Idaho, Iowa, Des Moines
July 6, 2024

What Does Neurodivergence Include? A Comprehensive Guide

When you think of the word “neurodiversity” or “neurodivergent,” what comes to mind? Most people jump to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But for all the hype around these buzzwords, relatively little is known about what neurodiversity actually means. What’s the difference between neurotypical and neurodivergent? What counts as neurodivergent? 

As an ADHD coach, ADHD therapist, and anxiety specialist, I spend my days thinking about how to make the world a better place for neurodivergent folks. So let’s talk about types of neurodiversity and what all the terms actually mean.

types of neurodiversity

What Do “Neurodivergent” and “Neurodiversity” Mean?

The words “neurodivergent” and “neurodiverse” are sometimes used interchangeably, but they actually mean different things. 

Neurodiversity refers to the idea that there are normal, natural, and valuable differences in the ways brains function. The term was coined by sociologist Judy Singer in the late 1990s to challenge the view that neurodivergent conditions are merely deficits or disorders that need to be cured. Essentially, this term means that humans whose brains work differently from the norm are not deficient or incapable. Instead, it’s simply another way humans differ from one another, and all these differences should be celebrated. 

Neurodivergent is the quality of having neurological differences that set someone apart from the societal neurotypical standard. This includes people with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, Tourette's syndrome, and other neurological or developmental conditions. Neurotypical vs neurodivergent people think, learn, process information, socialize, and interact with their environment differently. 

Neurotypical is the quality of having social, cognitive, and neurological patterns and behaviors that align with society’s norms. 

Types of Neurodiversity

According to the National Institutes of Health, the following conditions are the most common types of neurodiversity: 

  1. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): A neurodevelopmental disorder that has lifelong impacts on social interactions, communication, motor skills, language, and learning.
  1. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A neurodevelopmental disorder that includes features of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Learn more about the difference between autism and ADHD.
  1. Down Syndrome: A genetic chromosomal condition in which an extra copy of a chromosome causes differences in development and functioning. 
  1. Tourette Syndrome: A neurological disorder that includes tics, which are involuntary and repetitive movements or sounds. 
  1. Learning differences such as dyslexia (difficulty with language skills, including reading and writing) and dyscalculia (difficulty with math, numbers, and calculations)

While some types of neurodivergence rarely co-occur, others are commonly found together. For example, it’s not uncommon for ASD and ADHD to occur within the same person.

People with neurodivergence also commonly have other types of mental health issues, like anxiety or depression. These may result from being treated differently (lesser than) by others, or from feeling like there’s something wrong with you and the way you function in the world.

neurodiversity types

Challenges and Strengths in Neurodivergence

Neurodivergent people often struggle with the following challenges as a result of their different brain functioning and behaviors:

  • Communication, including differences in interpreting language or expression.
  • Sensory sensitivity: Heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli (such as light, sound, and texture) can cause discomfort, overwhelm, and impairments in daily functioning.
  • Executive functioning, like tasks requiring planning, organization, time management, and multitasking, can be particularly challenging for neurodivergent folks.
  • Workplace challenges: Standardized educational and professional environments don’t always accommodate people with neurodivergence. This can lead to difficulties in performance as well as developed coping skills like overachieving, burnout, and perfectionism.
  • Stigma and discrimination: Misunderstanding and prejudice from others can lead to social exclusion, bullying, unequal opportunities, and lower self-esteem and confidence issues.
  • Mental Health: Higher rates of anxiety, depression, mood problems, and other mental health issues are common among neurodivergent folks due to the stress of navigating a neurotypical world.

However, neurodivergence isn’t just about dealing with challenges. Neurodivergent people possess a wide array of strengths and gifts, including:

  • Attention to detail and strong observational skills, including details that others may overlook 
  • Unique perspectives that lead to effective problem solving, novel approaches, and creativity. 
  • Specialized knowledge and hyperfocus in certain areas of interest, such as art, music, science, math, technology, and other topics.
  • Empathy and compassion borne from a deep understanding of what it’s like to be different. 

What Counts as Neurodivergent?

types of neurodivergence

Some people argue that people with mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety should also be considered neurodivergent. This is an ongoing debate that hasn’t been “solved” yet. 

The bottom line is neurodivergence is a societal construct that varies from culture to culture. It impacts the way you see and interact with the world, how you think, and how you operate and communicate. However, there aren’t any true definitions or medical criteria (yet) for neurodivergence. So while most people with the above conditions are considered neurodivergent, it isn’t a diagnosis or a condition unto itself. Therefore, what one person may consider neurodivergent may be different from someone else’s definition. 

In general, though, treatable conditions such as depression or anxiety aren’t considered neurodivergent. This is mainly because these conditions can impact people who are neurotypical. While these mental health disorders cause a lot of harm, they don’t necessarily result from neurological differences in your brain– and that’s the main characteristic of neurodivergence. 

Ongoing Support for ADHD Time Management With Therapy or Coaching

If you want support managing and navigating your neurodivergence, I’m here to help. 

My coaching and therapy programs are designed to meet you exactly where you’re at, help you understand your ADHD, navigate your challenges, and tackle the mental health issues that are keeping you stuck and anxious. help give you specific strategies for your ADHD time management, work through any unhelpful beliefs and habits, and learn valuable coping tools so you can feel good enough in life and at work. 

I’ll help you learn how to:

  • Work WITH your unique brain chemistry – instead of against it – to reach your goals
  • Unlearn old helpful beliefs and habits
  • Learn valuable coping and communication strategies so you can feel good enough in life, at work, and in your relationships
  • Find useful tools to help you stay on task and feel more organized
  • Learn how to communicate your needs effectively and kindly to your boss, your family, and your loved ones

I offer a coaching program specifically for folks with ADHD. Designed to give you support and guidance around your challenges, coaching helps you better understand and navigate your ADHD in a world designed for neurotypical people. If you want help overcoming the parts of neurodivergence that keep you feeling stuck, unworthy, and unlovable, coaching is for you.

Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation and see if we’re a good fit. Let’s start building a better future together.

Meet the author

Danielle Wayne

Danielle is an anxiety therapist and perfectionism coach. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.

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