Neurodiversity is the term for how individuals perceive, think about, and interact with the world. Individuals with neurodiversity experience life in school, at work, and through social interactions in different ways.
The question becomes, “are you neurodivergent?” and how will neurodiversity affect your life?
An estimated 15-20% of the world’s population is neurodivergent as a result of both genetic and environmental causes. This means that their brain learns and processes information differently than others.
Previously, many employers misjudged these variances as a lack of effort. We now recognize that this is not the case. You’ll almost certainly have neurodiverse workers at some time in the future, whether presently or in the near future. It’s critical that you learn how to help neurodivergent staff members.
People with neurodivergent conditions are commonly more prone to encountering mental illnesses or issues with well-being. This is typically due to a lack of support and the pressure of ‘masking’ — pretending to be neurotypical in order to avoid negativity.
The pressure this causes impedes neurodiverse individuals from doing as well as they’re able to.
What is neurodiversity?
A term that has surfaced in recent years, neurodivergent means somebody who doesn’t think like the vast majority of people. This group is commonly called neurotypical.
The term neurotypical refers to an individual whose brain functions similarly to the average person.
We think of neurodiversity as a social justice movement that recognizes and celebrates neurodivergence and cultural differences. These have generally been seen as medical illnesses, with a focus on how to “fix” them.
The disability movement understands these conditions as variations of the human mind, not as disabilities. Many feel that therapies and medicines to alter or monitor a person’s behaviors are inefficient and unethical.
Neurodivergent refers to someone who does not think, behave, or learn in the ways considered typical. In other words, neurodivergence is a term for when someone’s brain processes information differently than what is seen as “normal” or “neurotypical.”
The term “neurodiversity” can be used to describe the varied ways that people’s brains function. This includes everything from how you and your partner approach a problem to certain neurological conditions or clinical mental health diagnoses. This term aims to look at these differences impartially, rather than viewing them as a negative thing or a deficit.
Being neurodivergent is not a formal medical diagnosis recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the standard reference book for psychologists. The same applies to high-functioning anxiety, which also does not appear in the DSM.
The neurodivergent meaning refers to a less solidified definition. It’s a word that is more fluidly defined and used by professionals in the mental health world and those impacted by conditions such as anxiety and depression. Being neurodivergent means that everyday activities may be more difficult for you to manage from a cognitive perspective.
For neurodivergent people, their differences often make it difficult to communicate with those who don’t share their brain type. And systems that are designed for the majority sometimes do not work well for them–and can even be harmful.
For example, someone who is neurodivergent might be viewed as less productive than their coworkers because certain processes in place could act as large mental hurdles for them. Something such as the need for regular in-person meetings or presentations may make a neurodivergent person feel incredibly uncomfortable. Or they may feel ashamed because they don’t have the same emotional responses to certain things as other people do.
Types of Neurodivergence
There are several neurodivergent categories or types of neurodivergence. The following are some of the most prevalent or well-known examples.
Autism is a group of developmental disorders that can have wide-ranging social, communication, and behavioral consequences for persons on the autism spectrum, according to the CDC.
Among other challenges, patients with autism may have trouble making eye contact, enjoying physical touch, and difficulty expressing their needs.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is a disorder that hampers executive functioning skills, such as the ability to think abstractly, solve problems, plan or organize, and synthesize information.
According to the CDC, children with ADHD may find it difficult to pay attention, control their emotions, and sit still.
This is a learning difficulty in which youngsters have trouble comprehending speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Dyslexia is a reading disability that affects how the brain processes language. It can cause trouble with reading, spelling, and memorizing words.
Dyspraxia is a condition that makes it harder to coordinate your body, according to the National Health Service. It’s considered a developmental disorder because kids who have it often don’t do as well as their peers in daily activities.
A child with this condition may appear clumsily and have difficulties learning to write, draw, or master new abilities.
Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes involuntary, repetitive movements and vocalizations called tics.
For example, people with Tourette’s might have tics such as blinking or clearing their throat regularly. Some folks may blurt out words they didn’t mean to say.
Other Types of Neurodivergence
The term “neurodivergence” pertains to individuals with neurological conditions, is somewhat broad, and can be used to describe people and situations beyond what you may at first think. After all, other neurodiverse examples include, but are not limited to:
Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which you perceive sounds while seeing shapes. It’s also possible that hearing a phrase or name causes you to see color right away. Synesthesia is the term used to describe when one of your senses is linked with another. For example, you might observe green after hearing the word “Alex.” You could taste citrus fruit if you read the word “street.”
If you have had two unprovoked seizures or one unprovoked seizure with a high risk of more, your doctor may diagnose you with epilepsy. Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes recurring, unprovoked seizures; however, not all seizures are related to this disorder. Seizures may also be caused by a brain injury or family trait, but often the cause is unknown.
Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes changes in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. People with bipolar disorder experience intense emotional states that typically occur during distinct periods of days to weeks, called mood episodes. These symptoms can cause problems with everyday activities such as going to work or school, maintaining relationships, and taking care of yourself.
People with a disorder called OCD have unwanted thoughts, ideas, or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel compelled to do something repetitively (compulsions). The repetitive behaviors can interfere significantly with daily activities and social interactions.
Anxiety is a feeling usually characterized by dread, tension, worry, or apprehension. It can be described as the physical and mental anticipation of a negative result. Anxiety often accompanies the anticipation of a stressful event, unknown outcomes, or other struggles like depression or loneliness.
It can be experienced in short bursts—perhaps before going on a date, resolving a conflict at work, or performing in front of a large crowd—or it can happen gradually over long periods of time.
Depression is a common and serious medical condition that substantially affects how you feel, think, and act. It is also curable, which is fortunate.
Depression is more than just feeling blue or sad occasionally. It’s a serious mental illness that causes long-lasting effects, negatively affecting your mood, thoughts, body, and behavior.
When you examine a population, the average brain is one of the most obvious ways to do it. Finding someone who is exactly on that point is uncommon. Researchers are generally interested in studying individuals who differ in a variety of ways and believe they should be considered the new normal.
How to Know If You’re Neurodivergent
So if you are asking yourself, ‘am I neurodivergent?’ understand that there are no cut-and-dry criteria that will identify you as neurodivergent. Many people who believe their brain is operating differently from others are starting to call themselves neurodivergent.
But people with clinical diagnoses such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, Tourette Syndrome, and ADHD do clearly fall under that umbrella term of neurodivergent because their conditions impact the way their brains process information. By that definition, roughly a third of the population is neurodivergent.
That said, many adults, especially those with autism spectrum disorder, are undiagnosed and may not even realize they’re neurodivergent. A good rule of thumb is that if you have difficulty relating to others, understanding other people, and/or find people often misunderstand you, those are good signs that you may be neurodivergent.
For instance, the signs of autism can often be different for adults versus children. The National Institute of Stroke and Neurological Disorders Trusted Source considers the following as common signs of someone that is autistic:
- Does not babble or point by 12 months of age
- Has poor eye contact
- Has spoken no single words by 16 months of age
- Has spoken no two-word phrases by 2 years of age
- Does not smile or respond socially
- Does not respond to their own name
- Remains fixated on lining up their toys or objects, watching toys spin or move
- Repeats actions or sounds repeatedly
In adults or older children, such signs may include:
- Has low to no social interaction
- Cannot initiate or hold a conversation
- Does not play socially with others
- Repetitive language
- Often has an intense, focused interest in a certain subject or object
- Remains fixated on certain rituals or routines
- Has difficulty maintaining eye contact
People who suffer from these conditions already know they are different and weird compared to society’s norms. They are aware that they struggle with things that come easily to others.
Degrees of neurodiversity
Neurodiversity comes in a variety of different forms, from autism to ADHD. These conditions also come in varying degrees. For example, some who have autism have higher needs for support than others who are afflicted.
Recent editions of “the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)” has included several conditions in the category of autism spectrum disorder. These include:
- Asperger’s syndrome
- childhood disintegrative disorder
- pervasive developmental disorders not otherwise specified
The DSM classifies autism with three levels of severity. Severity is defined as on the amount of impairment you are living with in terms of social communication, as well as your restricted or repetitive behaviors.
- Level 1 – when you need support.
- Level 2 – when you need substantial support.
- Level 3 – when you need very substantial support.
Benefits of Neurodiversity
While neurodiversity can sometimes make life more difficult, it also has some advantages. Neurodiverse people often see and process the world differently than neurotypical individuals, which can sometimes lead to positive outcomes such as new discoveries or interesting results. Some other benefits of neurodivergence include:
- Ability to focus for long periods on a subject or activity of interest
- Outside-of-the-box thinking can lead to creative ideas for addressing problems
- Excellent attention to detail and a keen eye for detail are required
- Superior ability to recognize patterns, including in codes and behaviors
- Strong abilities in areas such as music, art, technology, and science
Of course, this is a simple taxonomy. Every person is unique, and certain talents are more prevalent in an autistic individual than in someone with dyscalculia or vice versa.
Neurodiversity in the workplace
Within the realm of employment and the workplace, neurodiversity has been recognized. Many neurological illnesses are protected by the Equality Act 2010. It protects people against disability prejudice for problems commonly known as “hidden disabilities.”
The term “disability” under the Act is defined as an individual’s physical or mental impairment that has a long-term, negative impact on their ability to do regular daily activities. Ensure those with said characteristics are treated equally; this allows for them to have the same rights, status, and opportunities in society.
Each type of neurodiversity presents its own set of difficulties. These might include, but are not limited to:
- Difficulty focusing
- High stress
- Struggles with timekeeping
- Difficulty maintaining a schedule
- Prone to illnesses
Some individuals may flourish in an office setting and gain resilience to the challenges they face. Others may have difficulties completing certain activities as a result of their condition. In these situations, revealing these issues to a manager might assist them in supporting their employees at work.
The skills and perspectives of neurodiverse individuals can be a huge boon to businesses. In the past two years, Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s neurodiversity program has placed over 30 participants in software-testing roles at Australia’s Department of Human Services (DHS). Early results show that the organization’s neurodiverse testing teams are 30% more productive than average.
Neurodiversity and mental health
It does not imply that someone is mentally ill if they are neurodivergent. There isn’t really a term for a neurodivergent mental illness such as “neurodivergent depression” or “neurodivergent anxiety,” just people who think differently from most.
However, the National Autistic Society explains that ‘people on the autism spectrum are more likely to experience mental illness than those who are not autistic’.
While navigating a neurotypically built environment, individuals on the autism spectrum face extra stresses that contribute to worse mental health problems.
It’s not difficult to imagine how distant coworkers, or unsympathetic co-workers, might make neurodivergent individuals feel isolated or even harassed – or how unsympathetic bosses could contribute to stress and worry regarding job performance and job security.
The future of neurodiversity
According to the National Autistic Society’s 2016 Autism Employment Gap Report, just 16% of adults on the autistic spectrum are in full-time employment, and 77% of those unemployed want to work.
The concept of neurodiversity has gained traction in recent years, raising awareness about the strengths and challenges people with neurological differences face.
Changes in the workplace reflect progress in diversifying and opening up the workforce. However, there is still room for greater awareness, acceptance, and celebration of neurodivergence in our culture.
Neurodivergence is a relatively recent idea that considers neurological differences to be normal instead of pathological conditions. While the notion is still new, it is becoming more popular and may help develop universally accessible schools, workplaces, and communities.
Neurodivergent individuals are more likely to have a neurodevelopmental disease like as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, or Tourette’s syndrome, but they may also have associated anomalies such as hearing and tactile difficulties.
It’s not only acceptable but also simple and beneficial to work with neurodivergent self-advocates, students, and employees to provide modifications while simultaneously encouraging and enhancing people’s specific talents and potential.