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Neurodiversity: Your Guide For What To Know

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

What does neurodiversity mean? This term is gaining traction in today’s society as we become more aware and accepting of individuals who have neurological differences. Because this is a relatively new descriptor in the mental health field, a lot of questions are cropping up, like “What is neurodiversity?” With a goal to comprehensively answer that question, we’ve created this guide to help you identify what it is as well as how to recognize neurodivergent characteristics. 

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity refers to the behavioral traits and the variety of ways our brains process information. This term encompasses different cognitive and neurological differences, and it is used to describe individuals with unique neurological variables that may not be considered standard – but should be considered worthy of our attention and respect. To be clear, neurodiversity is not considered a condition or diagnosis, and it is not an officially recognized medical term.

Why Is Neurodiversity Important?

Neurodiversity is important because it represents a necessary shift in the way we think about people’s differences. For too long, individuals with neurological conditions have been stigmatized and marginalized, leading to a lack of understanding and support.

Understanding neurodiversity is necessary in order to promote inclusivity in our society. We must embrace this diversity by highlighting its benefits while providing support when needed through mental health treatment options.

Ultimately, neurodiversity encourages opportunities for everyone to thrive and contribute their own unique perspectives to society while stimulating the need to provide neurodiverse individuals with supportive, inclusive environments so they may thrive – regardless of their neurological status.

About the Neurodiversity Spectrum

The neurodiversity spectrum is a way of describing the range of neurological differences that exist among people. It recognizes that there are many different ways in which our brains can develop and operate and that this diversity is part of what makes us human.

At one end of the spectrum are individuals who have what might be considered “neurotypical” brain functioning – i.e., they do not have any conditions or disorders that significantly impact their cognitive or social abilities. At the other end are individuals with more significant differences in their neurological functioning, such as autism or ADHD. The following are a few conditions that can be found in the neurodiversity spectrum: 

Autism

Autism is a neurodivergent condition that affects communication and social interaction. It is characterized by repetitive behaviors, restricted interests, and sensory sensitivities. Autism is a spectrum disorder which means it varies widely in severity from person to person.

ADHD

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a condition that affects both children and adults. It is characterized by difficulty in focusing, maintaining attention, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity.

Dyslexia

Another condition that exists on the neurodiversity spectrum is dyslexia. Most people associate this condition with difficulties reading or writing. However, dyslexia also impacts memory retention, communication, organizing, and multitasking.

Dyspraxia

Also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), dyspraxia, is a neurological condition that affects movement and coordination.  Individuals with dyspraxia may have difficulty with fine motor skills and/or gross motor skills. In addition to physical challenges, individuals with dyspraxia may also experience difficulties with organization, memory, and social interaction. 

Neurodiversity Statistics

Now that we have a collective term for the aforementioned conditions, mental health professionals and scientists are more effectively able to gather neurodiversity statistics about individuals who exhibit traits on the neurodiversity spectrum.  

According to the National Institutes of Health, anywhere from 15% – 20% of Americans are neurodiverse in some sense.  To break this larger percentage down, 5% of this neurodiverse demographic have ADHD, 10% are diagnosed with dyslexia, and roughly 2% are autistic.

Is Neurodiversity the Same as Mental Illness?

No. While neurodiversity and mental illness may seem similar in some ways, they are not the same thing. Neurodiversity refers to variations in the human brain and nervous system. Alternatively, mental illness is a medical condition that affects a person’s thinking, behavior, or mood and often responds to mental health treatment such as dialectical behavior therapy.

To elaborate, being autistic or having ADHD does not necessarily mean someone needs therapy or medication to “fix” them.  However, certain therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT, or talk therapy), can help individuals and family members better navigate the unique situations neurodiversity implies.

Can Neurodivergent Conditions Be Treated or Cured?

Because neurodivergent conditions refer to brain development, they are lifelong and cannot be cured or prevented. However, they can be managed effectively with the right treatment approaches. Different types of therapy, such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, have been shown to help individuals better manage symptoms and attain a fulfilling life living with their neurodivergence.

What Are the Top Challenges Faced by Neurodivergent Individuals?

Emerging studies show that individuals with neurodivergent characteristics quite frequently experience happy, full lives. That said, there are challenges that go hand-in-hand with neurodivergence.  

For instance, one major challenge is communication difficulties, which can make it hard for them to express themselves or understand others. Another challenge is sensory processing issues, where neurodivergent individuals may be overly sensitive to sounds, touch, taste, or smell. 

Neurodivergence may also pose difficulties in executing motor functions such as walking or fine motor skills like handwriting. Struggles with concentration, organizing information, or impulse control may also cause challenges.

Additionally, stigma and discrimination towards neurodiversity can create significant barriers for these individuals in education, employment opportunities, healthcare access, housing options, and even basic human rights.

Positive Ways to Promote Neurodiversity

Promoting neurodiversity is not just about accepting differences but also celebrating them. Here are some positive ways to promote neurodiversity:

Understanding Neurodiversity and Identity

Too often, people who exhibit neurological differences that are not wholly accepted by society are often misunderstood or even discriminated against. This can lead to a malformed sense of self or identity within one who struggles with this condition. Therefore, it’s crucial to suspend judgment and support neurological diversities so as not to mar the development of identity in those with a neurological condition. 

It’s also important to reinforce that this condition does not define a person – it is merely an aspect that makes them unique. Furthermore, neurodiversity, when approached appropriately, should be considered an asset – not a penance or a flaw in one’s identity.

How Can People Promote Neurodiversity?

Promoting neurodiversity means creating a world where differences in neurological function are embraced, supported, and accepted. Here are some ways to promote and support neurodiverse individuals:

  • Get educated. Take the initiative to further answer the question, “What is neurodiversity?” for yourself and encourage others to do so as well. 
  • Create supportive home and work environments that recognize the unique strengths that come with neurodivergence.
  • Encourage inclusivity in social groups, making these individuals feel more accepted.
  • Make therapeutic options available so that these individuals can learn skills that better help them succeed in relationships, work, and life.
  • Embrace differences in all forms. By celebrating diversity, we create an environment that encourages the acceptance of all individuals regardless of their abilities.

What Are Some Common Neurological Differences?

Neurological differences are common among individuals with neurodivergent conditions, such as autism and ADHD. These differences can include sensory processing issues, social difficulties, executive function challenges, and communication barriers. Neurological symptoms may include headaches, seizures, or epilepsy. Some individuals may also be hypersensitive to certain stimuli like loud noises or bright lights.

Are There Benefits to Being Neurodivergent?

Absolutely! Many people on the neurodivergent spectrum are often highly creative and able to see connections between ideas that others miss. Similarly, neurodivergents may excel in areas such as pattern recognition and attention to detail. 

Moreover, neurodivergents are increasingly sought after by employers because some individuals tend to be more loyal, do exceedingly well at specialized tasks, and are often motivated to do well at work.

How Can I Create a Neurodiverse-Friendly Environment?

One way of creating a neurodiverse-friendly environment is by providing clear communication. This means using straightforward language and avoiding sarcasm or abstract phrases that can be confusing for some individuals.

Flexibility is also key in creating a neurodiverse-friendly environment. Being open-minded about different working styles, schedules, and preferences can make all the difference for someone on the neurodivergent spectrum.

Closing Thoughts

At Evolve Treatment, we specialize in providing comprehensive care for young, neurodiversified people struggling to manage relationships and life more effectively. Our team of experienced professionals is committed to offering personalized treatment plans that meet each client’s unique needs. If you or someone you love need help navigating neurodivergence, contact us today. Together, we can help you achieve lasting success and live a fulfilling life on your own terms.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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