Neurodiversity – the key that unlocked my world | Elisabeth Wiklander | TEDxGöteborg
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Neurodiversity – the key that unlocked my world | Elisabeth Wiklander | TEDxGöteborg

Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: Rhonda Jacobs My name is Elisabeth Wiklander, and I – I am autistic. What do you think about
when you hear the word “autistic”? How do you react
when you hear the word “autism”? Would you say that it is
a lifelong disorder? An impairment? A disability? This is indeed the way
medical language describes it, but autism is so much more than that. No diagnostic manual can truly explain
the multifaceted experience of autism. It is a neurological difference, with a vast spectrum of representation
within its population. It can come with
remarkable gifts and skills, as well as devastating traits. But autism doesn’t necessarily
equal disability. And thankfully, today we have a word
that challenges this negative terminology: “neurodiversity.” Neurodiversity describes
how diverse we are as human beings, from a neurological perspective. It suggests that the many variations
of human brains, like autistic ones, should be accepted
as a natural and valuable part of humanity’s genetic legacy. DNA shows us that autism
is primarily a genetic condition, something that has been
passed down through generations and is still widely shared
in the general population. These genes can carry
something so positive, in spite of the difference they cause, that they have persisted
throughout our evolution and still flourish today. Some of our important inventions, pieces of art and music, and discoveries in scientific fields
that have moved our world forwards come from autistic minds. With today’s exciting
new technologies in neuroscience, we have seen that autistic brains
differ from the norm. Not only that, but it appears as if each and every one
differs in its own unique way. So, autism is rich in expression, but still faces limiting generalizations. Today, I want to talk
about the autism that I display, the one that blends with normality and can have catastrophic impacts
on people’s lives, not necessarily because
of the autism itself, but because of the ignorance of it or the failure to recognize
that it is there in the first place, as I eventually would discover. Now, in social situations, we do have expectations upon one another. We use a certain kind of rulebook, which, when followed,
rewards us with social acceptance. But I always felt that I was different. The trouble was I couldn’t explain how,
and certainly not why. It felt as if I had been provided
a different rulebook, and that I lacked a community
to fall back upon, that could confirm to me that the way
I interpreted the world was valid too. So, I grew up feeling very misunderstood, by pretty much everybody, even within my own family. If I applied what would have been
my motives, my intentions upon someone else’s
behavior, or vice-versa, the outcome was often negative
and very confusing. So to me, the social world
became scary and unpredictable. Now, I did notice, however, especially
during my school years here in Sweden, that my mind had been blessed with gifts, like analytical skills
and intense mental focus, high capacity for memorizing information, which made studying
very pleasurable and easy. So in my academic pursuit,
I came here to Göteborg, where I studied at the university. I later went to the Netherlands,
where I attained my Master of Music. And today, I live in the UK, working as a professional cellist
in the London Philharmonic Orchestra, touring the world. But this, however,
is quite unusual for me, to stand on a stage just talking to you,
without my instrument. I can’t help the feeling
that I have forgotten it somewhere. Okay, so one may now think, “Okay, she plays in this great orchestra. She’s obviously done pretty well
for herself. What’s the problem?” Well, I have a very literal mind, and it constantly clashes
with both nonverbal and verbal subtleties in social situations. It gives me a very direct line of approach
and speech in everyday conversations. I still don’t really understand
the purpose of small talk, although I can appreciate it now. And jokes and sarcasm
fly completely over my head. My mind just takes things in so literally. It loves to analyze everything. My world is a very intense one. My senses are heightened. My brain absorbs everything in
through an amplifier. My special interests
can completely consume me. And my emotions, they go from the highest of high
to the lowest of low, and they’re on and off
like a light switch. My family, bless them, they can still stand in utter disbelief when I go from a complete nuclear blast
to rainbows and butterflies in less than two seconds. Literally. So, okay, autism influences my thoughts, my imagination, my senses, my emotions, and the way I process information. But without knowing this, it was very difficult
to maintain friendships, because our social expectations
were so different. I could come across as odd, and I experienced
a good amount of bullying for it. But the most devastating, the most devastating were
the eroding misunderstandings that dominated the relationships
with the people closest to me. Body signals? Misread. Words? Completely misinterpreted. It was so frustrating. It was like fighting a ghost, something that no one could really grasp, not even the counselors
we sought for help! So it was a mentally agonizing situation, that persisted year after year, and in my mid-twenties,
I had reached a really dark place and I started to be
truly scared for my future. But then, something extraordinary happened
that changed everything. In 2006, I heard about
Asperger’s syndrome. It is already an outdated term today, but it is still a form of autism, on the high-functioning end
of the spectrum. Three years later,
when I was 28 years old, I received this diagnosis, and I realized that
a good third of my life had been based upon
a false perception of myself. Imagine that! No wonder my life had been so confusing! But now, now I started to see myself
in a new, clear context. My whole life and all my experiences
just started to make sense! This launched me on an incredible journey
of enlightenment and transformation. I had finally been given something that allowed me to explore the relativity
of my perception of the world compared to others’. I gained access into
that mysterious rulebook, and I could start comparing it with mine. And so, I learned
to identify my differences. So in the coming years, I found efficient ways
to improve my social skills. I learned to verbalize my needs, recognize my limitations and develop my strengths. I found successful strategies
to navigate my everyday life and significantly improved all
the “disabling traits” of my diagnosis. But this took a lot of commitment,
dedication and hard work. Because autism is a spectrum, I had to become like a researcher and collect a lot of information
from a lot of different sources over a long period of time in order to be able to complete
my unique life puzzle. When I thought that I had reached the
level of conformity that society demanded, I kept feeling that something
was not quite right. Something was still missing. I could change the way I acted, but I cannot change the way I am. My natural, biological calibration
is and always will be autistic. And the problem I had now was to live up
to these new high social standards that I had set for myself. I had come to understand my differences. But as you all know,
a relationship is a two-way street. Without acceptance
and understanding for the real me, I would never be truly happy, and this prompted me to one day
make quite a radical move. On April 2, 2015, I announced my autism on social media, and I started to talk about it
with everybody, openly. Bang! Just like that. I admit it was absolutely terrifying, because I had encountered
what was out there, the stigma, the prejudice. I was very afraid that people would put their
preconceived ideas of autism onto me, rather than letting me show them
what autism can look like. But this didn’t happen. What happened was
that my life changed completely almost overnight. I was met with curiosity, and support started to flood in
from everywhere: from friends, from family,
from colleagues, and from people I didn’t even know. Media started to take notice, and people who recognized
themselves in my story started to contact me,
from near and far, for help. Seeing how common the situation was and how efficiently it could be reversed
using the same tools that I had, it inspired me to share
my experience further: that the knowledge of neurodiversity opens
new communication channels between us by identifying differences
we didn’t know of before, because they have been
hidden in our minds. It unlocked my world
with a key to identify my differences and to communicate these
in a way that we could all understand. So today, I’m a very happy person. I have got some wonderful friendships, I’ve connected deeper
with my family members, and I’m experiencing what it is to be
in a happy, healthy relationship with a wonderful man, who is thankfully also very patient, because misunderstandings,
they still do happen. But now, now they can be resolved, so they’re no longer a threat
to our relationship. We have taught one another
to read each other’s rulebooks, and it is enriching both of our lives. I’m still autistic, but I love it. I embrace it! I can no longer align myself
with the word “disabled,” because in retrospect, I understand that the suffering that I have experienced
does not stem from my autism itself, but from the impacts
of ignorance about it. So if we need a cure for anything,
it’s not for autism; it’s for ignorance and intolerance. Differences are always challenging, but they are equally what makes this world
such a beautiful and spectacular place. Recognizing how we differ from each other
from a neurological perspective helps us to coexist more smoothly without having to carve so much
in our authenticity, allowing our natural skills, talents
and creativity more freedom to roam, not just for people
on the autism spectrum, but for all. By joining forces, we can create
a larger picture of ourselves and inspire each other on new levels. The autistic population
is not an insignificant one. In the UK only, we are nearly one million people. So knowingly or not, you will find us
amongst your friends and colleagues. We might be a family member, your boss, or a neighbor. You might have fallen in love
with someone on the autism spectrum. Why? Why must we wear a one-size-fits-all
because it fits the majority of people? Should what is neurologically accepted
be determined by what’s the majority? Is human value determined
by what is the majority? No, of course not. But yet, a lot of autistic
individuals, too many, can still not access
their basic rights as citizens because ignorance of our difference
still permeates every aspect of society. We deserve the same access to education, with knowledge and flexibility regarding
our unique information processing. We deserve the same access
to the workforce, with understanding for our sensitivity to social deciphering and sensory input. We deserve appreciation
and recognition for our skills, and we deserve the same access
to adequate help and support where the true source of our struggle
is better recognized. All services have to start evolving towards taking
neurodiversity into account, or a lot of people will continue
to fall through the net, and that is ultimately harmful
to our entire society. It is unacceptable that because some
don’t fit a standard norm, they risk being bullied,
discriminated, labeled as impaired, and pushed to the edge of society,
becoming spectators behind a glass wall. It is a weakness that deprives us
of contributions from unique minds that are valuable to us all, because they’re different, because they think outside the box. The quirky kid from school, like me, has just as much to offer
the world as anybody else. Every human being is a resource, and society has to broaden its framework
to allow everyone a place in it. This may seem a daunting task,
but we mustn’t be discouraged. Extraordinary things can
and have been done by ordinary people, no matter through which spectrum
we perceive the world. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Neurodiversity – the key that unlocked my world | Elisabeth Wiklander | TEDxGöteborg

  1. This is me! This is MY story too… I recently discovered ASD and ALL the pieces fell into place.. This is the first time in 59 years I feel real hope.. to find and be the real ME..

  2. I'm a 59 year old male and discovered I am on the spectrum this month 1/2/18. What Elizabeth says on this video is so accurate and articulate. Knowing I'm on the spectrum has given me the tool to understand who I am and how I can understand my differences. It has been a life long struggle. Now, for the first time a fog has lifted that obscured understanding these struggles in almost every facet of my life. If you are not on the spectrum, it may not be fully possible to understand this or how it completely changes your life once you discover who you really are. Thank you Elizabeth Wiklander for stating this so well…

  3. My daughter is 10 and describing some of your experiencies I feel you described her. She still doesnt know she is an asperger girl. But at her age I don't know how can that help her. For now everything in life is boring. Go to school is boring taking to Her girl clasmates is boring for Her, but it is great for Her to play with boys.

  4. It's pretty cool being a real life mutant. Somebody needs to start up a school for the gifted. So many X-men vibes.

  5. I love this. Too many times I've been hurt by what people say.. and I've learned to never get close to anyone because they will all eventually say;.. wow you are weird..and walk away

  6. Very brave to take a chance but one that resulted in a happy ending. Well done can’t see your name whilst writing but nevertheless u r very articulate.

  7. Its easy to say people do not accept them…but even in reality the poeple who labeled you as autistic dont know exactly why or how it causes these effects on the brain…it needs to be more research around it until we know the real causes behind it

  8. “the suffering that I have experienced doesn’t stem from autism itself but from the impacts of ignorance about it”

    YES!! Yes!!! 👏👏👏👏👏👏

    Thank you for educating me

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I often feel like I have been missing the day they passed the social skills out. It explains so much about what I go through quite often! I would really like to get a autism diagnoses to confirm that I really have it.

  10. Brava for sharing your truth! My well-intentioned suggestion is to avoid the word ignorance when talking to neurotypicals. Perhaps ‘something you have not yet experienced ‘ would come across less condemning & less likely to get defensive. Thanks for your help!!!😊

  11. I love these, but… I'd love for someone to give a talk about WHAT they did to bring themselves back from the fringes of society. What the day by day, the first step was and the 15th… Because for someone like me who at 37 only found out 2 weeks ago he was Adhd, and 5 days ago that he's on the spectrum the mountain of enlightenment is desirable but, where does one start rebuilding a ship lost at sea with no port which to dock?

  12. I have mild Asperger's and I'm very high-functioning, and yet I still can't stand people's small talk and idle chitchat. I understand jokes and sarcasm just fine, but I hate it when people talk at me. I'm very analytical and no-nonsense. I also can't stand it when "normal" people talk about their romantic relationships, it's very boring and annoying. I'd rather be in a field catching grasshoppers and other insects.

  13. At the end she does that little pause before saying thank you which is usually done in the end of classical music performances before the applause to enjoy the quietness after the musical experience.

  14. Neurodiversity is not the opposite or a challenge to seeing autism as a disability. I am autistic, I am disabled, I believe in the ethos of Neurodiversity. People who say autism isn't a disability don't understand disability. It's not just that autism itself can be disabling, but that an inaccessible society disables us too. And honestly I've never heard someone say autism isn't a disability without sounding like they think disability is a terrible thing and disabled people are to be pitied.

  15. As a Child Psychiatrist I am really really pleased to hear someone so clear and persuasive say so many of the things that need to be said about this condition. It is not a disorder. Ignorance and intolerance of difference is the main problem. Woman for woman, women with ASC deliver more for society than neurotypical women. (Ditto men). I will be sharing this will lots of my teenage patients who are diagnosed with ASC and need a role model to encourage them to stand tall and be proud of their particular subtype of neurodiversity.  And please can we campaign to reinstate Asperger's as a formal diagnosis. Aspie pride and Aspie culture needs to flourish.  Thank-you+++

  16. Great video. I'm 31 and only realised I'm on the spectrum this year. I hand flap and rock back and forth when things get too loud but I am very intune with my environment. I've developed empathy that freaks people out, because it's a survival thing; I don't read faces – I read energy (yes this sound way out but it's true) – I sometimes hear what people think and I just feel the world around me. I'm a musician and artist and love science.

  17. Awesome Ted talk Elisabeth! One of the main things I got from watching is that those of us on the spectrum should embrace our different brains and enjoy the way we process the world! We should also make an effort to conform to behavioral standards so we don’t appear too weird. I feel motivated, perhaps by those pants!

  18. How comes we don’t hear from Aspergers’ that are not gifted? I would like to hear the story of someone like me.

  19. Thank you for sharing your experience, feelings, and knowledge. I applaud your work toward self awareness and personal growth. I find that I share some of your traits, and suspect that they just fill in another part of the "spectrum." Once I understood them, it became easier to successfully integrate them into my lifestyle. Let us embrace our neurodivdersity along with our humanity. You might enjoy reading The Speed of Dark by Elisabeth Moon.

  20. I 've always felt different and I've have struggled so hard to understand why until I found out , 8 months ago , at 45 years old , I had A.S ! It was a real shock ( because of the bad – and false- image of autism ) but also such a relief ! I have reread my life under this new understanding and after feeling angry ( for the huge amount of suffering that no one in my family ever took care of ) , and sad , I 've felt light , so light for the first time of my life . Struggle was over I could be my own self at last ! Knowing that I am an autistic person got me out of the disconfort zone I had been for ever . I 'm having a renaissance ! I live a life that-s good for me , when my kids are at school ( I don't have a job) I do what I want , I do my research , I read , I do yoga , meditation ( by the way great to help you to communicate and feel your needs). I feel strong ( aspies really are ) and proud of myself for my resilience . Elisabeth is a great and positive exemple of autism ! Aspies have a lot to give to the world ! My 3 kids have disorders ( one is aspie the 2 others have adhd ) and I create educational strategies to help them live a most happy life ! I have a FB page Severine Maman Hyper/Tsa . My project is to help people with disorders ( especially kids ) , I will be a coach in 1 or 2 years . Aspie people have so many gifts to give to the world !

  21. I wish all this was my case now. My family still refuses to aknowledge my diagnose at 44 (I fell through the cracks in the 70s), even though I am a texbook presentation. I'm invalidated and so are my challenges, I'm invisible to most people here in my country. I have no relationship, still raising a daughter alone divorced. In my country I have no hope to remarrying is now clear to me being how I am. The only positive things of now knowing I am autistic are I at least now understand myself, being autistic has enabled me to have an amazing job because of how I process information and have found a nice online community but other than that I am alone. A year ago when I was diagnosed I posted here that this is how I felt too and I wanted all to go like it did for her, guess it was just wishful thinking. I will keep writing about the experience and hoping at least someone will benefit from my experiences.

  22. Please please please!!! Subtitles in many languages!!! This is by far the best tedx talk I’ve watched on autism, we need to be able to share it with the world!!!

  23. If someone would make a tshirt that says NEUROTYPICALS BORE ME, I would order 5 and wear one to work every day. It's so weird: wishing NTs would accept you while finding most of their conversations boring af. Maybe they get more interesting when the old Aspie isn't tryna eavesdrop on them, hahaha. Can anyone vouch for this?

  24. Beautiful story and such an important conclusion about the suffering in our lives not being a result of the autism but a result of the lack of understanding of it!!!

  25. Somewhat ironically, the mic issues make this video extremely irritating to me and the other autistic person I know who tried to watch this.

  26. Elizabeth – I first saw your video about a week after I discovered I was autistic (1/2/2018). This video still touches me deeply.. maybe now because I've accepted I am autistic now… but I'm still healing from my past, learning who I am and how autism expresses itself in my life ( when I let it! ) – I will always be grateful you make this video! – Thank you!

  27. What I need in my journey towards a diagnosis is context. I've always felt like I wasn't given the guide book to socializing and being human, and I grew up feeling like a total alien, even though I didn't ever express that. I'm 22 and on my way to an assessment and it's a long, painful journey so far.

  28. Thank you for this you are Amazing I am also on the spectrum 🙌🏼🥰!! And actually a cellist as well 🙌🏼🥰!

  29. I’m 60, imagine being identified so late in life…relief yes but grief over so much lost time, trauma compounded it….due to misunderstandings from parents…friends what’s that?

  30. I've always been open about my diagnosis. It still doesn't really help. People still get annoyed at me when I have a meltdown or a sensory overload, when I can't do things they except me to do. People just dont accept you

  31. I cried, she described exactly what I feel and experience. When I tell people that I might have aspergers they just dismiss it. But they don't know what I experience on daily baisis. I tried getting tested, but psychologist said that I just have atypical traits and that I'm too good at understanding body language and nuances. (She showed me drawing of hand gestures, showed me colorful spots on paper and asked some weird questions)I was so dissapointed, I thought that I had found the answer. :'( But then I found out on the internet that people got the diagnoses at 32, 50, etc. And that they got diagnosed at the 3rd, 4th attempt. So I still have hope.

    About me and my experience:
    Hi I'm 17 and I'm a girl. I have trouble with socialising, I'm awkward to be around, too direct and honest and was always the quiet one. I had a friend at kindergarten who was my speaker. I never talked to adults and played alone. I had meltdowns when my mom didn't give me water bottle and when I had to leave the playground. I was bullied at two different schools and had to leave one because I almost had a breakdown. I was mentally abused by my family members and had a ton of missunderstandings. I have depression and anxiety and I had problems with coming to school on time, because I need to do my morning routine, otherwise I won't leave the house. I'm sensitive to light (direct sunlight, harsh school light), loud noises (shouting, school bell) and smell (cigarette smoke, sweat) I have to wear sunglasses outside everyday. Sorry for the long rant and the english, It's my second language. I wrote it in hope someone might give me advice what to do next and how to get diagnosed. 🙂

  32. Autistic people are not a 'disorder' any more than people of colour are a disorder because they suffer under racism and Euro-centrism, or anymore than LGBT people are a disorder because the world does not accommodate their differences, or anymore than Muslims are a disorder because they haven't assimilated as much as the majority would like. These kinds of ideas are of course absurd.

    In some ways, neurotypicals are 'deficient', because they fail to grasp the "theory of mind" into how the autistic experience works. The difference is who holds the power; the Euro-centric cultural construction of "normal behaviour" which is really just a cultural standard combined with the power to enforce that standard as normal – whoever does not conform to this standard is labelled defective and autistic. Quite similar is the Euro-centric society's power in enforcing that only 'civilized' culture is a culture of value. "Neuro-centrism", if you will.

  33. I found this video shortly after I discovered I was autistic too and was later diagnosed to confirm this… It is still one of the best presentations I've seen in the last 15 months of learning about myself and autism. I come back from time to time because I reminds me of that time after discovery. The shock and wonder… am I really autistic? I could relate so strongly to what she said and still do. I will always be grateful for what you've done here Elizabeth… Thank you!

  34. omg…this speaker made me tear up…my child is very similar to what the speaker went through…I hope people listen and change their intolerance in accepting people for who they are and what they are ! People need to become informed !!

  35. You're lucky; like the few sea turtles who survive from 100s; You made it. The majority aspies (especially late diagnosed, now older) had talents, opportunity, potential and a strong focused drive to work hard; however, aspie insecurities and social naivete set them up as an easy target for "take down" in a competitive world by others threatened by the oddness. The point? respect the REALITY of Autism spectrum disorders and dont destroy these people because "you can" as if it's fair play. Aspies are trying so hard because they cant rely on social skills to survive in the workplace; they HAVE to perform and are not to trying to "win" over others; what is that anyway. If an Aspie sounds offensive PLEASE ask what they mean because like 99% of the time you are completely misinterpreting them. Just because you cant see another interpretation doesn't mean it's not there; that is the Aspie gift of multitudinous ways of seeing. Employers please be aware of the social politics going on around Aspie workers; they are most often very valuable employees and yet the saboteur types are very bad for the overall health of your business they just cause distress for their own benefit and not your company.

  36. Is it just me or do people from Europe say Aspergers with a J sound and people from America say Aspergers with a G sound

  37. This video makes me happy. I’ve been diagnosed with high functioning autism as well. I have weird traits that people seem to find weird like constantly touching my face & withdrawing myself from groups- even small groups. I was diagnosed a few years ago but I haven’t had the courage to tell my husband. I think he truly wants to know how to help me but I don’t have the description words to tell him how I feel.

  38. "Just act normal and pretend you don't have autism, cos it's weird lol" -Neurotypicals, giving me advice. It's like people with Autism havdn't already been told that forever?

  39. I wonder if the one size fits all hat actually fits most or if it was designed to mold most to the hat. Most bullies bully those who remind them of the parts they're trying to hide, right?

  40. Thank you for this.
    I decided to share it in my social media after reading much of what I’ve experienced but tried to understand by myself.
    There will always be polarizations in situations that stem from a lack of understanding and so enlightenment of self and others is the only good fight worth fighting.
    Ultimately your love must be bigger than your fears

  41. When she talked about curiosity and support flooding in, it made me cry.
    I'm at that point (talking to everyone about it) right now, and it makes me so happy to think of the friends I have finally found, after two decades of solitude.
    I am accepted now, and finally learned to accept myself with my flaws.

  42. I made a list and everything I have on it I found on these Ted Talks and articles
    speech issues in kindergarten

    delays in reading

    playing alone in kindergarten

    did not follow directions in kindergarten

    possible seizure as a teen

    poor eye contact/look at forehead

    mimic actors in movies

    mimic or channel friends for certain situations

    identity crisis

    cannot follow directions

    CAPD/ cannot take in what is being said

    cannot read someones eyes. Seem angry or freaked out by me


    use of simple words when panicking

    drawing blanks

    poor long term memory/cant update myself

    bad with dates or changes to schedule


    awkwardness of body language (dont know how to sit) body awareness/posture

    rocking back and forth to music

    bullying at workplace/told I look confused or I tune coworkers out

    lack of employment

    poor math skills (measurements/fractions)

    reteaching basic skills or vocabulary words

    can only socialize in groups or parties for a short period of time

    lack of relationship with family and certain friends

    obsession over topics

    cannot handle sadness in movies or videos /overly empathetic

    periods of energy 

    long periods of despair

    awkward in relationships, cannot fully let go and show total affection/complimenting

  43. I'm an aspie myself. I can relate very deeply to this. You are amazing Elizabeth. Thank you for being you. You inspire me as both an aspie and an aspiring musician.

    Oh yeah… and you are gorgeous. 😁😎🎶

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