Ableism and Neurodivergence


Ableism is the belief that some people’s bodies are more fit than others and are therefore superior. It is the foundation of racism, sexism, allism, homophobia, and transphobia. Ableism as it applies to neurodivergence is the belief that people must act according to some arbitrary social rules in order to have social value and that people who don’t, regardless of whether they try to do good things for others, or regardless of how kind they are to others, have less value than people who are able to fit into these social standards.

People think, “if only you tried harder, if only you tried to heal, that you would be able to fit in and then you would be worth something in my eyes.” Neurodivergence doesn’t work that way. Many aspects of neurodivergence do not change much as a result of therapy or healing trauma. In fact, some aspects of behavior, that are more natural to neurodivergent folks may be seen as authentic and beneficial for them to accept rather than to try to change. And indeed even for those things that we may try to change, the best way to do that is through acceptance first, before change. 

Many people are harmed by the people they love the most because of ableism. People will say many things in response if you call them out. They may attack the person who says these things out loud and suggest that they are being combative or defensive or even sinister or that they are hiding behind neurodivergence or that they don’t really want to heal.  Many people who are neurodivergent, whether they are formally diagnosed or not, will  internalize these things about themselves. Many of these things people might have changed if they could and even sought to change in the past.  Therapists may even inadvertently contribute to this kind of trauma if they don’t understand neurodivergence. 




My name is YanLin.  As a neurodivergent person, I have dedicated the past 20 years of my adult life towards understanding mental health, trauma, relationships and oppression. I have worked through much of the trauma that needed to be healed. I recognized these things in others before myself. And it is mainly as an advocate for others that I wish to speak up so that others do not have to suffer in these ways. 

How to Navigate Therapy When You Fear Loss of Autonomy 

By YanLin Tso


As both a therapist and a neurodivergent person who has sought therapy, I recognize  an unusually strong desire for autonomy and a fear of losing my autonomy in therapeutic settings. I write this article as a continuation of my previous blog article on PDA. I  also want to affirm that having a sense of autonomy is a legitimate need that anyone in therapy needs to feel they have at all times.  If a therapist is unable to affirm your right for autonomy then you can and probably should make the choice to go to a different therapist.

On the other hand, it is possible that the fear of loss of autonomy comes from a tendency to fawn to authority figures.  


In the framework of Internal Family Systems, we may have a fawning part as a  coping mechanism that likely arose in reaction to a parent or caregiver who wasn’t able to affirm your autonomy.


Fawning is hard to control as it is part of a trauma response.  It is not fully voluntary.  




Fawning tends to look like being overly agreeable or easy in someone’s presence, and at times even idolizing the person.  It can become apparent when we realize that over time or when we are outside of the situation we feel really differently about the person or interaction.   It suggests that there is a need for resources for self-regulation at the beginning or potentially throughout sessions.  It may be important for clients to take a really active role, potentially more than usual in steering the therapy.  The danger in fawning is that it can hinder progress in therapy and leave you vulnerable to potential abuse.

The difficulty is that there are moments when we might need to allow the therapist to take the lead in certain ways.  However, it is important for you to realize that it is okay and often necessary for you to have boundaries around when and how that happens.  You can ask your therapist to ask for consent prior to initiating specific work, for example.

It may be important to express your fears about loss of autonomy specifically to your therapist.  And a therapist can help make room for all of your parts to be in the room, even the parts that feel things that might be inconvenient to the therapy itself.