Challenging the labels of neurodiversity – Different not less

Many of my neurodivergent clients arrive to their first session, weight down by anxiety, depression and low self-esteem, having experienced discrimination, bullying andthe feeling of never fitting in. They have been told they are lazy, stupid and uncaring.

They are wondering:What is wrong with me and how can I be fixed?

The term neurodiversity refers to the idea that people experience and interact in many different ways with the world around them. Conditions like autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia and others are classed as neurodevelopmental conditions which can cause difficulties in social, cognitive and emotional functioning.

Being neurodivergent is often seen as a deficit and disorder, something that is not normal and needs to be treated. Whilst most of neurodevelopmental conditions are not classified as a mental illness, the sad and shocking reality is that 70 – 80% of neurodivergent individuals will develop a mental health issue throughout life.

Not surprising, when considering the pressures of having to fit into a neuro-typical world that isn’t made and adapted for their needs.This can lead to anxiety, loss of identity and burnout from masking and camouflaging.

BUT – neurodevelopmental difference does not mean a faulty or defective brain – JUST a difference.

Being neurodivergent can have benefits and advantages like creativity, ability to think outside the box, passion and drive. There are some inspirational role models whohavestarted to share their differences like Greta Thunberg, Billie Eilish, Emma Watson and Chris Packman to name a few.

Unfortunately, being neurodivergent is still often challenging and attached with a lot of stigma and prejudices. Being different can feel isolating and shameful, making it challenging to reach out for help and support.

But you don’t have to struggle alone, here are some suggestions:

  • Finding your safe and calming space: This can be certain people in your life, you feel you can trust and talk to. For some, this might be a place in their own home like their bed; pets or connecting with nature.
  • Finding out about yourself: This can be through research and getting more information about your condition, how this applies to you and your life. Recognising and becoming aware of your needs. Learning to love and accept yourself; also realising your strengths and celebrating the things you are good at and excel in.
  • Finding ways to manage and cope with daily life: This can be through developing strategies and tools, for example establishing routines or using weighted blankets for sensory input management.
  • Finding your tribe: This feeling of not fitting in can lead to isolation. Often clients will say they feel misunderstood and others don’t get them. For this it can be beneficial to connect with other people who face similar issues and challenges, e.g., through support groups.

Finding support: Counselling can support you with the points above and your mental health issues in a confidential and non-judgmental space. We have recently started at Westmeria to roll out autism and ADHD awareness training for counsellors as we recognise the need to create and provide a more neurodiversity aware and inclusive counselling service.

by Alice (Westmeria counsellor)

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