Understanding Neurodiversity: Who Can Diagnose It?

Neurodiversity is a term used to describe the range of differences in the way people think, learn, and process information. It includes a variety of conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, ADHD, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, hyperlexia, OCD, Tourette syndrome and Meares-Irlen syndrome. While this webinar is not intended to diagnose neurodiversity, it can help you understand the different abilities of each person and stop focusing on deficiencies. If you have been formally diagnosed with any of the above conditions, you are considered neurodivergent. On the other hand, if you have never been diagnosed but feel a strong resonance with the descriptors of one or more types of neurodivergence, you may want to find a professional to find out for sure.

Neurodiversity has become something that many people, especially teenagers, are increasingly comfortable identifying with. For middle school-age children who have social difficulties, identifying themselves as neurodiverse can be a way of understanding what they are going through. The concept gives them a cerebral explanation of their difficulties: “Oh, I'm like that because my brain works differently.” It can also help create a sense of community with others who identify as neurodiverse. The number of people with developmental disorders diagnosed with developmental disorders skyrocketed in the early 2000s, making neurodiversity a much more common phenomenon. That said, many autistic people feel that their autism is a strength, and the same is true for people with diagnoses such as ADHD or dyslexia. The neurodiverse population includes people with specific diagnoses that are considered developmental disorders (as opposed to intellectual disabilities or mental illnesses). ADHD (+ bipolar), due to lack of awareness, is also common for neurodevelopmental conditions to be misdiagnosed as mental illnesses. You are absolutely neurodivergent if you've been diagnosed with a developmental or learning disorder such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia or Tourette syndrome.

If you were never diagnosed with any of these terms and never felt like you had any symptoms, it's likely that you're neurotypical. People are individual and unique; just as it doesn't feel the same for all people to have bodies, it doesn't feel the same for all people with different neurodivergent diagnoses. You can also choose to describe yourself as neurodivergent if you are diagnosed with a mental illness such as schizophrenia, although mental illness is not usually included in the definitions of neurodivergence. While these differences may go unnoticed or undiagnosed in childhood, that doesn't mean that they didn't exist and appeared suddenly in adulthood. Neurodiversity has also shifted from focusing on people with a formal diagnosis of autism, ADHD or a learning disorder to including a larger group of people who self-identify as neurodiverse. Neurodivergence is often first recognized as the result of a diagnosis but can exist with or without one.

Diagnosis is the basis for understanding the condition and obtaining much-needed supports, therapies and school services. However, there are some adaptations that can help both children and adults with or without specific neurodivergent diagnoses. These children may or may not be diagnosed with autism but an evaluation is often an important step in helping them feel better and cope with challenges (more on that later). The next appropriate step is to undergo an evaluation although it's helpful not to promise the child that the evaluation will automatically lead to the diagnosis they seek.

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