What exactly does lived experience mean when talking about mental health conditions like autism and ADHD? Well, the answer is not as apparent as it might appear at first glance.
Lived experience refers to a person with a particular condition sharing their own personal experiences of how that condition affects them on a day-to-day basis. This term is generally used when discussing mental health conditions, but it can also be applied to many other things, such as sensory issues and physical disabilities. The idea of having a “lived experience” is that someone with personal knowledge of what it’s like to live with a given condition or issue can help others understand the condition better than just reading about it in an article or textbook.
Many of the most commonly known examples of lived experience share one common thread: they’re almost exclusively about mental health conditions and issues. And, in particular, it almost always seems to be autism rather than ADHD that is being discussed when people mention “lived experiences.” This could be due in part because there are more autism self-advocates out there than ADHD self-advocates, but it’s also because autism is a more obvious “visible” disability, whereas ADHD tends to be much more subtle.
In particular, two of the most well-known examples of lived experiences as applied to autism are those by John Elder Robison and Temple Grandin. John Elder Robison is a man on the autism spectrum who has authored several books about his experiences, and Temple Grandin is an animal science professor at Colorado State University who herself has high-functioning autism.
But some people do share their lived experiences of ADHD on the internet, and two of some of the best examples of this are the ADHD Women community on Tumblr and this article about what it’s like to have ADHD written by Peter Lattman.
A key component of any lived experience is self-disclosure. This means that if you’re sharing your experiences, then you must disclose your personal connection to the issue at hand. For example, if you’re discussing what it’s like to have ADHD without disclosing that you yourself have ADHD, then your article isn’t really a lived experience article because you can’t claim to be writing from personal knowledge.
Because of the nature of this approach, living experiences articles tend to be very empowering for those who read them since they present a unique perspective that isn’t often discussed. These articles are also very useful for giving advice to others on how they might better understand their loved ones who have the condition being discussed.
Despite these benefits, many people have strong opinions against using lived experiences as a teaching tool because of the potential for misrepresentation. This is especially true when discussing mental health issues like depression and anxiety, where people might not have a personal connection to the condition. In fact, there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the issue of lived experiences in general.
For example, many disability rights activists argue that using lived experiences when discussing disabilities is exploitative and dehumanizing because it turns disabled people into objects to be studied and observed rather than people to be understood. However, at the same time, many disability advocates believe that lived experiences can be a good way for a society in general to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to be disabled.
In spite of all this controversy surrounding the use of lived experience, there is solid research that shows that reading stories about others’ experiences can be highly beneficial to both the writer and reader. The benefits of self-disclosure are incredibly powerful. Sharing your own lived experience has been shown to give people a greater sense of meaning in life, stronger relationships with other people, reduced levels of depression and anxiety, and reduced feelings of loneliness. So if you’re thinking about writing a lived experience article, then you should go for it! Just remember that if you do choose to disclose your personal connection to the condition at hand, then you need to be very careful not to exploit or misrepresent others in the process.
So what exactly does “lived experience” mean when talking about mental health conditions like autism and ADHD? Lived experience is a critical part of many people’s lives, but at the same time, there are potential pitfalls to avoid. With that being said, you should feel free to share your lived experiences with others as long as you’re careful not to misrepresent your condition or anyone else’s.
So if you are writing about mental health, it is best to have experience or something very personally connected to the topic. It also shows authenticity, which makes the reader feel more connected. Living with Autism, author of A Conscious Rethink, writes about: “life at home and school by sharing my story and describing life as an individual with autism.” That is what he wrote, and it is good, personal, and shows authenticity.
Just remember not to exploit or misrepresent others in the process. You might also show something that people don’t know about Autism. For example, there are different types of Autism, such as Asperger’s syndrome, which means you can have a little sense of humor when talking about it.
Remember, you don’t need to be an expert on the topic of mental health to write about it! Just like anyone can write (and share) a story about their lived experience with any other personal topic, people can and do regularly share their thoughts about depression, ADHD, schizophrenia, and other conditions that are discussed using lived experience.
The one thing that you will want to avoid is writing an article where the author uses other people’s lived experiences as a way of supporting their own point of view. This type of writing not only misrepresents what it means to have a mental health condition but also minimizes the impact that those conditions have on other people’s lives. If you are trying to figure out whether or not your potential article falls into this category, then it probably does. So check for that right off the bat!
Finally, if you’re writing about mental health conditions, you should go ahead and use lived experience when appropriate. Just remember that you need to have some real-life experience with the topic in order to write about it and that you should always avoid misrepresenting others. Lived experience can be a powerful thing when done right but confusing when mishandled. So if you’re careful, then you will gain readers who feel inspired by your story. Good luck!
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