Different, Not Less by Chloé Hayden


Different, Not Less is an autobiographical self-help book that intersperses the experiences of its author - Chloé Hayden - with guidance on how to support yourself as a young adult with autism and/or ADHD. I particularly enjoy the timeline that Hayden uses for the book’s autobiographical element, beginning at age four despite not being diagnosed with autism until her early teenage years; in fact, the topic of diagnosis is not explored fully until six chapters in, acknowledging that medical recognition is simply one means to accessing support and self-improvement and not what determines whether an individual is neurodivergent or not. It is truly these anecdotal portions of the book that distinguish it from other self-help works. Its description - ‘a neurodivergent’s guide to embracing your true self’ - points to this, said ‘neurodivergent’ being as much Hayden as her reader as she peppers her writing with allusions to her special interest in Disney franchises (albeit unfortunately lost on me). It is worth addressing however, if you’re seeking a book recommendation, that this description is rather vague. I absolutely understand why Hayden would choose to use ‘neurodivergent’ as shorthand for the autistic and ADHD communities she is actually addressing - I myself use the term similarly, as like Hayden and many other autistic individuals, I have comorbid disabilities that are not always convenient nor comfortable to list. But for the sake of clarity, this guide specically deals with autism and ADHD. Whilst Hayden does recount her experience with PTSD and gives the occasional passing mention to epilepsy, they are not a focus of the book.

Approaching this book, I had to remind myself that it isn’t and does not intend to be disability theory - throwing myself into higher education and disability studies during the past year had caught me in a habit of treating myself almost like a case study. Thus as the book itself does not, it is not my place to obsessively debate the likes of terminology, denitions, and phrasing - it is a book that deals with the current material climate of neurodivergent people. With this in mind, the explanatory portions of the book occasionally felt a bit elementary - but it is often noted that these sections are also a resource for neurotypical family and friends. The breadth of experiences and behaviours that Hayden discusses however can act as helpful reminders to even those of us who believe we understand ourselves very well; for me it was her chapter on meltdowns that I benefited from in this way, pulling myself from the mindset that I could not identify myself as struggling if overstimulation wasn’t accompanied by self-injurious behaviour. But ultimately it was Hayden’s anecdotes that sold me on this book - an example of her belief in the value of community and mutual understanding in disabled spaces. I was delighted to see her discussing the benefits of forming relationships with the wider disabled community, as this was something I often argued for (and unfortunately lost) against able-bodied relatives and authorities when I received my first diagnoses as a teenager. They couldn’t understand what I could gain from associating with people who didn’t function exactly as I did - but conveniently never questioned how I managed to get along with people who didn’t have seizures, or need to pace, or didn’t rock back and forth. Hayden answers this question accurately and succinctly in recounting her experience working for a disability support service, ‘where I learned how to freely unmask [. . .] to unlearn my internalised ableism, unlearn the decit framework of disability, and instead start to learn the importance of and the power in my own identity’.

This is also what the book itself can teach. For all of my minor gripes with it (such as positively including Elon Musk on a list of ‘famous autistic people’), I can’t overlook the fact that it was near impossible to read this book without tearing up. At times this was because I felt like I was reexperiencing my diagnostic process - learning that my differences can be seen by others, that they’re real. But on other occasions it was because this is a book that simply radiates kindness and is incredibly gentle with its readers.