What Is Neurodivergence?

4 min
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In recent years, you might have become more aware of people around you with things like ADHD, autism, and dyslexia. These are a few examples of neurodivergence, which is a term that highlights how different brains work in different ways. For a long time, mainstream understanding of the brain, nervous system, and how we function cognitively was based on what’s known as a “neurotypical” person – and human psychology, education systems, modern medicine, and other societal structures were largely built around this understanding. This can make life quite difficult for people with neurodivergent conditions, especially when they are undiagnosed. Thankfully, awareness is growing around neurodivergence, and these systems are becoming more inclusive.

What is ADHD/ADD

One of the most prevalent forms of neurodivergence is ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Someone with ADHD might find it challenging to focus, get distracted often, or be characterized by a high level of energy and impulsivity (hyperactivity). Someone with these traits but without the chronic hyperactivity would have a diagnosis of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). These symptoms severely impact daily life and can be a source of deeply held shame and negative self-regard for those with the condition. ADHD/ADD can present differently in children and adults, however, and often differently between genders because of certain biases – meaning that many girls and women fail to receive a diagnosis for ADHD/ADD and get the support they need.

What is Autism

Another common form of neurodivergence is Autism – according to the World Health Organization, 1% of children are on the autism spectrum. Someone with autism will find social interaction challenging, and approach verbal or physical communication differently to neurotypical people. They might also have heightened sensory perception and become quickly overwhelmed, or become fixated on details, routines, and habituated behaviors. As a spectrum, symptoms of autism and their impact on a person’s life can vary from mild to severe. A lack of understanding and support can lead to feelings of disconnection and isolation for people with autism.

Dyslexia and other forms of neurodivergence

There are many other neurodivergent experiences, including Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia. People with dyslexia find reading and decoding written language more challenging than neurotypical people. Dyspraxia impacts an individual’s physical coordination, dyscalculia is a learning difficulty related to numbers and mathematics, and dysgraphia is a term that covers challenges with writing. These specific learning difficulties are to do with the development of an individual’s neural pathways and how messages and signals get sent around the brain and body. Ultimately we are all wired differently, and neurodivergence that is challenging in certain contexts (such as an academic setting) can bring about gifts in others – many of the world's most talented and creative thinkers are neurodivergent. Pablo Picasso, for example, is believed to have been dyslexic, while Albert Einstein is suspected to have had autism.

Understanding neurodivergence

There is as much diversity in our minds and bodies as there is in nature. No two trees grow identically, and no two brains work the same. For this reason, the conversation on neurodivergence is an important one. Receiving a diagnosis of a neurodivergent condition can be a lifeline for people who often find they struggle in situations that others don’t – perhaps at school or in the workplace. It is worth speaking to a psychologist if you struggle with a certain area of life. Many of us internalize shame and unworthiness when we are unable to ‘keep up’ or ‘behave’ the way others do, or we don’t know how to nurture the talents of those around us who don’t fit the neurotypical mold. The more we understand and celebrate neurodiversity, the more we can flourish as a society, with the ability to be empathic to the lived experiences of others – and ourselves.

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Are you interested in learning more about neurodiversity? Join our course on The Diversity of the Human Brain to take a deeper dive into what neurodivergence is, and how to get to know these unique brains better.

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All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: The Power Of Autism; Creative Style And Achievement In Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder; Defining And Understanding Dyslexia: Past, Present And Future.

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