Phobias are extreme fears, repulsions, hatreds – any or all of those.  Phobias can have a very real impact on our lives. Everyone, of every neurotype, can suffer with phobias, though our neurodivergent experience of the world – heightened anxiety, heightened sensory experiences, the ongoing impact of trauma, the social pressures on us, and so many more aspects of our daily lives – alll increase our chances of having phobias.

At least 7.7% of the entire human population has a phobia of some kind (see Maskey et al, 2019). Once we add in all of our additional potential triggers, it’s not surprising or irrational that so many neurodivergent people suffer with fears to a phobic degree. Despite this, dictionary definitions all describe phobias as having an irrational element to them.

I won’t now go on to list the innumerable phobias that can affect our lives. Partly because the list is potentially limitless and mostly because I don’t want to trigger anyone’s fear by talking about them.

I will limit myself to discussing one phobia, as an example, and that is koumpounophobia – the phobia of buttons. Please take this as a CONTENT WARNING for all of those with this phobia and leave now, Mum – you’re included! Are you all gone? Good, then I will continue…

My neurodivergent Mum has a phobia of buttons that she has had since she was a tiny girl. Her ultimate fear, and I quote, is “buttons loosely sewn on to burnt toast”. That sounds like quite a safe ultimate fear to have doesn’t it? What are the chances of that little combination ever occurring in life? High, as it turns out, in my Mum’s case, at least.

As a loving and clownish 8 year old, who loved to make my Mum laugh, I decided to create something approximating a cot mobile, while she was asleep. I didn’t know how to make toast, so  I had to substitute that with floppy white bread. This made the whole structure desperately unsound, but I ploughed on and sewed buttons of all colours, textures and sizes on, dangling haphazardly, chinkling away delightfully. I carefully carried it to my Mum, holding it above her head before waking her up.

Oh dear. My Mum did NOT laugh. She screamed with horror, bashed it away from her face, shot from the bed, cried, and asked me why I would do such a thing she was actually, completely understandably, cross with me (a very rare event indeed). I was so confused and mortified because I was 8 years old and didn’t understand that one person’s idea of an ‘irrational’, maybe even amusing, fear, is another person’s living nightmare. I’d heard her friends and family laughing about her fear of buttons, and the toast aspect, I didn’t understand that this utter revulsion was very real for her.

My Mum’s phobia is quite rare, so finding out that it has an official name was quite reassuring for her, I think. It is a comfort to us to know that others also understand our predicament.

So, I’d just like to publicly say that I’m so sorry, Mum! And why are you still here?