Reason vs excuse: a study of neurotypical semantics 

What is it about neurotypical people thinking they can start using different meanings under the same word? Don’t pull the rug from under my feet. If you’re going to swap words, be aware that I shall very much call you on it.

So, you want my reasons? Alright. But you don’t want my excuses?

First of all, why do I need to explain myself?

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Reason vs excuse is bullshit

It all comes down to semantics. And you know what? As a former linguistics student, semantics are one of my preferred fields of battle(cue creepy cackling). See, the fact is that we have two words: reason, and excuse, and they both have specific definitions. And they’re not interchangeable!

Is this going to be a whole rant on semantics? maybe.

Alright, so before we begin, I want to make something crystal f*cking clear:

  • A reason is an explanation for why something happened.
  • An excuse is specifically used to defend or justify a mistake.

A reason is a cause or explanation given with the intention of providing logic, objectivity, and rationality. An excuse is given with the intention of saving oneself, and is often based on emotion, guilt. Reasons are important for us neurodivergent people because we ARE our neurodivergence. When anyone calls your actual reason an excuse, they’re telling to your face that they think your very real, (usually) diagnosed DISABILITIES are bullsh!t.

* Just want to say, diagnosed or not, your disabilities are valid as f*ck.

If you find yourself in a situation where someone is trying to excuse away your neurodivergence, try to remember that it’s not personal. It’s not! After all, neurotypical people hardly ever take the time to inform themselves on what we deal with on a daily basis. They may not understand what it’s like to live with a condition like ADHD or autism, but that doesn’t mean that your experiences are any less valid.

And maybe they should start caring.

admition of guilt

Excuses are based on guilt. GUILT. I am not guilty of having a brain that works differently. It’s just what it is. We are not guilty of being who we are. “What’s your excuse this time?” You know where I always hear that question? In shows with a wife talking to her cheating husband. Reasons vs excuses. Guilt.

I am not into it. The idea that someone can just brush off a life-changing condition as an excuse is mind-boggling. Not just that, it’s demeaning, it’s invalidating, it’s f*cking rude, and from a semantics view point, it’s entirely wrong.

The importance of semantics and clear communication

I know that it’s not always easy to communicate clearly. I understand that one can easily get lost in semantics, misuse a word, or try to talk quickly and realize afterwards that it came out wrong. Those things happen, and if you fall victim to a brain fail like I often do, I hope you manage to save your dignity better than me. Still, using the right words is critical in communication. That’s why any decent person will correct themselves when they use the wrong word. Semantics are the root of communication. Yes, even if you don’t care much about semantics. And yes, I also understand that not everyone has such an interest in semantics and linguistics as I do.

But I got a bone to pick with y’all.

When it comes to the topic of neurotypical people gaslighting neurodivergent people(I said what I said!), one of the most common methods is by misusing two words and swapping them to create confusion. This is often done in an attempt to make the other person feel as though the explanations for their behavior are invalid.

I do say “other person” because I am well aware that neurotypical people do it to each other too. Maybe they understand that sh!t. Maybe there’s a clear underlying meaning that I’m missing.

Well, i’m missing it.

Someone once argued with me that “From a neurodivergent perspective, what might be considered a valid and logical explanation can sound like an excuse to neurotypical people.” After a lot of back and forth and clarifying, I was rolling my eyes at every argument they brought to me. Did that person really try to make me agree, thus invalidating myself? No thanks. While I don’t talk to the aforementioned person anymore, it’s still an argument I hear and read on an almost daily basis.

the grayest area i have ever laid my eyes on

“If you don’t respect me as an authority, I won’t give you the most basic level of respect that a human being deserves.”

My little semantic-obsessed heart loves this one. We’re not even swapping words anymore, we’re just swapping definitions! It’s quite popular in classrooms; I’ve heard it many times, either said to me or to others, and I’m sure you’ve heard it too! It’s also very common in sh!tty parenting. The adult wants to be seen in high regard; perhaps even to be admired. And if they are not, why should they give you basic f*cking decency?

I will respect you when you respect me

Treat me like an authority or I won’t treat you like a person. (Yes, I am aware that I said and reworded it three times. I’m ranting and I’m mad, just let me have this one.) It’s truly my favourite, for a few reasons:

  • The person who says it often believes that they are demanding equal treatment
  • Demanding to be seen as an authority has never worked in the entire history of mankind.
  • The person who is in control (teacher, parent, etc.) is blurring the line between the two definitions of respect
  • There is enough gaslighting in this one sentence to describe my entire high school experience
  • And, there is this ironclad(and wrong) reasoning that the respect is deserved in both situations

There is a major power imbalance within this short sentence, and it’s because of that power imbalance that many of us now defy authority. A lot of us neurodivergent folks were “problem children,” therefore we were rarely treated with basic respect, since, in the minds of teachers and parents, we didn’t respect their authority.

more shades of grey than that weird book series about how not to bdsm

Similar to the cause and effect system, a reason is like an observation to something that just happened. “- Why is there an ambulance outside? – Because the blue car crashed into the traffic light pole.” Simple.

“Why is there an ambulance outside? – Because I crashed my car into the traffic light pole but it’s not my fault! I didn’t notice the pothole and it made me lose control of the car!” The person is trying to hide that they didn’t see the pothole because they were texting on their phone. Guilt.

I don’t know about you, but it can’t get much clearer than that.

But who decides?

What do neurotypicals mean when they ask for a reason, then label them as excuses?

Explaining the process my brain takes is my idea of a reason. If you don’t know why i did [enter thing here], then I will tell you my thought process, which led me to the eventual decision you’re asking about. Who are you to decide that my reason is not good enough? Who are you to decide that I’m in the wrong?

Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to decide how they want to communicate their reasons or excuses to others. What is not up to each individual is to decide what is a reason and what is an excuse for someone else. I think it’s clear by now that the neurotypical brain and the neurodivergent brain are two very different types, and that they don’t see most things in the same light as the other.

let’s take everyday neurodivergent examples:

For example, let’s say that someone with ADHD has difficulty keeping track of their belongings. A neurotypical person might say to them “you’re just making an excuse for your forgetfulness”, when in reality, the ADHD is the reason for the forgetfulness. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact.

Or someone with autism might stim in order to cope with anxiety. A neurotypical person could get annoyed and say “you’re just using that as an excuse to avoid social interaction”, when in reality, the autism is the reason for the stimming. Again, it’s not an excuse, it’s a fact.

reason vs excuse: we’re still no closer to figuring it out, are we?

Or… maybe we are. My ASD focus on semantics aside, semantics are there for a reason; the meaning of words matters, whether we use them consciously or subconsciously. It is quite literally the foundation on which communication can exist. And, while I can’t speak for all of us, many of my neurodivergent friends and people online that I follow also get hung up on semantics. Makes you wonder.

Why? Could it be because we have to mask our differences in social situations? Could it be because hiding our neurodivergence means we need to pay attention to that kind of detail? Maybe because we often don’t pick up on the usual social cues; we rely on semantics a lot more than the tone of voice, the context, or body language.

But you don’t have to let others gaslight you because they don’t understand your condition.

So, we don’t pick up on social cues, we have issues adapting, and we don’t function like others do. We’re told that we’re not normal or that something’s wrong with us. What is that based on? The neurotypical brain? They don’t have to mask any differences. They know the difference between reason vs excuse. They know the meaning of these words. And yet they still choose to invalidate us and gaslight us into thinking we’re the ones who are in the wrong, and we should feel like sh!t about it. So here’s MY question: if neurotypicals are so good at adapting, why won’t they adapt to us?

So now we’re here: is it laziness, carelessness, or purposeful shitty behavior?

If I’m aware of the discrepancy in semantics from the two examples I’ve been ranting on for way too long now, you can be damn sure they’re aware too.

They’re gaslighting on purpose.

So next time you hear someone gaslighting a neurodivergent person by saying “that’s just an excuse,” call them out on it and remind them that there is a difference between reason and excuse, and they know damn well that there is. Remind whoever needs it that there are two kinds of respect, and that they are not interchangeable. And always remember, your explanations for your behaviors are valid.

You are not making excuses, you are giving reasons.

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