What is neurodiversity?
There is a natural diversity in neurological structure and function. Historically, medicine has defined some brains as “normal” or “typical” and other brains as “abnormal” and “atypical.” Depending on the symptoms, a person could receive a diagnosis of autism, sensory processing disorder, or ADHD….or the clinicians would over-focus on the symptoms and diagnose someone with anxiety or OCD or PTSD and forget to look for a possible underlying cause.
There’s no such thing as a normal brain. We all have diverse and unique brains.
But wait…I’m neurodiverse and it’s definitely harder for me to navigate society. If I’m not “abnormal,” then why is it so hard?
There are two things to talk about here. First is that diversity doesn’t mean everyone has the same strengths and weaknesses. If you think about the skills required for adulting, some people are going to be better at complex tasks, or remembering details, or reading emotions, or navigating social norms. Nobody is good at everything.
Second, our society is built for “neurotypical” people. In school and the workplace, we focus on instilling certain norms and values we associate with being a “good” adult. (Side note: these norms and values all come from White European settler culture). Think about how you have been told you aren’t doing things according to the norm. Maybe there are punishments for being late or having a different organizational system or getting distracted. Or maybe there are social penalties like not getting invited to things, or not feeling like it’s possible to connect with anyone.
When we tell children that it is shameful to be different, that produces adults who “mask” or hide their neurodiversity in order to avoid the punishments of being perceived as different. Neurodiverse adults often spend a lot of energy trying to pretend they are neurotypical. For someone with autism, that might mean suppressing discomfort when you get overstimulated, not stimming to calm yourself because it might seem “weird,” or forcing yourself to make eye contact when that doesn’t feel comfortable. For someone with ADHD, that might mean working very hard on developing tricks or tools to complete tasks, deeply focusing on other peoples’ opinions of you, or avoiding situations where you think you could let someone down.
Neurodiverse people are taught that society isn’t built for them, and it’s all their fault.
What does it mean to be a neurodiversity-affirming therapist?
Being a neurodiversity-affirming therapist means that we start with you. We see you as a whole person. Rather than assuming our job is to make your life easier by modeling you into a perfect “normal” that doesn’t exist, we focus on you. In our space, we recognize that neurotypical society can feel stifling or confusing or painful. We want to hear your voice – what do you want? What are your dreams? We want to know where you feel distress and where you want to change.
Everything has a cost. Just like with any other intersection of oppression, it’s easier to be stealth and appear more like the norm. But masking can also have deep consequences. We’ll help you learn what masking is, how to recognize when you’re doing it, and how to make masking something strategic and intentional rather than a default response to being treated as lesser. If you struggle with over focusing on other people’s opinions of you, we’ll help you slowly develop an internal self-worth and decision making strategies that are in line with your values. We’ll help you explore what gives your life meaning, and help you create supports of all kinds that help you feel more grounded.