What is Neurodivergence, and how do I know if I am Neurodivergent?

December 14, 2023   •  Posted in: 

Have you ever felt like your brain is “different”? Perhaps you process information differently than those around you, or you don’t learn the way others do. You might be neurodivergent, which can be a superpower in today’s world.

The term “neurodivergence” describes when people’s brains work differently than what is considered “typical.” Many different things can lead to neurodivergence, like autism or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although we used to think of neurodivergence as a disability or even an illness, we now know better.

Neurodivergence isn’t the negative we once believed. There is no “right” way for a human brain to behave; brain differences can benefit society enormously. Not only that, but neurodivergence isn’t rare – reports show that up to 20% of the global population is neurodivergent.

So what, exactly, is neurodivergence, and how can you tell if you may be neurodivergent? Let’s dive into the details.

What is neurodivergence?

The concept of neurodivergence celebrates neurodiversity, which is the idea that differences in human brains are natural, and this diversity can lead to meaningful insights and innovative solutions[1].

If you are neurodivergent, it simply means you are not neurotypical. Neurotypical is a term that describes someone whose brain has developed and works in an expected way. This doesn’t mean that either (neurotypical or neurodivergent) is “normal.” One is not better than the other – they’re simply different, which is something to be celebrated.

People who are neurodivergent think and process information differently than neurotypical people. This may lead them to behave in ways that are outside of societal expectations, which can, unfortunately, lead neurodivergent people to be marginalized.

Many different diagnoses can lead to neurodivergence like we’ll talk about in the next section – but neurodivergence in itself is not a formal diagnosis.

Examples of neurodivergence – who is neurodiverse?

Again, neurodivergence in and of itself is not a diagnosis. Many different types of people can be neurodiverse. In general, people who are diagnosed with “neurodevelopmental disorders” are considered to be neurodivergent.

Some examples include:

  • Autism: Autistic people have differences in the way they communicate and think. They may have a restrictive or repetitive pattern of interests or behaviors.
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): People with ADHD have differences in their focus and energy; they may have a hard time sitting still or sustaining concentration on specific tasks
  • Dyslexia, dyspraxia, and other learning disabilities

There is some controversy around whether people with certain mental illnesses like obsessive-compulsive disorder or schizophrenia are neurodivergent[2]. Some people say that people with chronic mental health conditions like these are neurodivergent, while others say mental illness is fundamentally different from neurodivergence.

Other mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression, very commonly affect people who are neurodivergent. But these conditions are not signs of neurodivergence, as they also affect many neurotypical people.

People are generally considered neurodivergent if they have fundamental differences in how their brain is wired from birth. The conditions that they live with – such as autism – aren’t something to be “cured,” but rather a part of who they are.

Characteristics of neurodivergence

Just like neurotypical people, neurodivergence can come with both challenging and positive features.

Some of the skills or strengths of being neurodivergent include:

  • The ability to think outside of the box
  • Focusing on one task for extended amounts of time
  • High levels of creativity
  • Being able to look at situations from different and often innovative perspectives
  • Less constrained by social norms
  • Dedicated to their personal beliefs
  • Courage to stand up for what they believe is right
  • Spontaneity
  • Willingness to take risks
  • Determination
  • Resilience
  • True honesty and saying what others may be afraid to say

It’s essential to understand and celebrate the positive characteristics of being neurodivergent. When neurodivergent people are seen (and see themselves) as different and not “sick” or “defective,” they’re much more likely to lead happier and more fulfilling lives.

And these strengths that are associated with neurodivergence are true superpowers, especially in work settings. Reports show that workplaces with neurodivergent team members can be 30% more productive than those without them.

That isn’t to say that neurodivergent people don’t struggle. Just like neurotypical people, neurodivergent people have challenges, too. Many of these challenges have to do with a lack of social support rather than neurodivergence itself.

Some challenges associated with neurodivergence include:

  • Becoming overwhelmed by sensory information (like lights or noise)
  • Struggling with expected social behaviors, such as maintaining eye contact
  • Having a hard time completing tasks in ways that their job expects them to
  • Trouble with executive functioning and motivation
  • Challenges with adapting to change
  • Learning difficulties, especially in traditional school settings
  • Speech, language, and communication challenges
  • Physical behaviors (such as rocking or tics) that may be considered “unusual” by others and lead to ostracization

However, it’s important to remember that every neurodivergent person is unique. Like neurotypical people, each has unique personalities, strengths, and weaknesses; the same goes for neurodivergent people.

Is neurodivergence a disability?

Many people who are neurodivergent are also considered disabled. But it’s important to note that this has more to do with societal structure than any personal, so-called deficits.

In other words, society is set up to help neurotypical people succeed. For example, children are required to sit still for long periods at school. As adults, we’re expected to complete tasks in an orderly and timely manner. We’re sometimes expected to be in loud or crowded spaces without becoming overwhelmed.

If you’re neurodivergent, many of these things could be difficult. That doesn’t mean your brain is “worse” than neurotypical brains – it’s different. You might feel overstimulated in places with a lot of sensory input. You might work better in short bursts or late at night than when your job expects you to.

Because of these differences, neurodivergent people are often disabled – or at a disadvantage – in a world that isn’t set up for them.

In addition, you might hear of neurodivergent people being “high-functioning” or “low-functioning.” At The Center, we avoid this language as it implies that some neurodivergent people are more valuable than others. However, some neurodivergent people may need more assistance with daily tasks than others.

So, is neurodivergence a disability? It depends on the person’s unique traits and their culture and society. Remember, disability isn’t a term that describes one person as much as it describes how that person interacts and fits in with the world around them.

How do I know if I’m neurodivergent?

It’s normal to want to know whether or not you’re neurodivergent, but be careful with internet quizzes and tests. Many of them were created without the input of licensed professionals and can give you misinformation.

The only way to know with 100% certainty whether or not you’re neurodivergent is to get assessed by a professional. If you’ve already been diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental condition (like autism or ADHD), then you would be considered neurodivergent.

Many others consider themselves as neurodivergent even if they don’t have a diagnosed condition. You might consider yourself neurodivergent if you think, process information, or behave in ways that are different from the “norm.”

Since neurodivergence isn’t a clinical diagnosis but rather an umbrella term that describes a particular set of characteristics, many people can consider themselves to be neurodivergent whether or not they live with a neurodevelopmental disorder.

If you suspect you may be neurodivergent, it might be helpful for you to consult with a professional. These answers can help you better understand yourself and find ways to celebrate your differences. When you know you’re neurodivergent, it may become easier to recognize these differences rather than mistaking them for “defects.”

Is there a link between neurodiversity and mental health?

Neurodivergence isn’t inherently a mental illness or a defect, and it doesn’t require treatment. Neurodivergence is something that should be celebrated, not cured.

However, neurodivergent people are more likely to live with mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, often because of a lack of support from their communities. If you’re neurodivergent, you might feel ostracized in society or have been made to feel like you aren’t good enough just because you aren’t neurotypical. Neurodivergent people are also forced to “mask” or hide their symptoms to try to fit in – and this can be exhausting and psychologically damaging.

In these cases, mental health treatment can help.

The Center A Place of HOPE uses a unique Whole Person Care approach to mental health treatment. That means if you have depression as a result of moving through the world as a neurodivergent person, that’s something that matters to us. We consider every piece of who you are and help you heal on every level.

Whether you need treatment for depression, anxiety, or something else, we can create a personalized treatment plan for you. Get in touch with us today.


Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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