Learning to Deal with Conflict and Neurodiversityby@turbulence
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Learning to Deal with Conflict and Neurodiversity

by Amy Pravin ShahMay 2nd, 2024
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This is a writing discussing neurodiversity in the workplace and life. The article discusses the importance of learning conflict resolution life skills.
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“Please tell them you made a mistake.” she pleaded. “Tell them I did not do anything wrong,” the preteen put her hands in a clasp. Bending over a little. Her lips were pressed into a “please.” Her friend, Kelly, was not so willing to ask for me to change my mind. She was standing there stiff and wooden. Her perm was always tight to her head with curls. It was a hairstyle for the early 90s. Lee Ann’s bangs were standing straight up in the fashion of that time.  So much hairspray and this was a direct contradiction to my own black hair in braids.

I did not say anything.

‘She begged again.”You can tell them you made a mistake. This was a mistake”

I knew she wanted to go to the big game and cheer in the game with her friends. The principal told her she was not allowed. This was the punishment she was getting for bullying me throughout the whole of 5th grade.

Lee Ann was the ringleader of 2 other girls. One girl, Anne, would pretend to be my friend and I would let my guard down and talk to her. Anne would share what I had said with Lee Ann. Lee Ann and Kelly, armed with this knowledge, sat by me at lunch time every day and harassed me and then in the evening they would call my parents landline phone to harass me at home.

Now it was spring and the big game was coming up. She was not going to get to participate in it or go to the game. She was miserable and I could tell. My heart relented. I felt bad about how things played out.  This time like all the other times, I was having trouble standing up for myself.

I was thinking about how much she wanted to go to the game. But I was silent. I turned around. I walked away without a word.

The community of small town Kentucky, USA at that time was a peaceful, quiet one. There were few threats. It was an idyllic place. This was before the opioid epidemic hit with that place being an epicenter.

I went to a local elementary school and it was here I met Lee Ann and her friends who would later bully me through the whole of fifth grade. They could see I was different. I was so different from the others in the school.  I was the child of Indian immigrants and my skin was brown in contrast to the homogeneous white that most of my classmates were.

So I was ending fifth grade having spoken up for myself for the first time in my life by actually not speaking up.

“Here” “I pushed a letter into my teacher's hand, "Some things have been going on in class.”  I had written a letter with all the ways the 3 girls had teamed up and bullied me.  My parents let me work this out on my own.

If I thought my teacher did not take my letter seriously, I would be contradicted by seeing the folded letter again on her desk with the ominous word PRIVATE marked on it in red ink.  \

Then, here I was confronted by the results of my actions.  Lee Ann had been standing in front of me groveling to be able to go to the Big Game and cheer. And I walked away.  I left Lee Ann to her problems. Whatever they were.  The problems were not my business.

I didn’t care.

Of the 3 fifth grade girls, I felt that Anne hurt me the most because she betrayed my trust. I had thought Anne was my friend and now I knew I was alone. I knew Kelly and Lee Ann were “bad apples” but I could not believe this about Anne, but I would have to face the truth. \

Ultimately, this letter I wrote would be my way of dealing with not belonging to a community, but trying to find a way to be respected and treated well despite all that. And despite not fitting into any box that was made for me. Later, I would find out this was because I am neurodiverse.  \

In my career, I would face conflicts and not want to immediately speak up. I struggled with a coworker who was near retirement and who was going to probably be leaving in a year. I had a difficult time with her because she held a grudge against me and she would not do any of her job responsibilities. She was best friends with her supervisor and that person would not do anything to make her work. I was really unhappy because I had to change a lot of my workflow to accommodate her not working.

I wonder if I could do this differently now. I might have been more assertive and tried to talk to her about her behaviors. Previously we did have a good relationship and there was a misunderstanding that seemed to cause a problem but I don't know what it was exactly. I would have had to be more assertive this time and be very understanding and listen to her concerns when/if we had a conversation. But instead, I remember avoiding the conflict and not dealing with it effectively.\

Now that that situation has ended and I have had a lifetime of other conflicts, I wish I had learned conflict resolution techniques and assertiveness much earlier. A friend wrote me a text message recently in which he was referring to himself and showing self compassion. I liked the comment so much I internalized it too. \

“I am taking it one day at a time and trying to acknowledge the value of acceptance. That where I am in life is exactly where I am supposed to be.”

This Spring, I am voluntarily taking a class in conflict resolution and mediation. One of the first homework assignments from my mediation teachers was to write my obituary. It was an exercise to help me know what I wanted from the remaining part of my life and to help me reach that outcome. I wrote: “In her 90s, Amy Pravin Shah never retired; she was still writing and speaking throughout this decade. She found tremendous satisfaction in writing and helping others.” One of the things I would have to learn to become this elderly powerhouse would be to learn to resolve conflict with my words and to learn to speak up for myself.

One conflict at a time.