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What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity refers to the diversity of human nervous systems.  The nervous system is often described as the body's command centre and is made up of the brain, spinal cord and nerves.  

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My work is based on the neurodiversity paradigm.  This stands in opposition to the deficit / disorder framework which forms the foundation for the majority of the research and treatment of neurodivergent people over the past century.

The neurodiversity paradigm views neurodivergences as simply different ways of being human - "different not less".  It also affirms the necessity of those with lived experience not only being involved in the research but actually designing and leading it. 

In the words of Nick Walker, a prominent autistic writer and educator:

1.) Neurodiversity is a natural and valuable form of human diversity.

 

2.) The idea that there is one “normal” or “healthy” type of brain or mind, or one “right” style of neurocognitive functioning, is a culturally constructed fiction, no more valid (and no more conducive to a healthy society or to the overall well-being of humanity) than the idea that there is one “normal” or “right” ethnicity, gender, or culture.

 

3.) The social dynamics that manifest in regard to neurodiversity are similar to the social dynamics that manifest in regard to other forms of human diversity (e.g., diversity of ethnicity, gender, or culture). These dynamics include the dynamics of social power inequalities, and also the dynamics by which diversity, when embraced, acts as a source of creative potential.

NEURODIVERSITY: SOME BASIC TERMS & DEFINITIONS • NEUROQUEER

What does it mean to be Neurodivergent?

 

A neurodivergent person's nervous system "diverges" - or differs significantly - from societal norms.  We can be born neurodivergent (sometimes called innate neurodivergence) or we can acquire it later on. 

Autism and ADHD are examples of innate neurodivergence while epilepsy  and traumatic brain injuries are acquired.  The neurodiversity movement does not oppose proposals to "treat" acquired neurodivergence because clearly this would not be tantamount to getting rid of core aspects of someone's personhood.   This is very different to attempts to cure autism, for example, where there would be a very real attempt to get rid of core parts of someone's basic way of being and personality.

Instead, if neurodivergent people have a whole different nervous system this means the messages being sent throughout the "bodymind" need to be understood and attended to on their own terms.  The messages or signals telling us, for example, to move, breathe and respond will be different and distinctive from neurotypical people.  This affects our thoughts, feelings, memory, senses, sleep, digestion and all our bodily processes including healing and aging.  

My Story

I am autistic and simply realising and embracing this has led to major shifts in my self understanding and compassion.  The biggest thing is that I realised once and for all that I wasn't "broken" or abnormal. 

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I had lived for so many years with these gnawing suspicions, unable to access root "causes" or explanations despite years and years of therapy and personal work.  Add to this that I was a therapist with a successful career history.  My eye contact and communication is good, I am insightful and highly empathic.  Clients consistently offered positive feedback and chose to work with me for long in depth processes.  In addition, well meaning therapists and colleagues tended not to see it when I broached the topic.  I just was so far away from the unhelpful stereotype of an autistic person which had been perpetuated via the media and medical / research circles. 

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Claiming and embodying my autistic identity was a slow and gradual road for me.  However, as many people know, being autistic usually means having  intense and focused interests ... and in my case one of these became autism!  Over the past 6 years I have been immersed in the  neurodiversity movement, deconstructing and unlearning my own internalised ableism.

Prior to looking into the essence of autism - beyond the traits and signs of autistic trauma which form so much of the medical "diagnosis" categories -  I identified strongly with Elaine Aron's "highly sensitive person" profiling.  I diverge now from Aron's perspective that autism and high sensitivity are particularly distinct and far apart as, for me and so many others I connect with, the overlaps are striking and complimentary.

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Notwithstanding the intra and interpersonal challenges of being "over sensitive", I recognise that high sensitivity as a label does not carry so many systemic, cultural and institutional burdens as autism.  A difficulty I find with this is a kind of "othering" which has arisen between HSPs and autistic people which I fear carries a subtle flavour of internalised ableism (and misunderstanding about the essence of autism).  It is my hope that, in time, there can be more unity in the neurodivergent community between these two "subsets".  After all, it's not so long ago that it was rare to have an autism and an ADHD diagnosis yet nowadays we recognise that it's actually more common to be both (AuDHD).  ​​​

On the topic of which, I probably am AuDHD though I have never sought an official ADHD diagnosis and, for me, it's the autistic traits which mostly prevail in my personality and way of being.  I work with many ADHDers, though, and have lots of resonances.

 

​​​​I have written a blog post about the qualities of autistic therapists here.  I do not exclusively work with neurodivergent people and it is my hope that this might be beneficial for you if you are not autistic and are interested in working with me.​

What is neurodivergent - affirmative therapy?

There are some key elements which I bring to therapy processes with neurodivergent people:

Connection

Sometimes therapy can be the first place you experience authentic  neurodivergent culture - where you are seen and valued exactly as you are.  Stims and SPINS welcome!

Managing burnout

ND burnout is pervasive.  This is a particular type of burnout with particular recovery pathways, caused by living in a NT (neurotypical) world.  It is distinct from workplace or relationship burnout due to stress.

Working with Complex trauma 

Most autistic people have a history of complex trauma. How can we not when we have grown up in a world which has  pathologised our existence? 

Understanding

I can help and support you to unpack and get to know your own unique "neurotype".  There is often a process of unlearning and reframing, which weaves and spirals its way through sessions.

 

Looking at masking

The topic of (un) masking is a thorny one.  Therapy can be a safe space to explore first of all who your authentic self is and then what it might be like to allow yourself to be seen as you are.

Celebrating you

Prize you as you are and support your own self compassion, freeing you up to essentially live a happier and more fulfilled life.  Validate your challenges and help you to access relevant resources and support.

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