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An Introduction to Neurodiversity: What is it?

Have you heard of the term Neurodivergent? It is becoming a more colloquial term in our everyday speech, but do you know what it means?

Neurodivergence is a term used to describe individuals whose neurological development and functioning is atypical. It encompasses conditions such as autism, ADHD, and dyslexia. Embracing neurodivergence means recognizing and valuing the unique strengths and perspectives of individuals with these conditions, and promoting inclusivity and accommodations to support their diverse needs.

Even though neurological differences may result in disadvantages in some areas, they can contribute their strengths, talents, and perspectives as well.

What is a Neurodivergent Brain?

Brains that are considered neurodivergent work differently than typical brains. Individuals with neurodivergent brains may face challenges in areas such as social interaction, communication, executive functioning, and sensory processing. These challenges can make daily tasks and navigating the social world more difficult. For instance, individuals with autism spectrum disorder may have difficulty understanding social cues, and individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may have difficulty focusing on tasks. Let's take a look at some of the most common examples of neurodivergence.

  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is associated with differences in communication, learning, and behavior, according to Harvard Health Publishing. It is possible for some people with autism to communicate verbally and live on their own, while others are virtually nonverbal and require support in many areas of their lives.

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by a pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivityand impulsivity.

  • Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability characterized by difficulty reading, spelling, writing, and pronouncing words. According to the International Dyslexia Association, dyslexia is considered a learning disability because it can make it difficult to succeed in a typical learning environment.

  • Dyspraxia, or developmental coordination disorder, is a neurodevelopmental condition that causes issues with motor skills and coordination, explains the Cleveland Clinic.

  • Dyscalculia is a learning disability characterized by difficulty understanding number-based information and math. While different from dyslexia, dyscalculia often co-occurs with dyslexia or other learning disabilities.

Neurodivergence covers a wide range of diagnoses, each with its own unique characteristics. Each of these disorders is a neurodevelopmental disorder that begins during childhood, even if it is not diagnosed until later in life.

Is Neurodiversity a Diagnosis?

Neurodiversity is not an official diagnosis, but it is often used to describe individuals with atypical brains. These individuals may be more prone to certain conditions such as anxiety, depression, and ADHD.

People who struggle with mental illness often have unrecognized neurodivergence that can make diagnosing and treating them more difficult. What works for the neurotypical brain doesn’t necessarily work for the atypical brain. When supporting someone with ADHD who is neurodivergent, mental health professionals may have to use different methods and approaches than when supporting someone with ADHD and a typical brain.

Recognizing and embracing neurodiversity in mental health care can lead to more personalized and effective treatment approaches. By understanding and accommodating the unique needs of individuals with atypical brains, mental health professionals can create a supportive environment that fosters their strengths and empowers them to thrive. This approach can also help reduce stigma and promote inclusivity, allowing for greater acceptance and understanding of diverse neurological differences.

Strengths of Neurodiversity

Neurodivergent individuals bring a wealth of unique strengths and contributions to the world. Their atypical brains often grant them exceptional abilities in areas such as pattern recognition, creative problem-solving, attention to detail, and divergent thinking. By embracing neurodiversity, society can tap into these diverse perspectives and talents, fostering innovation, empathy, and a more inclusive understanding of the human experience.

A global survey by the tech company Alludo, which notes that up to 20% of the global population is neurodivergent, found a range of self-reported strengths associated with neurodivergence:

  • Creative, flexible, out-of-the-box thinking

  • Strong observational skills and attention to detail

  • Ability to stay focused for long periods of time

  • Excellent ability to recognize patterns and solve math problems

Despite increased innovation, productivity, quality control, and employee engagement in companies with initiatives to hire more neurodivergent people, unemployment is still as high as 80% among the neurodivergent population, according to Harvard Business Review.

Fortunately, there are simple changes to be made. Harvard Health Publishing recommends the following ways to make workplaces and other environments more inclusive:

  • Accommodation of sensory needs like noise reduction, workplace comfort measures, and allowance of fidget toys and movement breaks

  • Clear communication including step-by-step written instructions and avoiding sarcasm or implied meaning that neurodivergent people may not catch

  • Clarity about social etiquette for those who don’t naturally understand such expectations

  • (It can be helpful to talk about expected and unexpected behaviors rather than wrong/right or appropriate/inappropriate behaviors. This type of language helps to remove shame)

  • Advance notice and explanation for any changes

  • Inquiring about preferences, needs, and goals, and being kind and patient with people who are different

We can do much more to include our neurodivergent neighbors, and educating ourselves is the best place to begin. As our culture accommodates for differences, our diversity will flourish and benefit society as a whole.

Dr. Christy Kane LLC's Support

Counselors and methodologies in our office are designed to work with neurodivergent individuals in need of mental health services. We can provide tailored, individualized treatment for you and your family.

Come visit our office and meet our clinicians. We understand that new environments can be uncomfortable, so we want to welcome you and make you feel comfortable. Please let us know what accommodations you need and we will do our best to accommodate them. Whether it's for you or your children, we won't ignore or minimize their neurodivergent needs. We will also refer you to inpatient or more specialized mental health services if none of our counselors are able to meet your needs. Schedule your free consultation with one of our clinicians today by contacting our administrative assistants. 385-223-0777


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