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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

Neurotypical Words That Don’t Work for Autistic People: Overachieve

I was recently asked if I have a need to overachieve.

I didn’t know how to answer the question because I didn’t know their definition of the word “overachieve.”

By neurotypical standards, overachieve is when someone does more than what is expected.

It feels like a neurotypical word to me because it assumes a base standard for “achievement.” Everyone has to have the same level of understanding about what it means to “achieve” in order to assert that someone is OVERachieving.

Autistic art therapist Jackie Schuld sketched a man with his arms folded and a haughty look on his face as he looks up
"Negative Connotations of Overachievers" Sketch by Jackie Schuld

I think “overachiever” also carries the connotation that someone feels they must do more and be more productive. When people discuss it, they usually imply that the individual ties their worth to overachieving. That they need to “look good” and “be successful” in the eyes of everyone else. I’ve seldom heard overachiever in a positive light.

So if someone asks me if I have a need to overachieve, it’s actually a loaded question that comes with a lot of implicit judgments.

The trouble is, I don’t play by neurotypical standards. While I do want to meet academic and professional standards provided by the neurotypical world, I am farrrrr more driven by my autistic mind.

In elementary school, I made artistic, elaborate posters because I wanted to. I love art and I love designing things.

In high school I led multiple clubs and designed multi-layered projects because that was what excited me. I wasn’t trying to impress others or gain accolades. I wasn’t eyeballing the expectations and then asking myself, “How can I do more than expected?”

No, I simply went by what seized me.

In college I was accepted into Phi-Beta-Kappa, an academic honor society that invites people for high GPA’s and studying a wide range of subjects. Did I do it to get into that society? Hell no. I didn’t even know it existed until they asked me to join. I studied so many random things in college (enough for two bachelors degrees and a minor) within my four years because they fascinated.. Was I trying to over-achieve? No, I just wanted to learn about them.

The same goes with my business now. Am I trying to achieve beyond whatever obscure standard there is for private practice? No, I’m just doing what feels good and what I enjoy.

So do I have a need to overachieve? No.

Will the neurotypical world look at me and think I’m compulsively driven by the need to overachieve? Absolutely.


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