What Does It Mean to Be Neurotypical or Neurodivergent?

What Does It Mean to Be Neurotypical or Neurodivergent?

There is a lot of talk these days about neurodiversity and neurotypicality. What does it mean to be neurodivergent, and what are the benefits of embracing neurodiversity? In this article, we'll explore the definition of neurotypicality and neurodiversity and discuss some of the ways in which you can embrace your own unique brain and improve your life.

What does "neurodiversity" mean?

Neurodiversity is the idea that there is a range of brain types.

Brains that work in the most "normal" way are considered neurotypical.

Whereas, neurodivergent individuals have brains that fall outside of the typical range. This can include autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, among other neurodiverse categories, which we'll cover in detail below.

Neurodiversity suggests there are a variety of brain types and when we're aware of the diverse array of brain types, we can build inclusive and helpful environments.

What are the different types of neurodivergence?

Here are six common types of neurodivergence:  

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism is a neurological disorder that affects social interaction, communication, and behavior. 

Struggles 

People with ASD often have difficulty understanding nonverbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions. They may also have trouble with back-and-forth conversations and making eye contact. 

Strengths 

People with autism can memorize and learn information quickly, often excel in science and math, exhibit strong logical thinking, and are precise and detail-oriented. 

Note: Asperger’s syndrome was once regarded as one of the common types of autism. When the DSM-5 was published in 2013, Aspergers was no longer included. As a result, clinicians no longer use it as an official diagnosis.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

PDD-NOS is a form of ASD. 

Struggles

People with PDD-NOS often have difficulty with social interaction and communication. They may also have repetitive behaviors or restricted interests.

Strengths 

People with PDD-NOS generally have above-average intelligence and do not have the same language delays as those with other forms of ASD. 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is a neurological disorder that affects attention, impulsivity, and activity levels. 

Struggles 

People with ADHD often have difficulty focusing on one task and may be easily distracted. They may also be impulsive and have trouble sitting still. ADHD can range from mild to severe.

Strengths 

There are a few superpowers associated with ADHD, such as resilience, creativity, conversational skills, spontaneity, abundant energy, and even the ability to become hyper-focused.  

Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a neurological disorder that affects reading. 

Struggles

People with dyslexia may have difficulty with phonemic awareness, word decoding, and reading fluency. They may also have difficulty with spelling and writing.

Strengths 

People with dyslexia are often creative problem solvers, observant, have high levels of empathy, and capable of spotting connections that others may have missed. They’re typically excellent at thinking about the big picture with strong narrative reasoning.

Dyspraxia

Dyspraxia is a neurological disorder that affects movement and coordination. 

Struggles

People with dyspraxia may have difficulty with fine motor skills, such as writing or tying shoelaces. They may also have trouble with gross motor skills, such as riding a bike or catching a ball.

Strengths 

Dyspraxia often co-exists with creative and original thinking. People with dyspraxia are therefore good at strategic problem solving. They’re often determined and hardworking, highly motivated, and able to develop creative strategies to overcome their challenges.


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is a mental health disorder that affects anxiety levels and behavior. 

Struggles

People with OCD often have intrusive thoughts, or obsessions, that they feel the need to act on, or compulsions. These compulsions can be anything from hand-washing to counting to organizing.

Strengths 

Like many of the other diagnoses listed, people with OCD tend to be more creative, have incredible attention to detail, and are excellent problem solvers. 

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

SPD is a neurological disorder that affects the way the brain processes sensory information. 

Struggles

People with SPD may be oversensitive to certain stimuli, such as sound, touch, or smell. They may also be undersensitive to stimuli and have trouble processing information.

Strengths 

People with SPD are highly attuned and aware of their environment. This allows them to notice details that others miss entirely, and therefore makes them creative observers.

Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is a term used to describe people who are extremely sensitive to their environment and the people around them. HSPs are often introverts.

Struggles

HSPs may have difficulty in loud or chaotic environments. They may also be easily overwhelmed by strong emotions of others, or their own.

Strengths 

HSPs are often self aware and understanding of their inner world and emotions. They have a vibrant inner life that entertains them and allows them to be creative and highly productive.

What percentage of people are neurodivergent?

There is no definitive answer to this question as it depends on how you define neurotypicality and neurodivergence. However, one study found that around 15-20% of people are neurodivergent, while the remaining 80-85% are neurotypical.

Is neurodivergence a disability? 

There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as there’s likely some overlap between neurodivergencies and disabilities in some cases. 

Neurodivergent people are not always considered disabled, however if they experience components of true disability as described below, then they qualify for some protections under the law:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a person with a disability as “someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” 

It’s also important to note that some people with neurodivergent brains have difficulty functioning in certain areas of life, such as work or school, because our society is not set up to accommodate different brain types. As our schools and systems evolve, we can hopefully make them more inclusive and responsive to those who have neurodivergent brains and disabilities.

If I’m neurodivergent, what type of support might I need? 

This depends on your individual and specific needs. Some neurodivergent people may need little to no support, while others may require accommodations, specialized services, or even medication. It is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to neurodivergence. 

Here are a few ways you can support your lifestyle if you are neurodivergent:

  • Seek professional counseling and a diagnosis
  • Inform your friends, family, and colleagues to help them understand your unique brain. If you disclose your diagnosis to your manager or supervisor at work, they should be able to put reasonable adjustments in place
  • Practice grounding techniques
  • Talk to a psychiatrist or your doctor about medication options 
  • Set boundaries to put your needs first
  • Increase your self care
  • Schedule down time to give your brain plenty of needed rest
  • Build routine into your day 
  • Get proper nourishment and avoid foods that aggravate symptoms

What are the benefits of neurodiversity?

Neurodiverse individuals often have unique perspectives and can contribute to a more diverse and inclusive society. They can also challenge the status quo and help us see the world in new ways. In addition, neurodiversity can lead to greater creativity and innovation.

Some of the world's most famous people are neurodivergent. For example, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and even Courtney Love are all thought to have had autism spectrum disorder. And Richard Branson and Emma Watson both have ADHD. 

Neurodivergence should be celebrated for the unique perspectives and contributions our society relies on for innovation.

Next Steps  

Neurodiversity is a natural occurrence and should be respected as such. People who are neurodivergent often have unique perspectives and can contribute to a more diverse and inclusive society. If you are neurodivergent, there are many ways you can support your lifestyle. Finally, remember that the benefits of neurodiversity include creativity and innovation.

Neurodivergent people often experience high sensitivity and benefit from grounding.

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