Am I neurodivergent?
- Author Robin Akins
- Published November 19, 2023
- Word count 1,566
What if you didn't understand the most important thing about your own mind? Am I neurodivergent?
In the late '90s, we started using terms like "neurodivergent" and "neurodiversity" to describe segments of the population. These are people who look at the world and approach things very differently than the majority of the population (who are considered "neurotypical").
What do these terms mean, though? What are their origins, and how can you tell whether you are neurodivergent or not? Keep reading to discover the answers!
What Does "Neurodivergent" Mean?
Our guide focuses broadly on what neurodiversity is all about. And we need to start with the basics by answering an essential question: what does the word neurodivergent actually mean?
This term is difficult to define because it is almost always in opposition to another term: neurotypical. Generally speaking, a neurotypical person's brain develops in such a way that they have seemingly little difficulty with things like traditional learning and social interactions.
However, the brains of neurodivergent individuals develop differently from a young age. Such individuals may struggle with certain aspects of learning and social interaction.
Neurodivergence doesn't have to be a limiting factor in a person's life. In fact, these individuals are often very creative and gifted in many ways. But they may have trouble socializing and finding academic and career success in a world that is still largely created by and for neurotypical people.
Where Does the Term Come From?
Previously, we touched on the fact that we started using the term "neurodivergent" in the late 1990s. But where does the term come from, exactly?
Interestingly, the term was coined by a person who wanted us to positively reframe how we talk about neurodiversity. Back in 1998, Judy Singer coined the term "neurodiversity"." Subsequently, the term "neurodivergent" was used to refer to those who are autistic (Singer believed herself to be somewhere on the autism spectrum) or who met other neurodiverse criteria (see below for more information about conditions related to neurodiversity).
Crucially, Singer played a major role in defining the framework for how we discuss and deal with neurodiversity. Before she popularized the term, we typically thought of neurodivergent characteristics as pathological traits. In short, neurodivergent individuals were born that way and would have to adjust to the neurotypical world.
Singer categorized neurodiversity broadly under the umbrella of the social model of disability. Under this model, it is society's responsibility to understand neurodiversity and neurodivergent people and remove the different barriers to their success.
In this way, Singer laid the groundwork for future decades of neurodivergent advocacy.
Conditions Related To Neurodiversity
You may have noticed that the terms "neurodivergent" and "neurodiverse" are often used interchangeably. One of the reasons for using the term "neurodiverse" is that it serves as a reminder that there are many different conditions that fall under the "neurodivergent" label.
For example, autism and ADHD are both neurodivergent conditions. But so are depression and schizophrenia. Tourette syndrome and dyslexia are part of the spectrum of neurodiverse conditions as well.
As you can tell, many people may be neurodivergent and not even know it. If you are wondering if you may be on this spectrum as well, it's important to know what the typical characteristics are.
What Are Neurodivergent Characteristics?
Let's start with the bad news: there is no one single characteristic that "proves" you or anyone else is neurodivergent. Because neurodiversity covers such a wide spectrum, many different factors may be important signs.
The good news is that we know enough about neurodiversity to identify certain major signs, especially in younger children. For example, neurodivergent children may not want to make eye contact, and they will have difficulty communicating. Such difficulties may include failure to respond to their name, not speaking any words after about 16 months, or using any two-word phrases by the time they are two years old.
When they are very young, neurodivergent children may also fixate on certain things (like moving toys) or repeat certain actions. For parents, it's important to note these signs of neurodiversity in their children from a young age. Fortunately, there are ways to detect neurodiversity in older children and adults.
Characteristics May Change Over Time
The way children think and behave changes over time. Correspondingly, there are different signs of neurodiversity in older children and adults.
Perhaps the biggest indicator at this point is difficulty socializing with others. Neurodiverse people may have trouble holding a conversation and may not want to play or otherwise interact with other people. And as they get older, neurodivergent people will often have trouble making eye contact with others.
The other major indicator is that neurodiverse people tend to fixate on certain things in a way that neurotypical people do not. For example, a neurodivergent person may spend a lot of time repeating certain words or phrases, and they may become obsessed with completing certain regular routines or actions. And they may fixate on a particular subject of conversation or object they are interested in, which creates further difficulties in speaking and interacting with others.
Neurodivergent vs. Neurotypical
At this point, you may be looking at a neurodivergent symptom or two and start asking "does this describe me?" In order to answer that question, we need to take an even closer look at the characteristics of neurotypical people.
The biggest indicator that a person is neurotypical is that they do not have any trouble socializing with others. As children, a neurotypical person will easily speak and play with others. And when learning to talk, they will have no really noticeable developmental delays.
As adults, neurotypical people are less likely to fixate on particular subjects or objects. They can easily adapt to changes in conversations, activities, and environments. The environmental adaptability is particularly important because neurodivergent people do not always respond well to temperature changes, loud noises, or crowds, all of which someone is likely to encounter as they travel from one place to another.
People Can Be Neurodivergent To Different Degrees
Like we noted before, people may be neurodivergent to different degrees. To best understand this, we will look at neurodiversity through the lens of autism.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), there are three different levels of autism. This ranges from Level 1, where someone may need a little support, to Level 3, where they need very substantial support. This is usually what people mean when they clarify that someone is a "high-functioning" autist: such a person would need less support than others on the spectrum.
Obviously, neurodiversity is not limited to autism, but most of the conditions associated with neurodiversity are like this: one person may have extreme ADHD or very mild. Another may have depression that is severe or mild. The same goes for schizophrenia, dyslexia, and various intellectual disabilities.
Ultimately, this is why we think of neurodiversity in terms of disabilities. Different people may need different levels of support, and it is important for us to provide that support while advocating for neurodivergent people around the world.
Are There Any Benefits To Being Neurodivergent?
To this day, there is often a stigma attached to being neurodiverse. People may worry there is something "wrong" with themselves or their children. However, did you know there are some surprising benefits to being neurodivergent?
For example, fixating on a single subject may make someone socially awkward, but it can also make them uniquely suited to certain professions. Some of the best computer programmers, engineers, and artists are neurodiverse.
And in many careers, thinking differently from everyone else is a strength rather than a weakness. How many times have you had a boss say to a room that everyone needs to "think outside the box" to come up with new ideas? This particular skill comes naturally to neurodivergent people. In fact, many neurodivergent individuals may be interested in our blog article "The shift from a Classical Mode of Thinking to Quantum Thinking." This article talks about Quantum thinking since it is based on one of the major theories of physics which is proven and which has the potential to open new paths in scientific research as well as understanding consciousness. I believe many neurodivergent people have an unique focus that may enable them to embrace such thinking much easier than neurotypical individuals.
In some cases, neurodiverse people may also be happier and more contented than the average person. It may seem odd to neurotypical people to see a neurodivergent person hyper-focus on a handful of subjects, objects, and routines. But this focus may provide a kind of contentment that neurotypical people struggle with.
At the end of the day, it's important to realize that there is nothing "wrong" with being neurodivergent. It just means that you see the world in a different way. And with your unique perspective, you have a lot to offer the world, especially once you lean into your strengths.
Now you know the most important things about neurodiversity and being neurodivergent. But do you know who to turn to in case you have more questions? If you want to take a neurodivergent quiz to determine your degree of neurodiversity go to this link!
Here at Cogentica, we focus on specialized research and analysis of the human mind. If you want to learn more about neurodiversity or any other aspect of the mind, all you have to do is contact us today!
Robin Akins is the founder of Cogentica, LLC, a disability advocacy and information site founded in 2015. Dr. Akins is a quantitative psychologist with over 40 years of experience in business, government, and education with substantial teaching experience at the college level. He received his doctorate at Temple University in 1992.
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