A Neurodiversity-Affirmative Approach to Psychology

Neurodiversity explains that neurological differences between humans are actually natural genetic variations. Accordingly, the neurodiversity lens concludes that “non-neurotypical” symptoms and behaviours are a reflection of different ways human behaviour and functioning can be expressed. Hence, these symptoms and behaviours are not a “disorder” or something that needs to be “fixed”. In a nutshell, neurodiversity touts that differences are not defects. They’re just, quite simply, differences.

The neurodiversity perspective acknowledges society pathologizes neurodiverse behavior, such as those exhibited by autistic people or those with ADHD. Because neurodiverse people are in the minority, they are often misunderstood, marginalised, and discriminated against. Much of the pain and suffering a neurodiverse person endures stems from how negatively they are viewed and treated by the majority.

What that means for your psychology sessions

Much of the 'treatment' employed for neurodiverse individuals over the past 30 years has been based on modifying behaviours. It has been based on the premise that neurodiverse people should be more like neurotypical and should therefore be taught to act as such. There is growing evidence that this approach has been quite damaging for many neurodiverse people and has led to 'masking', where neurodiverse adults have lost all sense of identity as they've spent their life learning how to act neurotypical instead of being themselves.

Beyond accepting, understanding, and celebrating neurodiversity, I typically incorporate the following into my work with neurodiverse individuals:

Identify and Address Ableist Attitudes

Ableism is discrimination in favour of able-bodied and neurotypical people. They view neurotypicalism as the standard to which all other behaviour and ways of being should be judged upon. Ableist attitudes are so prevalent and deeply woven into our society that sometimes it can almost feel like an invisible poison. You know you’re suffering, but you can’t see exactly why. By making ableism visible, you now have a target to push back against.

Self-Advocacy Skills

Self-advocacy means speaking up for yourself and asking for what you need to be comfortable or successful. An important part of self-advocacy is understanding your strengths and areas of support. No one knows what you need better than yourself.

Build Healthy Relationships

So many neurodiverse people have been hurt by classmates, work colleagues, friends, and family. Sometimes they want to avoid trying to build relationships at all because of this. Anxiety and depression about relationships develops.

If there is a part of you that still craves relationships, we will work together to do that. I can be your neurotypical “interpreter”, helping you understand confusing neurotypical social habits. We can work together to find a tribe where you feel more comfortable and accepted. If you want, we can work on skills to help you build bridges between you and the neurotypical people to foster real, healthy relationships.

Learn Coping Skills

Being neurodivergent in a neurotypical world is overwhelmingly stressful. If you’re having a hard time coping with this, we’ll explore what coping skills you can use to take care of your wellbeing. I’ll help you tap into coping skills you already have but may have suppressed in order to be perceived as neurotypical (e.g., stimming). And, together, we can discover new ones.

Like any new idea, neurodiversity is still not widely accepted. It even faces some resistance with some people and certain fields. It will likely take time before it becomes the norm. In the meantime, it is quite useful for a neurodivergent client to find a therapist already on board with this perspective of autism. There’s no need to struggle alone. And you don’t have to work with a therapist who doesn’t understand you.

You need a highly skilled and humble therapist— someone who is not trying to “fix” you. Your therapist should celebrate your strengths, help you to advocate for yourself, and become your partner in progress.