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  • Writer's pictureDenise Gleed

Mental Health and Support - Neurodiversity, what is it?

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

Labels such as Neurodiverse, Neurodivergent, Neurodivergence are being used more and more in today’s society. But why? What do they mean? How might they affect you?


Maybe you know someone who has been diagnosed as Neurodiverse, or are suspected to be, or it maybe relevant to you personally. All these complicated words are all very well but being dyslexic myself just spelling them is definitely a personal challenge! Thank god for technology and spell check! So I have been doing some research for my own personal and professional development, I thought it would be helpful to share my findings with you as my passion is helping neurodiverse clients through therapy. 

Where did the word Neurodiverse originate and why?

The term Neurodiverse was developed in the 1990s by a lady called Judy Singer a sociologist, who is Autistic. Judy wanted to change the attitudes and stigma and promote acceptance in society, break down the barriers and attitude towards Autistic people, or anyone who appeared different, behaved differently and had different learning needs, to the majority of the population. It also includes other conditions that involve neurological differences such as ADHD, and learning difficulties like Dyslexia and Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia, Dysgraphia and Tourette’s.  

Judy wanted to challenge the discrimination, misinformation and false assumptions that neurodiverse people experienced. As a counsellor and on a personal level I identify with this misunderstanding and have experienced this and continue to experience these misconceptions, discrimination and false assumptions in every day life as a dyslexic, neurodiverse person, parent of a neurodiverse child and the every day struggles of my neurodiverse clients. 


"Neurodiversity is a term used to describe difference in the way peoples brains work. There is no correct or incorrect way for the brain to work" {Childs Mind Institute} Neurodiversity means there are many differences in the way peoples brains work. There is a wide range of ways that people perceive and respond to the world. 


Neurodivergence is having a neurological difference, which means a person will think, process or sometimes act differently to a person who has a neurotypical brain, meaning what is classed as “normal” brain function, the mainstream typical way the brain works. Neurodivergence is not lesser than neurotypical it is simply a different way the brain is wired. 


The natural diversity of human brains, people have variations in their mental functions.


Neurodivergent meaning

A persons brain functioning differs from what is considered “normal” 


A person who’s brain functioning is considered “normal” the majority. Individuals whose neurotype is considered to be the most common in society. 


The name given to one individuals form of wiring. 


A group of people with different types of brains.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The person will have differences in brain development and brain activity which affect attention, the ability to sit still and self control.

Autism Spectrum Disorder 

Is also known as ASD, it is a developmental difference caused by differences in the brain. Often social communication and interaction, repetitive behaviours or interests. Different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention. 


Is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skill involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.

Difficulties and challenges for Neurodiverse people 

Being neurodiverse does have its difficulties and challenges to fit into a world where everything is designed for a neurotypical brain, like school, work, social interactions, relationships, this can be very overwhelming for a neurodiverse person leading them to question what is wrong with them? To feel different, like they dont fit in? Feeling alone, feeling not as good, feeling incapable, a failure. Especially if a person does not know they are neurodiverse. More and more people are being diagnosed later in life. 

The actor Anthony Hopkins was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome a form of Autism at the age of 77! Neurodiverse people often feel that they think or process outside of the box. Societies view and perception to these differences in neurodiverse people creates barriers, stereotypes, and unhelpful limitations, rather than discovering and celebrating their strengths and talents. 

Advantages of being Neurodiverse

Hand in hand with the challenges with living with a neurodiverse condition also comes huge strengths and talents that neurotypical people do not have. For example someone with ADHD may struggle with time keeping but have high levels of passion, drive and creative thinking. Their often impulsive nature can be an advantage as they will say what other people are too scared to say, like Greta Thunberg who is Autistic. 

Neurodiverse people are often very creative and see the bigger picture, they think outside of the box, making them excellent entrepreneurs like Richard Branson who is Dyslexic and has ADHD. Often are also spontaneous, courageous, have huge empathy and can hyper focus on certain tasks. Autistic people often can pay attention to complex detail, have good memories, have certain speciality skills. Dyslexic people can often see certain kinds of visual information better than those without Dyslexia. 

Diagnosis and its benefits 

Being identified as neurodiverse can be a scary and daunting thought for a child, for a parent of the child or for an adult of any age. This could be socially or academically. The benefits of a diagnosis can be a way of making sense of what that person is going through, why they struggle with certain things, there is a reason. 

It gives the person validation, a deeper understanding of their self. It can give them justification and an explanation for their difficulties. Oh I'm like this because my brain works differently. It is not my fault. Giving them a reason for their experiences, these could be extreme emotions, difficulty learning, feeling different, struggling in social situations. It can give an expectance of their self.  Jackie Stewart a Formula one driver described his diagnosis of being profoundly dyslexic as "like someone extending their arm to a drowning man"

You can watch his documentary on SKY. 

Why are some people Neurodiverse?

Causes for having a neurodiverse condition can be, genetics, trauma at birth, immune disorders, infectious disease, nutritional factors, physical trauma. The brain develops differently in pregnancy or as a very young child. 

Interestingly there have been research into why these developmental differences occur in our genetic make up. Behaviours like hyperactivity and impulsivity might have helped our ancestors find food or move away from danger. Strong non social skills similar to people that have Autism were good for prehistoric ancestors who lived out in nature. 

15 per cent of the population are thought to be neurodiverse the remaining population are neurotypical. 

Why are there more people being diagnosed with Autism, ADHD, and Dyslexia?

There seems to be more and more people that have a neurodiverse condition than ever before, both adults and children, why ?

Diagnosis assessments have improved, more people are aware of these conditions so are identifying them in either themselves or people they know and with the rise of social media people are now sharing their experiences and talking about their differences. The stigma is being broken down. It is ok to be different, it’s a strength, it’s a super power, no one is like you! You are unique, you are special, you just experience the world in a different way. In your own special way.  The Neurodiverse people have differences not deficits.

For more information

This is an interesting programme to watch on neurodiversity

Locally Anglo European Clinic Southend offers private psychiatric evaluations of mental health conditions.

Https:// Support for a child between 0 to 25 who have additional need or a disability living in the Essex County Council, Thurrock, or Southend local authorities area.

Https:// Support for children and neurodiverse young people and their families



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