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What is Neurodivergence?

May 12, 2023

Have you ever felt like you see the world differently from others? If yes, then you may be part of the neurodivergent community. Neurodivergence is a fascinating and often misunderstood topic in the field of mental health, and in recent years, it has gained increasing attention worldwide. It is important to note that neurodivergence is not a disorder or disease but rather a natural variation in the human brain.

One with neurodivergence disorder struggles with certain social or cognitive aspects of life. But what exactly does that mean? Let’s explore the intricacies of neurodivergence and broaden the horizons of neurodiversity.

 

What Is Neurodivergence?

Neurodivergence refers to one’s neurological development and functioning that differ from the typical or expected patterns. It’s basically the term used to describe people whose brains work in ways that are different from the norm.

It is important to note that neurodivergence is not a pathology but rather a natural variation in the human experience. The variation associated with neurological conditions includes but is not limited to Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Dyslexia, Tourette Syndrome, and more.

 

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a concept that refers to diversity in the human brain and cognition. It is used to recognize the natural variation in how human brains work. For instance, it helps analyze one’s sociability, attention, mood, and other mental functions.

Established by sociologist Judy Singer in the 1990s, the concept of neurodiversity challenges the traditional view that there is a “normal” way of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Instead, neurodiversity values the differences that exist among people and respects the richness and complexity of the human experience.

Neurodiversity suggests that the human brain functions differently for different people and the concept encompasses a wide range of neurological conditions that affect cognitive and behavioural functions. Each person is unique in their own right, and the experiences of neurodivergent individuals are varied and complex. While some neurodivergent individuals have different ways of processing information, communicating, and interacting with others, some struggle with social skills, executive functioning, or sensory processing. Others may excel in areas such as pattern recognition, creativity, or attention to detail.

 

How Rare is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is not as rare as it is believed. In fact, one in every seven people worldwide is neurodivergent in some way. According to the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, 15% to 20% of the world’s population exhibits some kind of neurodivergence, with Autism spectrum disorder being the most common one.

 

The History of the Word ‘Neurodivergent’ 

Australian sociologist Judy Singer was the one who coined the word “neurodiversity” in 1998 as a way to describe the neurological differences of individuals. Like everyone has a unique fingerprint, no two brains function in the same way. The concept of neurodivergent concluded that there’s no specific definition of “normal” capabilities for the human brain.

The word “neurodivergent” was used to move away from the negative connotations associated with terms like “disordered,” “deficient,” or “disabled” that had previously been used to describe individuals with these differences. However, the term now emphasizes the idea that these differences are simply variations of the normal human experience and not something that needs to be cured.

 

Why use the term neurodivergent to describe people?

The term “neurodivergent” describes individuals whose neurological development and function differ from the majority of people. The use of the term “neurodivergent” reflects a shift in perspective towards neurodiversity, which views differences in neurological function as natural variations in human cognition rather than as pathological conditions.

With the use of the term “neurodivergent,” individuals who were previously labelled as “disabled” or “disordered” are able to identify themselves in a more positive light. It instead shows their unique strengths and abilities and encourages society to recognize the value of diversity in human cognition.

 

Types of Neurodivergence

Infographics of Types of neurodivergent

Neurodiversity refers to the wide range of natural neurological variations that exist in humans. There are several types of neurodivergence conditions that affect one’s cognitive, emotional, and behavioural processes. Let’s take a closer look at the types of neurodiversity.

1. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behaviour. ASD individuals often have difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication, repetitive behaviours, and sensory issues. The severity of symptoms can widely vary between individuals with ASD. Some may excel in certain areas, such as music or math, while others may have difficulty with daily tasks. 

2. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. People with ADHD disorder may have trouble focusing on tasks, controlling impulses, and regulating behaviour. ADHD can have a significant impact on academic and social functioning. While the symptoms can cause difficulties in their daily life, ADHD individuals can also be creative, resourceful, and energetic.

3. Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects reading, writing, and spelling. One with dyslexia disorder may not be able to decode words, recognize sight words, and understand the meaning of the written text. Dyslexia is often genetic, and it affects about 10% of the population.

4. Tourette Syndrome

Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder that involves repetitive, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics. Tics can be simple or complex and may include eye blinking, facial grimacing, throat clearing, or repeating words or phrases. Tourette Syndrome is often associated with these physical symptoms, but it can also cause anxiety, depression, and other emotional challenges. People with Tourette Syndrome may also experience obsessive-compulsive symptoms and attention problems.

5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that involves intrusive, repetitive thoughts (obsessions) that are difficult to control. People with OCD may have compulsive behaviours, such as excessive cleaning, counting, or checking. They, at the same time, can also be highly creative and successful in their chosen fields.

 

What is the most common neurodivergence?

As mentioned earlier, 15% to 20% of people worldwide have some kind of neurodivergence. According to statistics, the most common neurodivergence is ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and it has a global prevalence rate of 5%. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is another common neurodiversity condition, with a prevalence rate of around 1%. Other types of neurodivergence, such as dyslexia, OCD and Tourette syndrome, have a significant portion of the population.

It’s important to note that the rates may vary depending on various factors such as age, gender, and diagnostic criteria. Among adults, dyslexia is the most common neurodivergence condition. It is estimated that approx. 10% of adults are diagnosed with dyslexia.

 

What causes Neurodivergence?

Neurodivergent people have differences in their brain functioning, even for those with the same medical diagnosis. It means two individuals with very different symptoms can still have the same neurodivergence. However, the causes of neurodivergence are not fully understood.

Some research suggests that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may contribute to the development of neurodivergent traits. Studies have shown that certain genes may increase the chances of developing neurodivergence conditions. Besides, environmental factors may involve exposure to toxins or maternal infections during pregnancy, and they have also been linked to the development of some kind of neurodivergent condition.

 

Neurodivergent signs

Neurodivergent signs may include various characteristics and behaviours that may indicate the presence of one’s neurodivergent condition. These signs manifest in a variety of ways and can be different for each type of neurodivergence. The signs of neurodivergence vary a lot depending on the age of an individual.

 

Signs of Neurodivergence in Adults 

The signs of neurodivergence in adults may include:

  • Difficulty with social interactions and communication.
  • Repetitive behaviours or routines.
  • Sensory sensitivities or difficulties with sensory processing.
  • Difficulty with time management and organization.
  • Hyperfocus or difficulty shifting attention between tasks.
  • Intense emotions or difficulty regulating emotions.
  • Difficulty with executive functioning, such as planning and decision-making.
  • Tendency to take things very literally.
  • Struggles with changes in routine or unexpected events.
  • Difficulty with self-regulation, including sleep and eating patterns.

 

Signs of Neurodivergence in Toddlers

The signs of neurodivergence in toddlers may include:

  • Delayed speech or language development.
  • Difficulty making eye contact or showing interest in social interactions.
  • Repetitive behaviours, such as rocking or spinning objects.
  • Difficulty with transitions and changes in routine.
  • Sensory sensitivities, such as being bothered by loud noises or certain textures.
  • Difficulty with fine or gross motor skills, such as holding a pencil or walking steadily.
  • Unusual play behaviours, such as lining up toys or fixating on one particular object.
  • Limited interests and narrow focus on specific topics or activities.

Note that experiencing one of these signs does not necessarily mean that you are neurodivergent.

 

Neurodivergent symptoms

Infographics of Sign of Neurodivergent

Neurodivergent people experience a variety of symptoms, depending on their specific condition. Below are listed some common symptoms associated with different types of neurodivergence.

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder: Difficulty with social interactions and communication, repetitive behaviours or routines, hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, difficulty with organization and time management.
  • Dyslexia: Difficulty with reading and writing, difficulty with spelling, trouble with phonological processing.
  • Tourette Syndrome: Involuntary movements or vocalizations (tics).
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Intrusive, unwanted thoughts or obsessions, repetitive behaviours or compulsions to relieve anxiety.

It’s important to note that not every neurodivergent will experience all of these symptoms. Some may have symptoms that are not mentioned in the list.

 

Am I Neurodivergent?

It is normal to wonder if you might be neurodivergent, but how would you know if you are neurodivergent or not? Well, there are some common signs and symptoms of neurodivergence that you can consider. They include difficulties with social communication, repetitive behaviours, difficulty with attention, sensory sensitivities, and heightened emotions. However, although you have some of these symptoms you cannot say for sure that you are Neurodivergent. The best way to determine your neurodivergence is to seek a consultation from a qualified mental health professional. Thrive Downtown, being a professional mental health counselling center in Vancouver, can help you find out if you are neurodivergent or not.

 

How to Know If You’re Neurodivergent?

If you’re wondering if you have a neurodivergent condition but are clueless about how to know if you’re neurodivergent, then there is a way out. If you are experiencing the following symptoms, then you may be neurodivergent. 

  • You have difficulty with social interactions: Neurodivergent individuals often struggle with social interactions, such as making eye contact, understanding social cues, or interpreting body language.
  • You have intense interests or passions: One with neurodivergence may have a particular interest or passion that they are extremely knowledgeable about and can talk about for hours.
  • You have sensory sensitivities: Sensory sensitivities are common among neurodivergent individuals. You may find certain sounds, textures, or smells overwhelming or uncomfortable.
  • You have difficulty with executive functioning: Executive functioning refers to a set of cognitive skills that allow us to plan, organize, and complete tasks. People with Neurodivergence conditions may have difficulty with executive functioning. It makes it hard to complete tasks on time or stay organized.
  • You experience intense emotions: A neurodivergent may experience emotions more intensely than neurotypical individuals, leading to intense feelings of joy, anger, sadness, or anxiety.
  • You have difficulty with change: Many neurodivergent individuals struggle with changes in routine or unexpected events. You may prefer to stick to a predictable schedule and find it difficult to adapt to new situations.

Keep in mind that this is not a diagnostic tool, and you should always consult with a healthcare professional like Thrive Counselling Center and discuss your concerns about your mental health.

 

How Common Is Being Neurodivergent?

Neurodivergence is more common than people may think. One of the most common neurodivergence in the world is Autism Spectrum Disorder. According to the National Institutes of Health, one in every 36 children has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and it can occur in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups. The report further suggests that ASD is 4 times more common among boys than girls. We can conclude that being neurodivergent is not common and affects a significant portion of the population.

 

Is being Neurodivergent a disability?

Neurodivergents often face challenges in social, educational, and professional environments due to their differences in neurology. These challenges lead to the question of whether being neurodivergent is a disability. The answer is not straightforward, as it depends on the individual and the context. Being neurodivergent is not the same as being disabled or mentally ill, but it can be associated with disability.

Being neurodivergent can be considered a disability if it significantly impairs one’s ability to perform daily activities, employment, or other opportunities. On the other hand, there are neurodivergent individuals who do not see their differences as a disability but take them as a natural part of their identity.

 

Is ADHD Neurodivergent?

ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) is considered a type of neurodivergent condition. Its symptoms include difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. An ADHD neurodivergent often experiences challenges in areas such as organization, time management, and completing tasks.

Learn more in our comprehensive post, “Is ADHD Neurodivergent?”

 

Is Neurodivergence Diagnosable?

There are many types of neurodivergence that are diagnosable through various assessment tools, such as clinical interviews and neuropsychological testing. The diagnosis of a neurodivergence condition varies depending on its type and the expertise of the healthcare provider.

 

Is There a Test for Neurodivergence?

There is no official test that can diagnose neurodivergence. Instead, neurodivergence individuals may be diagnosed through a combination of medical evaluations, psychological assessments, and behavioural observations. Thrive Downtown has years of experience and expertise in diagnosing neurodivergence conditions through a range of mental health therapies.

 

How to determine Neurodivergence?

There is no definitive test to determine neurodivergence. However, if you think you are neurodivergent and want to determine if you really are or not, then you should counsel with a mental health professional. Thrive Downtown is a reputed mental healthcare center in Vancouver. We have years of experience and expertise in diagnosing neurodivergence conditions through a range of mental health therapies.

Challenging traits of neurodivergent individuals may include a series of difficulties with social communication and interaction. For example, one with a neurodivergence disorder may struggle with picking up on social cues or may find it difficult to make eye contact during conversations.

 

Challenges Traits, Helpful Traits, Characteristics 

A woman holding a white face mask at her face

The challenging traits and characteristics of neurodivergent individuals may include:

  • Sensory processing issues: It may manifest as being overwhelmed by certain sounds, textures, or smells, which can be distressing or distracting.
  • Executive functioning challenges: It may make it difficult to plan and organize tasks, manage time effectively, or initiate tasks.
  • Difficulty with flexibility and transitions: It means that changes to routine or unexpected events can cause a lot of anxiety and stress.

There are many helpful traits and characteristics associated with neurodivergent individuals. They may include, 

  • Attention to detail: It helps neurodivergent in professions such as scientific research, editing, or quality control.
  • Intense focus and interest: It can lead to a high level of expertise or innovation in that field.
  • Creativity and innovation: These are often associated with neurodivergent individuals and can be highly valued in many settings.
  • High levels of empathy: It helps neurodivergent individuals make excellent listeners and supportive friends or colleagues.

 

What does it mean to be Neurodivergent?

When you are neurodivergent, it means that your neurological development and function are different than those of typical people. The differences can be in sensory processing, social communication, executive functioning, and other cognitive and behavioural aspects. Being neurodivergent does not necessarily mean that one is disabled, but it means that you have a unique strength.

 

What do neurodivergent people struggle with?

Neurodivergent people may struggle with various aspects of daily life, depending on the specific neurodivergence condition. For example, one with autism spectrum disorder may struggle with social interaction and communication, while ADHD individuals may have difficulty with focus and attention.

 

What are neurodivergent people good at?

Neurodivergent people may excel in certain areas, such as hyperfocus, attention to detail, creativity, and problem-solving. For instance, people with ADHD may be good at multitasking, while those with autism may have exceptional memory and attention to detail.

 

Understanding and Supporting Neurodivergent Individuals

Neurodivergent individuals face unique challenges in navigating various aspects of life, including education, employment, and social situations. That’s why it’s important to understand and support neurodivergent people, as it helps us create a more inclusive society.

Kid laying his head down in a study desk holing a help sign with his left hand

Workplace

Employers have a responsibility to provide a welcoming and inclusive workplace for all employees, including those who are neurodivergent.

How can employers make their workplaces more neurodiversity-friendly?

Here are a few ways how employers can create a neurodiversity-friendly workplace.

  • Educate all the employees about neurodiversity and the unique needs of neurodivergent individuals.
  • Create a flexible work environment that accommodates different work styles and sensory needs.
  • Offer workplace accommodations such as noise-cancelling headphones or a private workspace for employees who need them.
  • Provide clear communication and instructions, and use visual aids or diagrams when possible.
  • Allow for breaks or time off if needed, and avoid overloading employees with too many tasks or deadlines.

 

Education

Schools and universities play a vital role in supporting neurodivergent students and creating an inclusive learning environment. Below are listed a few ways to support neurodivergent students in the classroom.

  • Provide accommodations, such as extra time on tests, alternative assignments, or a quiet space for studying or taking tests.
  • Use multisensory teaching methods and visual aids to help students learn in different ways.
  • Provide clear and concise instructions and avoid using figurative language or idioms that can be confusing.
  • Encourage student-led learning and collaboration with peers.
  • Foster a safe and accepting classroom environment where students feel comfortable asking for help or accommodations.

 

Social Settings

Social situations can be overwhelming for neurodivergent individuals, but when you follow these things, you can make the environment more accommodating.

  • Provide accommodations such as quiet spaces or sensory-friendly activities.
  • Encourage inclusive language and behaviour, such as avoiding negative or stereotypical language and respecting individual differences.
  • Consider the sensory environment, such as lighting, noise levels, and crowd size.
  • Offer clear expectations for social events or gatherings, such as dress codes or expected behaviours.
  • Use social stories or visual aids to help prepare neurodivergent individuals for social events.

 

Neurodivergence vs. Mental Illness

Neurodivergence and mental illness are two different concepts, although they can sometimes overlap. Neurodivergence can be described as natural variations in cognitive functioning that are not considered typical, while mental illness refers to the disorders that affect mood and behaviour such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. The main difference between the two is that neurodivergence is not inherently pathological or harmful, whereas mental illness is typically a condition that requires treatment. Note that some neurodivergent individuals may experience mental illness and vice versa.

 

Future Directions

As awareness about neurodivergence and neurodiversity grows, there are various directions in which the future of this mental health problem can go. The following can be the potential future directions of neurodivergence

  • Greater acceptance and inclusion of neurodivergent individuals in society, including in areas such as education, employment, and social settings.
  • More research into the different types of neurodivergence, their causes, and potential treatments to help neurodivergent individuals manage their symptoms and thrive.
  • Continued efforts to reduce stigma and stereotypes surrounding neurodiversity, including through media and online campaigns.
  • A shift in the way of thinking about neurodiversity, from a deficit perspective to one that recognizes it as strengths and unique abilities.
  • Collaboration between neurodivergent individuals, advocates, researchers, and professionals to develop more effective ways to support and empower neurodivergent individuals and communities.

 

Conclusion

The bottom line is that neurodivergence is a natural variation in human neurological development that affects one’s cognitive, social, and emotional functioning. Although neurodivergent offer unique strengths and perspectives, its traits can also cause challenges, and at times, you need to diagnose the neurodivergence.

Thrive Downtown, Vancouver Counselling Centre  offers professional counselling and therapy services to cure your struggles with mental health conditions, including neurodivergence. Whether you prefer the convenience of Online Counselling or the personal touch of in-person sessions, we offer a safe and supportive space for your exploration. Our team of trained and licensed professionals can provide you with accurate diagnosis and treatment for any type of neurodivergence. Connect with us for a free consultation.

 

Neurodivergence FAQs

Who Is Neurodiverse?

Neurodiverse individuals are those who exhibit neurological differences in their brain structure or functioning that deviate from the norm. It includes the conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and Tourette’s syndrome, among others.

Is OCD Neurodivergence?

Yes, OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) is considered a form of neurodivergence. It is a mental health disorder where people have persistent, intrusive, and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviours (compulsions). Read More about it on our blog “Is OCD Neurodivergence?

Is Depression a Form of Neurodivergence?

Depression is not typically classified as a form of neurodivergence, as it is considered a mood disorder rather than a neurological difference. However, some individuals with depression may also have neurodivergent conditions, such as ADHD or autism. Learn more about it on “Is Depression Neurodivergent?

Is Anxiety a Form of Neurodivergence?

Anxiety is not typically considered a form of neurodivergence, as it is classified as mental health disorder rather than a neurological difference.

Is Neurodivergence Autism?

Autism is a type of neurodivergence, but neurodiversity encompasses a range of neurological differences beyond autism, such as ADHD, dyslexia, and Tourette’s syndrome, among others.

Is Neurodivergence a Mental Illness?

Neurodivergence is not necessarily a mental illness, as it refers to a range of neurological differences that deviate from the norm. However, some individuals with neurodivergent conditions may also have co-occurring mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression.

Can Neurodivergent Individuals Lead Successful Lives?

Neurodivergent individuals can definitely lead successful lives, just like anyone else. However, some neurodivergent individuals may face unique challenges related to their condition, such as difficulty with social interactions. In that case, they may require to diagnose their neurodivergence conditions. Thrive Downtown has a team of expert mental health professionals who can help you treat your neurodivergence.

Can You Grow Out of Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is part of one’s neurology, and it is not something that can be grown out of. However, some may develop coping mechanisms or receive support that enables them to better manage their condition as they grow.

Are You Born With Neurodiversity?

Neurodivergent conditions are generally believed to be present from birth, although they may not be diagnosed or recognized until later in life.

Are Neurodivergent Individuals Introverts?

Neurodivergent individuals can have a range of personality traits, including introversion, extroversion, and ambiversion, among others. However, some neurodivergent individuals may struggle with social interactions, which could make them appear to have introverted personalities.

Is Neurodiversity Caused by Trauma?

Neurodiversity is generally believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors and is not typically associated with trauma. However, a neurodivergent may have experienced trauma or adverse childhood experiences that could contribute to their symptoms.

 

Carson Kivari

Carson Kivari

Carson Kivari is the Founder and Clinic Director of Thrive Downtown, with years of experience helping individuals and couples overcome anxiety, depression, and burnout. He guides clients on a journey of self-exploration and trauma release to find purpose, connection, and safety. Take the first step towards healing and contact Carson today to schedule a session.

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