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Neurodiversity: The Next Wave in Mental Health Activism?

Neurodiversity: The Next Wave in Mental Health Activism? | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

Have you ever been made fun of because of your high sensitivity?

Or bullied for the way or speed with which you can read, write, or articulate your thoughts?

Perhaps you’ve been called scatter-brained or mocked for having ADHD or some other learning disorder?

Have you ever felt (or been made to feel) “other” for the way your brain just seems to be wired?

Do you feel like you have a really different way of thinking and processing and sometimes (often) feel misunderstood because of this?

Neurodiversity: The Next Wave in Mental Health Activism? | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

Neurodiversity: The Next Wave in Mental Health Activism?

If you found yourself nodding along to any of these comments, it could be that you’re part of a large group on this planet who are neurodiverse.

And, if you’ve ever been shamed, blamed, or made to feel “other” for being neurodiverse, you’re not alone.

BUT, far from it being a bad thing, neurodiversity is a beautiful, powerful way of being in the world, despite what dominant social messages may otherwise have you believe.

Moreover, the neurodiversity movement is growing and, in my opinion as a therapist, may be the next big wave of mental health care activism as well as a big step forward in general social compassion.

So in today’s article, I want to introduce you to the concept of neurodiversity and the neurodiversity movement, share some examples of neurodiversity, help you understand why neurodiversity is a beautiful, powerful thing, and give you some suggestions to support yourself or a loved one if you/they experience neurodiversity.

What is neurodiversity?

“Neurodiversity is the diversity of human brains and minds – the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species.” – Nick Walker, Neurocosmopolitanism

While there are many definitions, neurodiversity (a term coined in the late 1990’s by Australian sociologist Judy Singer) at its root, views variances in the brain (and impacts of these variances) as natural and normal variations in the human genome, rather than assigning a pathological label to such variances.

The neurodiversity movement seeks to normalize these brain structure variances in much the same way that other movements have sought to normalize, celebrate, and make more inclusive racial diversity, sexual and gender expression diversity, body diversity, religious diversity, ableism diversity, and more.

The neurodiversity movement challenges established and pervasive social norms that see inherent brain structure variances not as something to be “fixed” or “cured”, but rather as authentic and valuable forms of biological expression that may need individualized supports and help instead.

What are some examples of neurodiversity?

Examples of neurodiversity can include diagnoses such as ADHD/ADD, autism, bipolarity, and/or neurodiversity can also include personality traits relating to brain structure variances such as Sensory Processing Sensitivity, or learning capacity variances such as dyslexia or specific learning disorder.

Neurodiversity may often be invisible – even to those who have it and who don’t quite fully understand it or aren’t aware of it yet – and/or those with neurodiversity may actively try to make it look invisible thanks to the pervasive social stigma largely surrounding many neurodiverse populations.

But chances are, you probably have someone (if not a lot of someones) in your life who are neurodiverse. And perhaps you are, too. And that can be such a beautiful thing!

How can neurodiversity be a positive thing?

The neurodiversity movement is helping clinicians, educators, parents, and those themselves who identify as neurodiverse understand that there are, in fact, tremendous gifts and even social and evolutionary advantages that come along with being neurodiverse.

Whether this is possessing higher-than-average capacities for pattern recognition, memory and mathematics that can come with autism, hyperfocus and tremendous creativity that can come with ADHD, or vast wells of empathy and emotional attunement that can accompany Sensory Processing Sensitivity, neurodiversity, like with so many other forms of diversity, lends its owners gifts and advantages much like any other trait on this planet if framed and viewed this way.

How being neurodiverse can still feel hard.

But, on the other hand, for all of the possible gifts and advantages of neurodiversity, our society is largely not built and accommodating for and to those who are neurodiverse.

From the setup and structure of the grade school classroom, to the dominant visual and auditory learning methodology of our nation’s education system, to highly stimulating open concept office spaces, to the pace, demands, and calendared structure of modern, urban professional life — those with neurodiverse brains can often feel overwhelmed, overstimulated, uncared for and just generally not supported in many systemic social structures we mostly exist in.

Not to mention, of course, the high degree of stigma that still erroneously surrounds many forms of neurodiversity, particularly those that are viewed as pathologized mental health issues or learning disabilities.

So how can we — either as someone who lives with, parents, or works with someone who experiences neurodiversity — support and lessen the stigma around neurodiversity?

Some ways in which we can support ourselves and each other if we/they experience “neurodiversity.”

There are so many ways to support yourself, your child, your spouse or a friend or family member if you/they are neurodiverse.

Of course, seeking out appropriate and comprehensive medical and mental health care should be a primary first step, but beyond that, there is a range of things we can do to support the acceptance of neurodiversity in our personal spheres and, perhaps, more largely.

This list contains just a few ideas:

  • Expose ourselves to others’ stories: Hearing others speak up about their lives being neurodiverse can help normalize your (or your loved ones) experience and possibly make you feel less alone. I really encourage you to check out The Mighty for first-hand accounts of folks who live with a wide variety of neurodiverse (and health and ability diverse) experiences. Check out groups in your city/town or online (Facebook groups abound for this!) to help connect to likeminded others living with neurodiversity.
  • Tell your story. If and when you feel ready to tell your story, consider telling friends, fellow parents, or colleagues who you view as safe and supportive about your experiences living with neurodiversity.
  • Educate yourself. On the language, the reframe, the benefits of any particular neurodiverse elements, etc. By changing the way we view neurodiversity we can increase our understanding and compassion for ourselves and for others.
  • If you’re in a position to, practice proactive corporate and small business neurodiverse recruitment, retention, and accommodation supports. Learn more about the movement to do more of this in corporate America.
  • If you’re a parent or educator, ask for academic accommodations and supports that your child or student may need in order to accommodate their neurodiversity.

These are just a few suggestions for how you can support yourself and others if you experience neurodiversity. Now I’d love to hear from you in the comments below:

Do you live with neurodiversity? What’s one tip you would give anyone else living with neurodiversity to help them have more acceptance/ease/support? Leave a message in the comments below so that our community of blog readers can benefit from your wisdom.

And, until next time, take very good care of yourself.

Warmly, Annie

Further reading:

 

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  1. Meridith Elizabeth on  

    I want to tell you, Annie, how much I appreciate your writings! You seem to write the article that I need to read just when I need to read it. My husband and children are a combination of neurodiversities, and we seem to bring other neurodiverse individuals into our family. We’re quite a group. We’ve all worked (and struggled) to learn about our individual challenges and gifts in order to make our way through this world. Understanding more and having a sense of wonder and humor about how we ‘work’ is the goal.

    To that end, my daughter and I are starting to manifest a project, today, that I’ve been mulling over for a year. I realized that I required a partner (accountability) just as she realized that she needed a higher purpose.

    Please keep putting your ideas out into the world. I think you might be a little ahead of the curve, and it will be wonderful when the world catches up.

    Thank you!

    • Annie on  

      Oh, I love your comment, Meridith! First of all, thank you so much for your kind words. It really touched me that you would take the time to write and share how my work has impacted you. You’re a big part of the reason I keep on writing and putting my work out there.

      Secondly, I appreciate that you shared your personal experience so generously! I think it is wonderful that you and your daughter are able to take that next step in creating a project together. I wish you all of the best in your journey!

      Warmly, Annie

  2. Carrie on  

    Anne,

    This is very interesting. While I don’t have ADHD, autism or the others in the spectrum you wrote about, some things about myself became abundantly clear when I read Elaine Aron’s book. I can not tolerate loud noise,flashing lights, endless talking, action movies, etc. Big events always overwhelmed me, but her book made me think that I was a highly sensitive person and it wasn’t strange at all. Now, your article on neurodiversity makes even more sense. I hope that schools and corporations will take it into account (though it may take a while). Thank you once again for shedding light on the brain and mental health.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Carrie,

      I appreciate your kind feedback and I’m so glad to know that Elaine Aron’s book and this blog post felt normalizing for you. It is so common for those of us who experience neurodiversity to think we’re the only ones, or different in some way. What you are experiencing makes perfect sense, and is in no way strange.

      Again, Carrie, thank you so much for taking the time ​to​ ​share and I wish you all the best on your healing journey.

      Warmly, Annie

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