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What It Means to Be Neurodivergent

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If you’ve been on TikTok at all recently, you’ve seen the rise of a relatively new word: neurodivergent. But what does that mean? Who counts as neurodivergent and who doesn’t? It’s time we talk about it.

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“Neurodivergent” Is an Umbrella Term

First of all, let’s talk about the fact that the term “neurodivergent” doesn’t refer to just one type of brain. It refers to a whole group of brains that work differently. It’s an umbrella term for a wide variety of neurotypes (types of brains that are anatomically and/or physiologically different from the norm).

What’s included under this umbrella? Well, that’s a contested point. ADHD and autism are commonly accepted as neurodivergent by nearly all circles, but beyond that, we struggle to agree.

Personally, I feel it’s better to err on the side of inclusivity. The neurodivergent community has taught me so much and I wouldn’t be nearly the coach I am today without them. If I’d been turned away because I wasn’t “neurodivergent enough,” my whole life would be different now.

So what are some of the other conditions and neurotypes potentially included under the umbrella of neurodivergent?

Neurodivergent vs. Mental Illness

So what’s the difference between neurodivergence and mental illness? In a lot of cases, there’s quite a bit of overlap, like with ADHD and personality disorders, which are both mental illnesses and forms of neurodivergence. Does that mean all mental illnesses are a form of neurodivergence? Some people argue yes, mental illness is a type of neurodivergence. Personally, I think it’s possible, but there are two major differences between being neurodivergent and being mentally ill:

  1. You are born with neurodivergence, as opposed to mental illness which can develop over time.
  2. The goal is to cure mental illness, whereas the goal with neurodivergence is acceptance.

Bear in mind, these are my own personal distinctions, and it’s possible for people in these communities to disagree with them. That’s OK. Our diversity, both in conditions and opinions, is natural and healthy.

Is Anyone Really Neurotypical?


“Neurotypical” is the term for someone who is not neurodivergent, and as the idea of neurodivergence starts to spread, some people are wondering if “we’re all a little ADHD,” or if we’re “all on the spectrum.” Is there any truth to this?

Well…no. Not really.

Being neurodivergent means that your brain is functionally and/or structurally different from the norm. Your brain either is or isn’t built different. Some people truly are neurotypical, though there are probably a lot less of them than we thought just a few years ago.

As more and more people learn about neurodivergence, the number of people who identify as neurodivergent is steadily rising. Not because this new information is “convincing” people they’re neurodivergent, but because this new information is shedding light on people who previously went undiagnosed.

My Experience With Neurodivergence


So, what’s my particular flavor of neurodivergence? Personally, I’m a gifted, highly sensitive person, and I suspect that I either have ADHD or fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, but I haven’t been officially diagnosed. My identity as a neurodivergent person has helped me realize why my needs are so often different from those around me, and it’s helped me learn to accept myself as I am instead of seeing my whole personality as a collection of flaws.

So often, neurodivergent folks are told that we are just failed neurotypicals, but we’re not. We’re perfectly whole neurodivergents.

If you’re ready to start working with your neurodivergent brain instead of fighting against it, I hope you’ll join my new group coaching program, Neurodivergent Magic. It’s a nine week program all about coping with executive dysfunction and learning to love your neurodivergent brain. I’d love to see you there!

A version of this article was previously published on the author’s blog, Healing Unscripted.

Image via Pexels by Quang Nguyen Vinh

Originally published: July 14, 2021
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