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Thinking Outside the Form

How Literary Agents Can Support Neurodivergent Authors Through the Query Process and Beyond

By Rory Michaelson

There's a reason people call it 'the query trenches.' Querying is hard and can pose additional challenges for marginalized creators. Publishing professionals often talk about seeking diverse voices, including neurodivergent (ND) creators (note: the LGBTQIA+ and disabled communities have an increased rate of being ND), but there seems to be little talk of what can be done to make the 'trenches' any less treacherous for those starting in a particularly slippery spot and be more truly inclusive.

 

If you're here, you likely already know why you want to work with ND creators and understand that some reasonable adjustments are needed to support them (as expecting ND people to behave like neurotypical (NT) people would, of course, be ableist). As a querying ND author myself, I've put together some ideas for agents seeking to represent ND authors. It’s not just ND folk that this benefits, either. Every change that increases accessibility for ND people improves the experience for NT people, too. 

You'll find my ideas below, plus additional information and FAQ, too. Please feel free to reach out to me with any thoughts or comments.

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Ten Tips for Supporting Neurodivergent Authors in the Query Process

Check out the following ten tips for things you can try to help support ND authors through the query process! Many of these boil down to four important C's...

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Click here

for the 10 tips!

Additional Information/FAQ

About being Neurodivergent...

What does it mean?

‘Neurodiversity’ is an umbrella term describing different ways of thinking, including those who are neurotypical and those who are neurodivergent (1). Whilst neurotypical (NT) people usually have brain functions, processing, and behaviors considered standard for most people, neurodivergent (ND) people’s brains function differently (2). ND conditions include autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and Tourette’s, among many others. Chronic mental health illnesses such as bipolar disorder, border-line personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression are also commonly included in this discussion. While the former are not traditionally classified as ND, they do involve brain process and function changes with a high rate of similarity, comorbidity or misdiagnosis with ND conditions, so discussing them under umbrella terms allows us to acknowledge the complexity of experience rather than risk oversimplifying and over-categorising behavioral traits (3).

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Why are more people being diagnosed now?

There has been an increase of diagnosis of neurodivergent conditions due to improvement of diagnostic practices over time as well as greater awareness, advocacy, and destigmatisation. This is still improving and numbers will continue to grow until practices reflect the reality of the population. A similar trend was seen with left-handedness, and is currently being seen with the LGBTQIA+ population.

But aren't we all a little neurodivergent?

No. This is in fact a common ableist comment ND people hear. Whilst conditions such as autism exist on a spectrum, there is no such thing as being ‘a little bit autistic.’ You either are or you aren’t. If you are, then you fall somewhere within a spectrum of experiences and support needs.

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"Where can I find more information?"

As with anything, learning where to get your information from can be difficult. No one expects you to become literate in detailed studies or the history of neurodiversity overnight, but approaching with a willingness to always learn and access to some good resources is a great start. I strongly recommend learning from resources at organizations based on self-advocacy such as ASAN, and having an awareness of problematic groups such as ‘Autism Speaks,’ or any organization which treats neurodivergence as an illness which can be treated or cured rather than a neurotype. As you can imagine, when learning about neurodivergent people, as with any marginalized identity, it’s essential to prioritize the voices you actually want and need to hear—the marginalized group themselves.

Language & Terminology

What ever happened to 'Aspergers?'

‘Asperger’s’ is an outdated term that was reclassified as an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)  in 2013. Some still identify as having 'Asperger's' due to terminology from when they were diagnosed, but the retired term has a problematic past. ‘Asperger’s’ is named after Hans Asperger, who experimented and advocated eugenics on autistic children under Hitler (7,8). ‘Asperger’s’ was the favorable term he described for those he felt could be taught to hide their autistic traits and ‘contribute to society,’ whilst those he felt couldn’t would be killed. Some people diagnosed in the past may still use this term as it’s what they’re used to, but it also has ties with some problematic movements such as ‘Aspie Supremacy.’

Functioning labels are defunct

‘Functioning labels’ are a previously commonly used term now largely seen as harmful. Describing an autistic person as ‘high functioning’ typically means that they are ‘high masking’ and can hide their autistic traits and copy neurotypical behaviors. The problem with this is that it not only oversimplifies things and invalidates the needs of autistic people, but also creates unnecessary divides, expectations, and shame. Describing someone as ‘low functioning’ because they do not meet expectations of how they should interact with the world is deeply ableist, and problematic. It’s now standard for people to talk about support needs or ‘levels’ (1 meaning requires support, 2 substantial support, 3 very substantial support) (9).

Person first vs identity first language

The majority of the autistic community use identity-first language. This is because they see it as a core component of themselves and something they can be proud of and celebrate rather than to be spoken about like it is separate and negative (10). Some people, or parents of autistic children, may prefer person-first language, but as long as you are listening and being respectful, you can learn how people best like to talk about themselves (11).

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Additional Challenges

Health Inequality & Intersectionality

Due to historical clinical studies and data being focused on young white males, and the impact of systematic racism and discrimination on health inequality, diagnostic disparities continue to be a major issue for autistic people of marginalized races, ethnicities, and genders. People assigned female at birth and BIPOC autistics remain less likely to receive an early diagnosis than those that are white and assigned male at birth (5).

Co-morbid conditions

Neurodivergent conditions often occur together. Nearly 75% of autistic people have at least one other medical condition and more than 50% four or more. 30-80% of autistic people meet the criteria for ADHD. Common traits include sleep problems, executive dysfunction, time blindness, lack of attention span/motivation, depression, sensory issues, hyperfixation, anxiety, need for routine/planning, aphantasia, synaesthesia, dyspraxia,alexithymia, sensory processing disorders. Co-morbid conditions can include intellectual disability, OCD, epilepsy, gastrointestinal issues, schizophrenia, Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (HEDS), Tourettes, immune conditions, metabolic conditions, POTS, and more. This means neurodivergent people have an increased chance of having other disabilities.

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Neurotypical bias

In a 2021 study, neurotypical people were challenged with assessing a mixture of  neurodiverse-presenting individuals on whether they ‘liked’ them or not (6). It was found to be more common for the neurotypical viewers to favor the neurotypical targets due to their perceptions around awkwardness and other barriers for social integration for autistic people. This suggests that NT people can identify and separate ND people even without knowing why due to their general perceptions and bias.

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is a common symptom of ADHD and autism. Due to emotional dysregulation, people with RSD struggle with feelings of devastating pain as a result of actual or perceived rejection (12). This might manifest as emotional outbursts, low self-esteem, rumination, thoughts of self-harm, defensiveness, and withdrawal or avoidance (13). RSD isn’t considered ‘treatable,’ and is something that has to be endured, though supportive therapies and distraction can be helpful. Frequent rejection is a certainty in publishing, so patience and understanding for clients who deal with RSD is extremely valuable.

Celebrating

Neurodivergent
Brilliance

Authors

Amazing authors like Xiran Jay Zhao, Chuck Tingle, Andrew Joseph White, Kayla Ancrum, Emery Lee, and Taylor Grothe, as well as many other famous present-day authors are open about their experiences being neurodivergent.

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ND celebrities include: Emma Watson, Cara Delavigne, Simone Biles, Ryan Gosling, Kiera Knightley, Will I Am, Nicole Byer, Susan Boyle, Greta Thunberg, Dan Ackroyd, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Daryl Hannah, and Billie Eilish.

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Historical Figures

Many historical figures are speculated to have been neurodivergent by specialists in the present day, even if the knowledge wasn’t around to identify them as neurodivergent at the time they lived, including: Lewis Carrol, Mozart, Isaac Newton, Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Emily Dickenson, Andy Warhol, and Alan Turing.

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Hollywood Celebrities

Thank you!

I know this page isn’t perfect, and I’d love to hear from industry professionals and other ND authors for any additional suggestions, thoughts, or corrections that need to be made. Thanks so much for reading!

With love and hope,

Rory x

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