For the most part, I’m not a fan of providing clients with a diagnosis of a mental health disorder (you can read about why in my essay To Diagnose or Not).
This is why I love the term “neurodivergent.” It is not an official diagnosis. It did not originate in the DSM-5, where mental health disorders are defined.
Neurodivergent is an umbrella term for differences in brain functioning than a typical human (lovingly referred to as “neurotypicals”). Some categories that fall under neurodivergent include Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, High Sensitivity, etc.
While I do not think a neurodivergent individual needs a diagnosis, I do think it is invaluable for them to know they are neurodivergent. It helps an individual to know that their brain functions differently, that they can work WITH it, and don’t have to work tirelessly to change it.
As a mental health therapist, I’ve had clients who thought something was wrong with them for finding certain levels of sound overwhelming. They tried exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, and still couldn’t stand the noises. They were ashamed they “failed” at therapy. The reality was they were Highly Sensitive. Their hearing was far better than the average person. Nothing was wrong with them - the noises were really too loud for them. Now that client avoids those noises as much as possible and uses noise canceling headphones and earplugs when necessary.
In another instance, I worked with a client who did not know they were autistic. They thought there was something wrong with them because they felt overloaded after a full social day and needed to spend quiet alone time. An autistic individual experiences a heightened amount of input to their brain. Their brains take in more information and they need a break by the end of the day, especially after lots of social interaction. They need a chance to have less input. Thus, this client was meeting her brain’s needs perfectly by taking quiet alone time. There was nothing wrong with her. What was actually harming her was the shame she felt about needing alone time.
Knowing one is neurodivergent can also help a person to step out of pathologizing viewpoints and embrace the positive aspects of their neurodiversity. For example, someone with ADHD can have incredible focus. They also learn lots of new and interesting things because their brains crave new information.
A neurodivergent understanding can also help an individual to learn how to work WITH their brain better. For example, someone with ADHD can use schedule trackers and other strategies to help them accomplish the things they want. Someone with autism can structure their day to prevent sensory overload (such as scheduling breaks throughout the day).
All of these benefits do not require a diagnosis. It simply means seeing oneself through a different lens. A lens that accepts them for who they are, instead of helplessly fighting against their brain’s wiring and natural functioning.
I work with neurodivergent clients to help them learn how to work with their brain.