What is Neurodivergence?
It is a difference in the way the brain works
ADHD and Autism are two conditions of many that are now considered to be “neurodivergence,” as a result of something called the “Neurodiversity Movement.”
The Neurodiversity Movement began in the 1990s and teaches us that these conditions are, actually, a normal part of the human genome and not necessarily something that is “wrong” with an individual. This movement stands in opposition to the mainstream “pathology” viewpoint that describes individuals with these conditions as having many “deficits” and “pathologies” in comparison to the general population.
Counselors and other helpers who adopt a neurodiversity approach work with clients to understand that the difficulties they face as adults are often the result of living in a society designed for neurotypical people. We work with clients to structure a life that works *with* their brain instead of against it, as much as possible. And we definitely work to resolve mental health issues that *are* “pathological” (and not something the client should have to experience) – things like depression and disordered anxiety, trauma issues, eating disorders, etc. Just as we would any other client.
Most clients on my caseload are in some way neurodivergent at this point in my career and I am a member of the neurodivergent community myself. These concepts are quite important to me personally and professionally.
“I relate to TikTok videos, but how do I really know if I’m neurodivergent?”
When we look at autism and ADHD through the lens of neurodiversity, then it makes sense that we relate to each other, including on social media. It’s more of a subculture than a diagnosis in the neurodiversity model. Let’s remember that it wasn’t so long ago that being anything less than sexually straight was considered pathological and diagnosable. Now, there’s a flourishing queer community, just as is happening within the neurodivergent community.
All that to first validate the experience of relating to people who are talking publicly about things many of us hold inside and masked for years, if not decades.
But how do we get a better sense of what neurotype we have? It would be great if formal assessments were readily available and easy and cheap to access for adults, but that is not the case. And in some cases, it can be important to get this formal evaluation, like if college or work accommodations are needed. People pursue a formal diagnosis for other reasons as well, to be sure. But there are far more that either cannot or have chosen not to.
Within the neurodivergent community, “self-diagnosis” is considered valid. If we don’t view these things as something inherently wrong with a person, then a “diagnosis” is not needed. We simply need to *identify* it, to see it in ourselves.
But what are we looking for? There’s a great website called Embrace Autism that provides lots of self-screening tools online. There are some there for ADHD as well. Plus, we can do additional screenings in therapy and talk about those from that site. I typically use the RAADS-R as a primary screening tool for autism because it can be so hidden, especially in people assigned female at birth. ADHD tools usually screen for executive functioning problems.
In the pathology model, clinicians use the DSM-5 criteria to look for “deficiencies” and problematic behaviors in order to diagnose autism (and ADHD). In the graphic on this page, these criteria are presented in non-pathologizing language, and this is a better way for us to explore together whether or not you might be autistic.