Trigger warning: Mentions of mistreatment of autistic person. 

After meeting at university ten years ago and being each other’s rock for so many years, How Not to Fit In by best-friends Charlotte Mia and Jess Joy is the vital accompaniment for anyone trying to navigate their neurodivergence or simply anyone interested in these experiences. This book takes readers through all aspects of autism and ADHD and is hugely affirming, inspiring, and encouraging in what life can be like for people and how much society still needs to change. The debut gives real hope for a better understanding of neurodivergence.

Mia and Jess’s engaging, warm nature shines through in their book and upon meeting them. Their desire for change is palpable and they really stand out as people with inclusion and equality at the very heart of how they think and everything they do. 

Is there anything that other ADHD and autistic resources sometimes don’t get quite right that you’ve tried to do differently in your book?

Mia: We’re very visual people and lots of the resources felt overly simplified or childlike or just used massive blocks of inaccessible text. 

Jess: Lots of online resources are also information for parents about parenting their young children, but obviously as a woman in my late twenties how can I relate to this? Neurodivergence shows up in so many ways. In the book we’ve tried to break off text with bold writing, big quotes and have notes acknowledging the often-heavy nature of discussion. We want people to take breaks and process. 

Has writing this book been transformative for you in any different ways than your social media platform? 

Jess: I think the way we have navigated social media has been more aligned with where we currently have been on our journey, sharing quite in the moment experiences. But the book has had more in-depth reflection and looking at things like trauma and how that can play into our experiences.

Mia: We weren’t ready for the trauma that the book was going to bring up, were we?

Jess: Definitely not! We had to think about what is going to serve the person reading this? How do we encapsulate everything we’ve learned? 

Mia: We had to drag up things that we haven’t spoken about on social media. It’s been tough in that way but also healing. I think people who read the book will get a more well-rounded view of us as people compared to the snippets of social media. 

Your inclusion of stories from other people really made it feel like a community driven book. How did you come to the decision to do this and choosing what stories to include?

Jess: While our conversation needs to take place about being neurodivergent in adulthood, we also have a level of privilege. Emmanuel Fru is a young Black autistic man from Sweden who was detained for having an autistic meltdown. We’re very aware that unmasking isn’t always possible or safe, especially when you are already being discriminated against in various ways. We never want to only centre our experience.

Mia: It was probably one of the biggest tasks of the book. Not only figuring out who to include but also how to do it in an ethical way, as we were restrained by our publishers in terms of navigating paying people for their time and stories. If we’re going to hear from minorities, we can’t and don’t expect free labour. I think both us and our publishers have learnt a lot from that process of questioning how things work. 

You note in the book that autism referrals have tripled since 2019! What would you say to narratives that “suddenly everyone is autistic or has ADHD” ? 

Jess: I honestly don’t see how it could possibly be a negative thing that more people are in tune with what they might be struggling with and what they need. I think whatever label or lack of label people use, everyone deserves to navigate their existence with peace. So what if everyone is autistic and ADHD? Why don’t we just create an environment that works for everyone a little better?

The book emphasises the importance of self-realisation for neurodivergence and how a professional diagnosis isn’t always the most important or only valid route. Could you touch on why you think this?

Jess: We are huge advocates of self-realisation or self-diagnosis. Although we’re aware that a medical diagnosis means access to certain accommodations in certain settings, crucially there is nothing disordered about us. Many people also don’t have access to medical diagnosis due to discrimination or financial barriers. 

What changes – if any – do you think have come about in society since you were both at university and struggling in jobs before realising your neurodivergence?

Mia: We hear accounts about how some schools are becoming more understanding and there is positive change in those spaces which gives hope for the future generations. Otherwise, I think we’ve still got a long way to go. It still very much feels like the more disabled you present, the more you are discriminated against. The more open you are about how you are struggling, the more pushback there is. 

Could you touch on the biggest struggles you feel those with neurodivergent brains can come up against in such a capitalist “hustle” and “productivity” culture?

Mia: I don’t really know who capitalism does work for? Earlier in our journey we might have been a bit more like “it doesn’t work for us and works for everyone else” but I think a lot of people do struggle and I think we were a bit naïve and resentful assuming it works for everyone else. 

Jess: We were on go-go-go constantly and it wasn’t good for our mental or physical health. Whilst there are obviously times you do have to push yourself to earn money and survive, by having these conversations we aren’t only trying to make neurodivergent people feel as if they can achieve more. We want to change society and corporations so maybe people can accept that we don’t have to do more all the time. 

You’ve done such great things through your social media platform @iampayingattention – what are the benefits of social media for your platform and community?

Jess: I’m so grateful as people that have struggled very consistently, that we can help relieve the shame of not feeling good enough for other people. 

Mia: Social media also allows for such lovely direct feedback and having an instant measure of how we are helping people. 

What would you say to someone struggling like you were before you realised you had autism and ADHD?

Mia: It really helped me stop these cycles that I was constantly going through – whether it be relationships, work, or family – it was just avoidance, trauma and not coping. Suddenly I had context for these short unsustainable cycles and spinning plates and now I understand how to work on these different things. It’s not been easy or quick but now I feel like I have control over my choices, rather than just being reactive or surviving. 

Jess: It’s not a short journey whatsoever and can be uncomfortable and understandably, there are people who avoid that feeling of discomfort. But long-term, leaning into who you are, what works for you and what doesn’t work for you and being able to melt away the shame is a peace that for such a long time, I didn’t even know existed. 

Follow Mia and Jess on Instagram @iampayingattention and buy their debut book How Not to Fit In published by Harper Collins. 

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