I work with individuals who are neurodivergent, meaning their brain functions, processes, and learns differently than the average person (referred to as “neurotypicals”).
Neurodivergence is a new way of thinking about mental health. This viewpoint advocates that differences in brain functioning are not negative, deleterious, or “bad.” Instead, they are simply a difference that shapes a person’s experience of life and the world.
Why does it matter?
Neurodivergence provides a new way of conceptualizing differences that are often pathologized as disorders. The medical model (what is used to diagnose and “treat” mental health disorders) defines mental health disorders by negative symptoms, which are typically behaviors that differ from the norm. This perspective implies there is something “wrong” with the person.
A neurodivergent lens believes a brain functioning difference is just that - a difference. By seeing it as that, we can examine all of the differences, not just the negative ones. Some of these differences can be extremely life-enhancing, such as a heightened sensitivity to taste, smell, noise, and touch. It can contribute to a more pleasurable experience of the world.
This perspective is also freeing to people with neurodivergence. They no longer have to “fix” what is wrong with them, and instead learn how to work with their brain.
So who gets classified as neurodivergent?
Neurodivergence is a new and evolving label that individuals choose for themselves (versus being “diagnosed” by a professional). It commonly includes ADHD, Autism, Highly Sensitive Person, Synaesthesia, and other differences in brain functioning (dyslexia, dyspraxia, etc.). Individuals can experience multiple forms of neurodivergence, such as dyslexia and ADHD.
How does neurodivergence impact therapy?
In the medical model, neurodivergence is seen as something “wrong” that needs to be “fixed.” For example, old treatment models for autism taught individuals how to stop stimming and learn “socially acceptable behavior.”
When someone with a neurodivergence comes to me for therapy, I’m not trying to fix them. My goal is to help them understand their differences and how to craft a life that honors those differences. This can look like identifying the ways their neurodivergence enhances and impacts their life, looking at how to limit sensory overload, determining a daily structure that meets their needs, ascertaining their boundaries and limits, discussing how to advocate for themselves, and more.
Therapy also involves dismantling the guilt and shame that many neurodivergents carry for being “different,” “odd,” “weird,” and the many other names they may have been called. Neurodivergent people are more likely to experience trauma due to their differences, so therapy often includes healing from these traumatic wrongdoings.
How does the neurodivergent perspective improve quality of life for neurodivergents?
Most of my life I thought there was something off and wrong with me. I struggled with socialization, rollercoaster energy levels, heavy emotions, deep thoughts, and more.
It was until I was in my 30’s that I learned I am autistic. This understanding paired with a neurodivergent lens helped me to see that there is something different about me, but that it isn’t something bad.
Realizing I was autistic helped me to see that I will always feel more and think more than the average person - and that is ok. It freed me to learn to work with it, such as limiting my exposure to emotionally overwhelming situations or structuring my day so I have more breaks for rest. It changed my self-concept and helped me to build strategies that enhance my life.
I have seen a neurodivergent lens provide the same for my neurodivergent clients. You can read more about that in my essay Why It Matters to Know You’re Neurodivergent.
Want to learn more?
If you would like to learn more about neurodivergence, I recommend the book “Divergent Mind” There are also many great articles, such as https://uofgpgrblog.com/pgrblog/2021/3/24/neurodiversity
I provide therapy for neurodivergent folx. If you're interested in being a therapy client, you can learn more here.