Neurodiversity and iNaturalist!

I’ve been meaning to make this post for a while, but hadn’t gotten around to it. However, i feel bad to have this topic discussed in ‘worst experiences ever’ so I thought now was a good time as any. Apologies for the long post.

Note: Please be respectful in this thread and avoid controversial topics unrelated to connections between neurodiversity and iNat/connecting with nature. Please don’t speculate on or ‘out’ people you know or think are neurodivergent. Please don’t feel obligated to share if you don’t want to. Please be kind to each other. This stuff can be hard…

Neurodiversity is a term to represent the wide diversity of brain types that humans have. It’s most often used to refer to people on the autism spectrum, and also often ADHD, but can also refer to any number of other things.

I have observed that iNaturalist has a whole lot of autistic or otherwise neurodivergent people using it. I didn’t give this too much thought until i learned earlier this year (at age 41) that i am on the autism spectrum as well! At one point i commented on this in an online community with lots of iNaturalist power users and was interested to learn that i am far from the only one. I think there are a few reasons iNat is really appealing for neurodivergent people. One of the big ones, at least with autistic (and maybe ADHD) people is that we often love to hyperfocus and dive into our passions, often known as ‘special interests’. For me and many others, we’ve been told many times that we are overenthusiastic about these things or talk too much about them. Well, iNaturalist is a wonderful place to infodump things like observations and IDs - in fact it is what makes the site work.

I’ll be sharing more of my experiences here when I get a chance, but for now i don’t want to overwhelm everyone so i will link to a twitter thread where i talk about how my connection to nature is both because of and a coping mechanism for my neurodivergent stuff. https://twitter.com/SlowWaterMvmnt/status/1315125824937512960?s=20 . More in my pinned tweet too if anyone is interested.

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I can’t say if I fall within the category of neurodivergent or not. My tendency is to be somewhat antisocial, unlike my wife who is very social and comfortable in large groups. I find I’m most comfortable – most like the real me, if that makes sense – when I’m alone in nature. Just me and my camera, with all my senses turned toward what animals and plants I might encounter. It’s very cathartic, probably the closest I’ll get to a religious experience. I know a number of folks, mostly fellow biologists, who perhaps fit this category better than me, and they typically are much more hyper-focused on their interests and very meticulous. It’s somewhat enviable, since I’m often easily distracted by whatever “shiny new thing” that comes along.

Anyway, a very interesting topic which I’d like to learn more about. How different people view the world through their different neurological make-up is fascinating.

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Thanks so much for starting this thread (and for sharing your comments from the other one). I’m 54 and only discovered I had ADHD inattentive type within the past few years. I can definitely relate to having iNat as a socially acceptable outlet for my hyperfocus, where it’s perfectly OK to do that.

Can sort of relate on the stim thing, but it’s … different. I think I appreciate the huge amount of sensory input from nature to give my mind something to engage with. When I’m in more sterile/static environments, my mind just shuts off.

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I definitely feel that way too! I know autism spectrum and ADHD have a lot of similarities/crossover. So it doesn’t matter that much in this context whether we fall into different ‘buckets’. Just like species classification, right? Are they different species or subspecies? Who knows :)

Well your unique brain chemistry definitely adds to neurodiversity even if not neurodivergent (i don’t think that has technical boundaries anyhow). Everyone has something amazing to offer, it’s just that those of us with ‘spiky skill profiles’ (very good at some things, unable to do others) both have extra to offer in some places and extra to struggle with in other places.

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I describe myself as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). This gives me high attention to detail and noticing changes/differences. It also makes me tend to avoid noisy, busy environments and large groups of people. Spending time out in nature alone or with one or two people is much better.


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that is probably where I fit in.
With the added, avoiding noisy crowds as I was born with one deaf ear.
Reading a thread where technology forces you to ‘talk’ one by one suits me.

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Can I ask where you got the definition from?

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I have always felt that I fall somewhere on the spectrum. I am particularly sensitive to noises, to the point where I have to wear earplugs at night if it’s raining. On the other hand, when the Whip-poor-will starts calling in the middle of the night and wakes me up, I just smile to myself and listen for a while before falling back to sleep.

I was a painfully shy kid growing up in a toxic household where the parents hated each other, and the siblings bickered constantly. Which came first: the shyness, or the lack of understanding what social behaviours were needed to deal with the turmoil?

Even now, 60 years in, I sometimes see someone do something socially and I wonder, “How do they know to do that?” Being by myself is the only time I feel truly content, where I don’t have to fake fitting in to the social norms, to follow the expected behaviours that don’t come naturally.

Obsession (hyperfocus?) is absolutely a part of my life. One fall, and the following spring, it was Pollinators. The next fall it was Spiders. The latest is Moths. I can easily spend 12 hours a day on iNat, and love every minute.

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Nice to see the responses so far.
By the way everyone, questions are just as welcome as anecdotes :) don’t be shy :)

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I’m on the autism spectrum.

For me, iNat has been great fun for me because I love to categorize and learn about things that I’m deeply interested in: plants, birds (especially owls!), fungi, insects, etc. Autistic people tend to enjoy collecting things related to their hyperfocuses/special interests as well, and since I can’t bring home every single organism that piques my interest, photographing them and posting them to iNat is the next best thing. It’s especially exciting when I find a species I haven’t see before; I saw a snowy owl in the wild for the first time last year and nearly started crying in front of a group of my classmates!

Another thing autistic people tend to love, myself included, is what the community calls infodumping. Infodumping is basically telling someone every single thing you can about an interest of yours, and while I usually have to restrain myself from typing out 3 paragraphs in the comments of my IDs, it’s a lot of fun to be able to see someone post a tree as “unknown” or “flowering plants” and be able to tell them exactly what it is.

iNat also lets users subscribe to favorite taxa, which is great for me because I am filled with a ridiculous amount of joy every time I see an image of an owl. They’ve been an obsession of mine for as long as I can remember, and every time I refresh my home page, I get to see new owl observations as they’re posted. It’s great!

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iNat doesn’t require social activity yet allowing to be in great diversity, that’s one of the biggest pluses, partially due to online base, but also because of mostly welcoming community (describing website itself, as forum rarely has someone unwelcoming). Nature is a great thing to focus on and iNat brings people more joy in observing it in a regular life. I’m not familiar with the term, as, I’ve read it from foreign people, but for me it’s something used far far away from me, but I still find it beautiful to have all types of people and maybe making aggressive ones more patient? I hope so.

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@charlie I’m so glad you started this thread! I’ve noticed a strong representation of spectrum inhabitants ( just thought of that and meant it affectionately so I hope it’s not offensive) in the iNaturalist users I also follow on Twitter and Tumblr. I think I’ve noticed them more on the latter two because those platforms allow more variety of content creation/sharing and self-expression/self-identification. There is more often than not a clear expression of joy and enthusiasm for the organisms of interest that I find it refreshing. They’ve taught me to reconnect with that at times when I was disconnected from it.

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I have a friend who is an school autism specialist, who expressed the opinion that 90% of academics have Asperger’s syndrome or are elsewhere on the “spectrum” (perhaps a slight exaggeration). This makes me think that probably most of the frequent iNat contributors fall somewhere in that category. The main practical issue here for those iNatters that are not so different is the need to be tolerant of those who are, in particular in understanding that sometimes pedantic or seemingly brusque or arrogant comments may not be intended as insults, but rather just a way of expressing enthusiasm without the “normal” social filters.

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Trying to find where I got the pdf I clipped that from. Here is a really good article though:
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/highly-sensitive-person

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Found it
http://plumturtle.com/PlumTurtleCoaching/Home_files/HSP_Intro_Handbook%202017.pdf

I was actually very surprised to learn that. I am on the autism spectrum myself, and to me, Autism and ADHD always seemed like polar opposites!

Some of those HSP characteristics cross over to the autism spectrum. One difference though, is that Autism means that I don’t easily pick up on others’ emotions – my idea of empathy is to respond as if the other person feels the same way I would if that happened to me. In other words: I’ll comfort you if the thing that happened to you seems to me like it would have been upsetting.

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I’m glad this thread has happened! I have tourettes, and I may also be autistic (because I don’t know whether all tourettes folks think like this, or I’m autistic as well). I’ve always liked noticing things other people don’t, and I love learning new stuff, and I love collecting stuff, so when a friend introduced me to iNat as something I could concentrate on whilst walking into town, (road noise is very difficult to deal with) it was immediately my next big thing. While I’d been already taking photographs of lichens because I thought they looked interesting, I’d never really concentrated on nature before.

Tourettes means I find standing still as tiring as walking on the flat, and I have to tense myself really hard to keep a camera held in one place - I tend to find when I’ve taken a picture where I’ve been waiting for the right pose from the organism, I’ve been holding my breath.

In the last two years since I joined iNat, I seem to have trained myself to tense up when surprised rather than move or vocalise, so I don’t scare my observation. This mostly works well, but sometimes I hurt for a few minutes afterwards.

I really enjoy infodumping, and iNat gives me a way of infodumping to my parents that they understand and care about far more than the computer games I would waffle about in my childhood.

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Random aside, I was actually apparently misdiagnosed with Tourette syndrome as a kid. They thought i had a bunch of tics but turned out they were probably all vocal stims, which is different. I still have lots of stims but over time they have become less observable to others (i think?) But now i am trying to ‘free’ some of them as suppressing them causes anxiety. Anyhow, i know less than nothing about Tourette syndrome since i was misdiagnosed with it, but i do know it’s included within the general umbrella of neurodiversity anyhow. Also it can definitely be ‘comorbid’ with autism

yeah i definitely can tell when people are upset (hyperempathy really) but i often can’t tell why. When someone i care about has a problem, I try to FIX it. Unfortunately there are lots of problems that just can’t be fixed so i propose ‘solutions’ that are absurd or impossible. Or i give a personal anecdote about my life which i think of as a way of showing empathy but apparently others find it weird or rude. So yeah. I am really ‘socialy autistic’ though in that while i dislike large groups or stressful social encounters, i really like being with friends and don’t want to be alone all the time. But that’s why it’s a spectrum. Very different for everyone.

I’ll be in the field today so if i am slow to respond that’s why. Thanks so much all <3 great discussion. I spent 40 years refusing to talk about this stuff but now i want to talk about it to everyone :)

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One thing of note, is that society tends to focus on the ways neurodiverse people struggle to confirm to societal norms, while ignoring the positive aspects.

While my ADHD makes classroom studying more difficult, it also helps me notice things many people would subconsciously filter out. Very helpful for observing nature.

As implied above, people on the neurodicergent spectrum tend to have not only psychological/emotional differences, but many sensory ones as well. Part of my ADHD is a hypersensitivity to certain textures, sounds, tastes, visuals, etc. As I mentioned in the “worst experiences” thread, it can make everyday practices such as wearing field-appropriate clothing agonizing.
And as others have mentioned, immersion in nature is very calming. For me, it is calming because the sensory inputs are more pleasant. It’s hard to describe, but the grime and grit of the city rub all my senses the wrong way. Even though I’ve lived almost all my life in suburbs or cities, I can really only be at peace out in the countryside.

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I think a better term than ‘antisocial’ is introvert. Antisocial has somewhat nasty connotations, as in antisocial personality disorder. I’m introverted myself, and prefer to be alone and avoid groups like the plague! Being alone with my dog in the bush is heaven. And it appears to be getting worse with age.
On a more general level, our brains are interesting things. I believe everyone has some of every tendency, and it really only gets noticed when it starts getting in the way. We are all a bit obsessive and have compulsions, but it’s not like pathological OCD. I speak with a stutter, and have depression (oddly, stuttering is in the DSM IV, not so much as a disorder, but it usually comes with a personality type), so clearly my brain is wired somewhat differently than usual. Both have affected my life, but not so much as some other folks. Both are deeply part of me, who I am, for better or worse. Did my introversion come from those experiences, or has it always been there? I’m just kind of rambling here, but it is interesting that neurodivergent folks seem to play such a significant role in iNat.

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