Heather Kuhl, Psy. D., LMFT
What is Neurodiversity?
The term neurodiversity is an approach to understanding differences in brain function and behavior patterns that are viewed as normal variations within the population. In other words, a variety of neurological conditions are viewed as the result of changes in the human brain. These differences are not viewed as weaknesses or problems in need of fixing, but rather a different way of interacting with the world.
The neurodiversity movement actually started during the 90’s as a way to be more accepting and inclusive of all people with brain based differences. Advocates for the neurodiversity movement encourage the use of nonjudgmental language. Therefore, rather than suggesting people have deficits, disorders, or mental health problems, this approach simply views people as experiencing differences in the way they think, learn, and behave.
A neurodivergent person is someone whose brain is wired differently, whereas a neurotypical person is someone whose brain functions in a similar way to most of their peers. When we think of a neurotypical person, they meet developmental milestones on time, think and process information similarly, socialize and interact with others in a typical manner, manage emotions just like their peers, and deal with changes in routines with little trouble.
A neurodivergent person processes information in a different manner. This may include nuances in how they process sensory information (e.g., sights, smells, sounds, textures, movements), experience social interactions, and focus on areas of interest. Overall, this approach is less judgmental and looks at development across a spectrum, rather than viewing differences in development as right or wrong.
What Are Some Examples of Neurodiversity?
There are a variety of conditions that fall under the neurodiversity umbrella. These are typically conditions related to the brain and nervous system present since birth. Neurodiverse conditions include:
Specific Learning Disorders in reading, writing, or mathematics also known as Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, or Dyscalculia.
However, there is some consideration to exploring other differences that also fall under this spectrum. Several of these conditions are listed below:
While anxiety and OCD may not be present at birth, they can significantly affect how one experiences their world and affect how they think, feel, and behave. Therefore, conceptualizing these as neurodiverse conditions can significantly reduce shame and may motivate one to gain skills needed to function differently.
How Do I Talk About Neurodiversity With Others?
As previously mentioned, this approach uses inclusive and accommodating language. It is also important to understand that not everyone identifies in the same way. For instance, as part of my doctorate training, I was taught to use person-first language. Examples of person-first language include a “person with autism” or a “person with dyslexia.”
However, recent research found that many people prefer identity-first language. Examples of identity-first language include an “autistic person” or a “dyslexic person.” Therefore, as with many things in life, there is nothing wrong with asking someone how they prefer to be addressed. Rather than making assumptions, getting direct feedback about a person’s preferred language falls directly in line with the neurodiversity movement - it reduces judgment and embraces acceptance.
Why Is Neurodiversity So Important?
The more we embrace neurodiversity as a culture, the sooner we can create an inclusive environment. While neurodivgerents may have difficulties in some areas (e.g., attention, emotional regulation, socialization), they often possess strengths which are essential to highlight and build upon. Several of these strengths include:
Ability to focus intensely of topics of interests
Phenomenal memory abilities
Creative problem solving skills
Ability to focus on the details
High energy levels
Capability to be exceptionally honest
Extraordinary talents in particular areas such as art, math, and/or music
In my work with families, I believe focusing on these strengths is critical. While these skills may come naturally, building on them is a great way to develop self-efficacy and self-esteem.
On the other hand, I view other areas as opportunities to develop. By reframing “weaknesses” as “opportunities” to build upon, I believe it reduces shame and motivates clients and/or their families for change. Neurodiverse individuals may need to be taught things in different ways that are more in line with their innate abilities, or they may simply need accommodations in the academic or occupational setting to support success in these settings.
What If I Suspect My Child Is Neurodiverse?
An evaluation may be an important first step. By understanding your child’s developmental history, current strengths and concerns, and interpreting test data, I am able to provide a complete picture which may include a diagnosis and recommendations about what services need to be placed to help your child. This is important because your child likely already perceives that something is different. Especially as children grow, differences can become more evident and many children can interpret this as something is wrong with me.
By gaining a true appreciation for your child’s strengths and skills in need of further development, this can shift a parent's perspective and may reduce stress at home. In addition, it may help your child to gain insight into themselves and their perspectives. Having a clear picture also makes it easier to know if your child may benefit from accommodations at school or additional support at home.
I specialize in conducting psychological and developmental evaluations for a variety of neurodivergent conditions. I would love to chat with you further and answer any questions you may have to figure out if a psychological or developmental evaluation would be a good first step.
I invite you to contact me for your complimentary consultation at 954-391-5305. I offer psychological evaluations and testing for children, teens, and adults in Fort Lauderdale, Coral Springs, and Plantation, Florida.
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