Talking to your partner about being assessed for autism, ADHD, or any other neurodivergence can be a challenge. Author Sophia Kaur shares their experience navigating this discussion in this article.
I gained more vocabulary and a deeper understanding about myself, and I desperately wanted my partner to feel more comfortable in their skin, too.
Relationships can be hard, especially when you’re learning how to navigate different communication styles, boundaries, and just generally learning each other’s personalities as your lives conjoin in various ways. But having the added nuance of one or both of you being neurodivergent, and possibly undiagnosed, could create situations where someone constantly feels like they’re being left out or let down.
Additionally, we usually think that these issues can only occur where one partner is neurodivergent and another is neurotypical. However, no single autistic, ADHDer, or autistic/ADHDer is the same, which leaves room for arguments and misunderstandings—just like any other relationship.
As a recently assessed adult ADHDer myself, I know that my partner and I always seemed to clash on the most mundane things before either of us knew what was actually happening inside my brain and mind—or even inside theirs. It wasn’t until my sibling spoke to me about getting assessed, and my journey in seeking a diagnosis, that all the puzzle pieces started falling into place. I gained more vocabulary and a deeper understanding about myself, and I desperately wanted my partner to feel more comfortable in their skin, too.
The question then becomes, how do you talk to your partner about being assessed?
The question then becomes, how do you talk to your partner about being assessed? Especially when there’s still so much stigma around being neurodivergent in the first place. It can be hard to bring this up with your partner because you might be worried about hurting their feelings or having them internalize what you’re saying in a way that wasn’t your intention.
I know that, for me, I worried that they were going to think that I was saying there was something wrong with them—when there’s nothing wrong with them, it’s just the way they are. And, that getting assessed just helps us fully understand what’s going on for them so we could find new vocabulary to better communicate with each other.
Here are four tips that I used when I was getting ready to talk to my partner about being assessed:
1. Read up on neurodiversity
It might seem silly to read up on neurodiversity when you’re not even sure if your partner is neurodivergent in the first place—and all you want to do is tell them that you think that they should get assessed. However, it’s important to increase your own understanding of neurodiversity in the beginning regardless of whether your partner is truly neurodivergent. It also equips you to understand other people in your life or who you may know who are also neurodiverse.
Through reading, you might notice certain things you or your partner does that fit the description. From being in relationship with someone you suspect might be autistic or ADHD, or both, you can start to gather information and understand what might be happening in your relationship that your partner might struggle in expressing to you. It might already help you create the foundation of having a greater understanding about your partner, which will only help you in talking to them about being.
2. Consider the difference(s) in the way you communicate
Differences in the way you and your partner communicate can lead to ineffective conversations before they even start. Due to the stigma around neurodiversity, your partner may feel like you’re saying that there is something wrong with them. It’s important to stress that your partner will not be going through this alone, that they’re not broken, and that this isn’t some form of punishment. It’s also important to be clear about what you’re saying so nothing gets misconstrued.
Further, I found that starting the conversation with reassurances of how much they were loved helped to break the ice so they didn’t feel like they were put in the hot seat. Being aware and learning to use communication strategies that work for you both can help build a strong foundation towards a trusting, safe relationship.
3. Tell your partner about the neurodivergent things you noticed
If you’ve already read up on neurodiversity, you might have learned or understood your partner’s behavior in a different light. You can share that through learning more about neurodiversity, you realized that your partner does these things too. And that, in trying to understand your partner better, being assessed might help give them the communication tools and support they need. It could also help you both work on collaborating with each other about issues that have—or might in the future—come up in the relationship with greater understanding so no one walks away feeling like they are broken human beings.
4. Remember that, ultimately, being assessed is your partner’s choice
This last tip was the hardest for me to swallow. Being assessed really lit up my world and I no longer started questioning why I wasn’t like everyone else. But, not everyone wants to be assessed. Depending on what you’re hoping an assessment will do for your partner, there could be other ways to achieve that.
For instance, your partner can learn more about neurodiversity with you and learn more about themselves in the process. Doing so, you two can work together on your communication strategies to quell tensions. This doesn’t mean that you’re never going to argue—every relationship does. But it means that you can walk together towards greater understanding.
Being in relationship with someone who is neurodivergent and undiagnosed can be incredibly challenging. But talking to each other within a safe, loving relationship can profoundly change your relationship for the better regardless of whether you or your partner get assessed.
Who knows, your partner might end up wanting to get assessed long after they learn more about neurodiversity themselves. Maybe by creating the space where they can have these conversations with you within the comfort and safety of your relationship, they can feel supported and empowered to seek assessment on their own. And, if they never do, you two may have opened the way towards greater understanding anyway, and deepen your relationship with each other.
About the Author: Sophia Kaur is a queer neurodivergent Sikh researcher and writer whose work focuses on the intersection of security, silence, and trauma. They are currently a PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow and hold two Masters: one in Social Work and the other in International Relations. Sophia is working on their first novel, Saying Hello, which follows a young Sikh who discovers themselves through grief, culture, and family. In Sophia's spare time, if she’s not binge-watching Netflix and chilling with her dogs and cats, she’s supervising her partner gardening while she sips coffee and pretends to help. Learn more about Sophia here: www.sophiakaur.org