’s like certain board games, walks we would take on our property…or conversations about particular topics of interest...we were alone together, and we grew deeply during that time.
Parallel play doesn’t involve much conversation…there might be random deep snippets that come from the recesses of our mind, and pop out in the middle of the quiet, or in the middle of the organizing. Sometimes parallel play has conversation…I tell you one thing, you recognize that in yourself and share your side of it. It’s not all one direction, but it’s not exactly a back-and-forth conversation either.
SUPPORT SWAPPING: Oooh…this gets to go a little more in-depth than I’ve seen…there’s actually a lot to unpack here. Essentially, support swapping is when we help our friends out…offer support like “did you remember to make your dentist appointment?” Or “did you take your meds?” This isn’t controlling, not at all, not even remotely…it’s actually helping our fellow neurodivergent pal in a way they need and appreciate.
And why is that, you ask? Because autists and ADHD’ers have spiky profiles (in my clinical training, we called these “split skills”). Essentially, we have areas we’re really good at, and ones we fall short of, in ways very different than a neurotypical person. It’s not like “I’m good at math, but language arts isn’t my thing” It’s more like “I’m great at math but I also can't figure out how to tie my shoes” or some such other possibility that appears as an oxymoron against our own skill sets.
Basically…with autism and ADHD there is known difficulty with our executive functioning…this is our ability to focus, plan, recall information and multitask or even single task. When we match these challenges against our cognitive strengths, we can see all sorts of interesting things. I mean…classic example: Think of Einstein. He was BRILLIANT, but did he brush his hair? Know how to tie his shoes? Wear socks? He had some areas that disn't match his intellect, due to his spiky profile of executive functioning skills. BUT…when a person like that has a friend, colleague, or partner that helps to remind them (Einstein, honey, did you brush your hair? I picked out socks for you. Let me get you shoes that don’t need laces) this is called Support Swapping. And in return, we’ll give you support too.
For me, I support swap with my daughter on a daily basis. I support her with the tasks she has trouble remembering, and she often catches me when I’m about to forget something important, or can’t find the item I just put down, or…whatever host of things that apply to our own spiky profiles. My husband used to think I was being controlling with him…he clearly didn’t see that he needed some support (haha!) but I was just genuinely watching out for him. He wasn’t autistic though, nor did he have ADHD, so maybe that’s why he didn’t always appreciate it.
PLEASE CRUSH MY SOUL BACK INTO MY BODY: Oh, probably one of my very favorites.
Basically, body crushing, weighted blanket, bear hug, squeeze box kind of thing. Tempel Grandin invented the squeeze machine when she was 18 so she could get in it, have a firm hug, and thereby reduce her anxiety. It’s generally known and accepted that people with autism have sensory differences…we experience touch with both high and low sensitivity (clothing tags drive us nuts, and bear hugs feel calming) and there’s something about the heavy touch that regulates our nervous system.
For me, I do like a weighted blanket, particularly if I’m nervous or anxious. But what I REALLY like is to have my partner lay on top of me (totally non-sexual, I’m just looking for the weight) and ground me. I want full weight, we’re talking over 200lbs...as I lay on my back and they lay on their front on top of me. I have them lay so I can still breathe and I just relax. It’s comforting and I’ve missed it since my husband died.
I FOUND THIS COOL ROCK/BUTTON/LEAF/ETC AND THOUGHT YOU WOULD LIKE IT
Ah, what a collection I have selected, given, and been gifted in this department…several reasons. You see, neurodivergents are often connected to the physical world, we love nature and find solace in natural things. That said, we also adore collections of things, particularly if they have to do with a SpIn. AND…if we know you have a SpIn and we see something that could belong to it…so much fun. We support our loved ones by remembering their goofy likes and treat them like a treasured inside joke. I actually have a few dolphin collectibles as a result, kind of a bad inside joke (I find them totally cheesy in decor and, as a result, have been gifted some as a spin on a SpIn if you will…).
Basically, in unconventional gift giving we’re saying so much: I like you, I thought of you and I find interest in what you find interesting, more or less.
It’s so much more than a traditional gift…those are boring, predictable and conventional, and that’s just not how our brains work. We’re the antithesis to boring, predictable and conventional...and so are the cool rock/buttons/leaves etc that we find. In fact…I think that, due to our astute observation skills, many of us are really, really good gift givers because we notice the little things…and then find them and give them to you.
Another term in this love language I just discovered is Penguin Pebbling, where you swap memes back and forth you think your person would find funny...For me, it seems to be a combination of infodumping/parallel play and I found this...but I could be wrong. At any rate, this is high on my love language list...I'm forever sending (and receiving) hilarious memes with friends, and with my daughter...oh goodness, don't even get me started there. I'm already laughing...
Something I find really cool from a Speech Therapist's perspective is that many of these love languages…actually all of them to a degree…are forms of communication…they are ways that we reach out to others to share an experience. Sure, it might not be conventional or following a typical conversational exchange (offer, ask, answer, respond, etc) but it is COMMUNICATION. It’s social, human connection and yes, even autistics are capable of that…even ones that may not talk. The desire for human connection is real. We’re humans…every one of us, and though our style of communicating may be different, it’s still there.
As a clinician: please don’t try and change that…but rather, take it and develop it…use our SpIn’s to get us towards deeper comm, use our love languages to foster more connections, and focus on our strengths to bring us to the next level.
If you are a clinician or any form of human and have questions about that...about how to focus on strengths or develop next steps that are person-centered, please ask me, I excell in this area...you could say it's a SpIn of mine.