Let’s Talk about Neurodiversity!
What is Neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is a “range of differences in brain function and behavioral traits,” which are normal variations within the human population! Neurodivergent individuals experience differences in perception and many demonstrate atypical behaviors. Those who are neurodivergent may have different social preferences, ways of learning, ways of communicating, and ways of perceiving their environment when compared with the majority of the population (neurotypical). The most commonly thought of diagnoses that fall under the neurodivergent umbrella are Autism and ADHD. The difference in perception, learning style and communication often means that typical methods of education and socialization may not resonate for those who are neurodiverse, and accommodations may be important to help neurodiverse individuals attain a healthy and happy life.
The world we all interact within is primarily set up for individuals in the majority (neurotypical people), and this can often mean that individuals who are neurodivergent cannot easily get their needs met. Many historical therapy approaches included encouraging neurodivergent individuals to ‘fit in’ or learn to mimic behaviors like their neurotypical peers. As time passes, and we learn more about the diversity in brain development, there has been a movement towards inclusion of those who experience neurodiversity. This move towards inclusion is a shift away from conformity, and a shift towards learning more about each other, and learning how to meet the needs of people whose perceptions or actions are different from the norm.
In 2020, The National Institute of Health estimated that 15-20% of the world’s population are neurodiverse. Neurodiversity is simply a natural variation in brain development. It is not preventable or ‘curable’, but those who experience neurodivergence can benefit from support and education on how to best meet their needs.
Am I neurodivergent? What can I do to find out and get support?
The best way to learn if you meet current criteria for neurodivergence is to schedule a neuropsychological (neuropsych) evaluation. There are several different diagnoses that fall under the umbrella term of neurodivergence, and a neuropsych evaluation will provide you with a specific diagnosis, and also outline supports that may help you meet your goals. Neuropsych evaluations are completed by a licensed psychologist who will run through a battery of tests with you and then provide best clinical recommendations. The tests primarily consist of questions regarding your history and symptoms, and will also assess how you function best. The process can be lengthy, as there can be a long wait list to be assessed, and the actual testing process can last anywhere from 2 to 8 hours. For children, the testing process is often split into two separate days. A neuropsych evaluation can be very helpful in providing information to your school, workplace, and to your therapist.
If you feel you may be neurodivergent, whether or not you complete a neuropsych evaluation, finding a good therapist is another great step in the process. Some neurodivergent folks find it stressful to be experiencing life differently from their peers, or may feel as if they have been frequently misunderstood. A therapist can help explore accommodations, can assist in coordinating support at work or school, and will facilitate the process of building internal confidence. Furthermore, a therapist may help you in building your self advocacy skills by helping you try out different accommodations and practicing how to request them. At times a therapist may later recommend that you obtain a formal diagnosis through a neuropsych evaluation if they feel it may help you with your goals.
Are there different diagnoses of neurodivergence?
Yes! Two of the most commonly thought of diagnoses that fall under the umbrella of neurodiversity are Autism Spectrum Condition and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, and Dyscalculia are additionally recognized as diagnoses of neurodivergence, as are Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Tourette Syndrome. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can also fall into the category of Neurodiversity, as there are neurological changes that occur when a person is subject to chronic traumatic stress. The diagnoses that meet criteria for neurodiversity share commonality in deviations in perception, socialization, learning and behaviors that may be outside of the norm. These deviations may be perceived as challenges to overcome, but may also be recognized and utilized as strengths, as demonstrated in the above diagram.
As ADHD and Autism are often the most visible or commonly understood presentations of neurodiversity, they can provide a good frame of reference for the differences that a neurodivergent person may present with. Furthermore, Autism and ADHD really highlight the fact that there are incredibly varying presentations of neurodiversity, as no two ADHD or Autism diagnosed individuals look or act the same. Furthermore, both of these diagnoses are regarded as invisible - they do not have physical characteristics that can be linked to their neurological functioning.
Often, the differences in perception, learning style and behavior that qualify a person for a neurodivergent diagnosis are viewed as weaknesses. However, by learning about a person's learning style, the way they perceive the world, and the way they would best like to communicate and socialize, a bridge can be built towards better understanding and supportive accommodations.
What are some examples of accommodations?
Accommodations can really be anything that helps a person achieve their goals. The list below is not exhaustive, but provides a good frame of reference for the range of accommodations a neurodivergent person may find helpful.
Noise canceling headphones
Allowing breaks or time to move around
Help with organization
Instructions tailored to a person’s learning style
Clearly ordered routines
Quiet/distraction free environment
Allowing assistance animals
How can I provide accessibility for those around me who may be neurodivergent?
Normalize differences: If you notice that a student or friend works best moving around or while using noise canceling headphones, support their choice and do your best to encourage those around you to be open to different accommodations or behavioral presentations.
Be open minded: Don’t make assumptions about people’s learning preferences or the way they interpret information. It is likely that your coworkers/peers may receive information differently than you, or choose to engage socially in a different way than you. Be curious about those around you, and check your assumptions as best you can.
Be clear and direct: If you need to relay information, try to offer it in many different presentations, such as written in addition to verbal in order to set clear and understandable expectations. Unless you have a good understanding of someone’s learning style, try to avoid making jokes or using sarcasm when you are passing on important information in order to avoid misinterpretation.
Be supportive: If a friend, coworker, family member, or student approaches you and makes requests for accommodations, do your best to provide them. For example, if a friend lets you know that they are socially worn out and requests to cancel plans, validate their experience and ask if there are more comfortable ways for them to socialize in the near future. Maybe they would be open to a phone call, or to watch a movie quietly at home vs going out for dinner.
How can I learn more?
There are many folks on social media that share their experiences of neurodiversity. As social media influencers are comfortable sharing their experiences, they may be the best point of reference to answer your questions or to learn about accommodations that work well! I would encourage you to seek information directly from those who are neurodivergent themselves, as there are many advocacy groups that are viewed as harmful by the neurodivergent population! A simple search on Instagram or TikTok for ‘neurodivergent’ will offer some great options of educators. Your therapist may also be a good source of information, or could provide you with materials for further research. If you think you may be neurodivergent and would like to be connected with a supportive therapist, please reach out to us at Calm Mind Counseling Center.