Neurodiverse Conditions and Resources

Some resources and names of conditions may differ across regions. If you need more information on a particular topic described below, do an online search for resources in your area, or talk to your health care professional.

The term neurodivergent refers to the way a person’s brain learns, functions, or processes information that is different than most people (those whose brain functions as society expects are described as neurotypical). The term neurodiversity was coined in the 90’s by an autistic sociologist called Judy Singer who coined the term ‘neurodiversity’, and argued that neurodiversity is not something to be ‘cured’, it is instead something to embrace.

neuro diversity disability vs difficulty

There is no official definition of what neurodiversity is, and some argue that mental health disorders are also neurodiverse conditions. For the sake of this article, we are going to stick to neurodiverse conditions that affects someone’s learning and intellect, i.e. learning disabilities and difficulties.

What’s the difference between a learning disability and learning difficulty?

Mencap describe a learning disability as ‘’a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities – for example household tasks, socialising or managing money – which affects someone for their whole life.’’ Learning difficulties and disabilities can overlap however the main distinction is; ‘’a learning difficulty does not affect general intellect.’’

Here are some common conditions and resources for more help and support:

ASD: Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a group of conditions that are identified by some difficulty with social interaction and communication. The name ASD is a blanket term introduced in 2013 to incorporate a range of different conditions such as Asperger’s, Autism, and other diagnoses. Autism Spectrum Disorder means these conditions vary in severity and experience, therefore some individuals may live independent lives, while others are severely impaired and need daily care and support.

ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is defined by impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and inattentiveness. CHADD estimates that over 120 million children have ADHD worldwide, and ADDitude magazine reports nearly 3% of adults have ADHD worldwide.

Those with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) often experience inattentiveness and don’t struggle with hyperactivity or impulsiveness. They may also experience the following:

  • Cannot sustain attention.
  • Trouble concentrating and getting distracted easily.
  • Making mistakes.
  • Struggle to organise work.
  • Losing belongings.
  • Going from one task to the next without finishing the task before.

For those who experience hyperactivity and impulsiveness, added symptoms might include:

  • Feeling restless or on edge.
  • Cannot concentrate for long.
  • Constantly moving around.
  • Interrupting people.
  • Mood swings.
  • Taking risks or not thinking through behaviour.
  • Inability to deal with stress.

The treatment for ADHD and ADD is a combination of medicines and talk therapy. For more help and advice, contact your health care provider or research online.

Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD), also referred to as dyspraxia. This condition is a motor-skill difficulty, affecting movement and co-ordination. Symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty learning new skills, thinking, and remembering.
  • Difficulties with dressing or prepping meals.
  • Not very dexterous with your hands.
  • Social situations are a challenge.
  • Difficulty managing emotions.
  • Poor time management skills and following through with plans.

Some of the effects of DCD may lessen, as the person gets older and develops skills to manage. For children it might be helpful to do speech therapy, as well as physical therapy. For adults, occupational therapy to help with day to day living, as well as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help change the way your respond to problems.

Developmental Language Disorder. This affects understanding of what people hear and read, making it difficult to communicate. Speech therapy and support from family, friends, and work colleagues will help someone with this disorder. Developmental language disorder is more common than autism and dyslexia, but far more hidden.

Epilepsy. This is a common condition that affects the brain, causing the person to have seizures. This is when the brain has sudden bursts of electrical activity, affecting the body, causing a person to collapse, shake uncontrollably, stare into space, or jerk parts of their body. There are different types of epilepsy, with varying degrees of severity. Speak to your health care professional if you are concerned.

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). When a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy, the foetus is unable to process the alcohol in the blood, resulting in severe damage which can be fatal. If the baby survives, it can have many mental and physical problems. There is no treatment for FASD, however the earlier it is detected, the better chance the child has of dealing with their condition. Speak to your health care provider for information in your region relating to this disorder.

Learning Disability. Learning disabilities can be mild, moderate, or severe and effects the way a person learns new information, learns new skills, and lives independently. Some people are born with a learning disability such as Down’s syndrome, while others do not get diagnosed until later in life. To find out more visit your national Down’s syndrome website online.

Tourette’s and Tic Disorders. Each person is affected differently with Tourette’s or tic disorders, however, the main features are ‘tics’ which are involuntary movements, both physically and verbal. This can be jerking movements or making sounds and noises. Most people tend to think of tics as involuntary swearing; however, this is rare. For most children, their tics will be mild that, generally get better with age. There are different cognitive and behavioural therapy that can help with Tourette’s, so it is important to research what is available in your region such as Habit Reversal Therapy, Comprehensive Behavioural Intervention for Tics, Exposure and Response Prevention, relaxation techniques and psychoeducation.

Specific Learning Difficulties.

Dyslexia. Learning difficulties such as dyslexia or dyscalculia, affects the way a person reads, writes, or processes numbers. They are not the same as learning disabilities because they do not affect intelligence. Signs of dyslexia includes trouble spelling, writing, or taking notes, reading, and writing is very slow, confusion over the order of letters, mistaking the placement of letters, having poor spelling, and struggling with organisation.

Dyscalculia. Is a difficulty with numbers – a person may be of normal or above average intelligence with everything, except when it comes to numbers. Dyscalculia is difficulty understanding basic mathematical patterns that can affect day to day life.

Across the world, there are different views about how neurodiversity is understood and therefore defined. Some cultures are yet to accept the paradigm of neurodiversity and believe that experiences of ADHD, autism, etc are all forms of mental health disorders. Behaviours that are classed as different or a difficulty vary widely because of the different expectations of social behaviours and social norms.

Diagnoses of neurodiverse conditions vary greatly in different countries. For example, in Oman, studies have shown that 1 in 1,000 people are on the autistic spectrum whereas in the UK, it is believed to be 1 in 90. Are we to believe that there are more autistic people in the UK or is there another explanation?

One of the principles of neurodiversity is the idea of human competence being defined by the values of the cultures to which you belong; dyslexia, for example, is based upon the social value that everyone should be able to read. One hundred and fifty years ago, this was not the case, and the ability to read had more to do with your socio-economic advantages than your neurological ability. Similarly, a diagnosis of autism requires presenting with issues within social interactions; this reflects the cultural value that suggests a preference toward relationships rather than an enjoyment of being alone.

The neurodiversity movement recognises that there is no one correct way of perceiving the world and the individuals within it. However, when there are dominant perspectives and beliefs placed on ethnicity globally, it is easy to see why this movement has yet to become universal. The dynamics around neurodiversity are similar to those which manifests for other forms of human diversity and these include the unequal distribution of social power. In attempting to find ways for neurodiverse people to live in harmony, we need to be mindful of racial and cultural differences and how these may affect identification of neurological difference.

If you are worried about yourself, someone you know, or your child and think they may have a condition listed above, you can reach out to your assistance programme for further support and advice.

This information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician or mental health professional and is not to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health or mental health professional if you have questions about a medical condition or plan of treatment.

This article on “Neurodiverse Conditions and Resources” was taken from the Lifeworks Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) library of resources available to all insured members with HanseMerkur health insurance plans. Please check it out to find other interesting and useful articles, pod casts and tips to help with your well-being or ask your local sales agent for more information about it.