Let's Talk Neurodiversity And Self Esteem

Updated May 30, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

People have unique personalities, hobbies, needs, desires, and goals. These are the things that make us individuals and influence how we interact with the world around us. Sometimes people feel, think, or act differently from others because of differences in their brains. This is known as neurodiversity and is an identity anyone can hold. Whether you have a loved one who is neurodivergent or identify that way yourself, it’s important to recognize, affirm, and celebrate the unique way someone who is neurodivergent interacts with the world around them.

Getty/Luis Alvarez
The Neurodivergent Community Offers Unique Perspectives And Faces Unique Challenges

What Does Neurodiversity Mean?

For many, the term “neurodiversity” is difficult to define because it’s an identity that everyone can experience in some way. Most commonly, it’s characterized as a viewpoint that recognizes the neurological differences in people’s brains. From a neurodiversity standpoint, these differences are meant to be embraced and seen as normal, rather than viewing the person as lacking in some way. 

The term neurodivergent was coined by Australian sociologist Judy Singer in 1998. She argued that people with brain differences are often marginalized because of their condition. The only thing separating them from other people, she posited, was that neurodivergent individuals viewed, experienced, and interacted with the world in unique ways. 

Today, a neurodiversity movement is pushing for more research into the various kinds of neurodiverse disorders and disabilities, as well as acceptance of individuals with those conditions. 

What are the Most Common Neurodiversities?

Brain differences usually take the form of developmental disorders or other neurological conditions.

The most common ones are:

  • Dyslexia/Dyscalculia
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Dyspraxia
  • Tourette Syndrome 
  • OCD

Each of these affects people in different ways. For some, the impact is minor and almost unnoticeable. For others, being neurodivergent can cause great difficulties or hardships. No two people have the same experience, even when they have a similar disorder. 

Neurodiversity can impact mood, learning abilities, attention, mental health, communication, sociability, and more. These neurodevelopmental differences exist throughout society and affect people in a variety of ways. 

Neurodiversity recognizes all people as unique individuals with different talents, abilities, strengths, and thought processes. By embracing these differences, neurodiverse individuals can improve their self-esteem, confidence, and self-efficacy, which in effect enhances society as a whole. 

Is Autism Neurodivergent? 

Someone who is autistic could identify as neurodivergent. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be characterized by a variety of conditions that cause challenges with communication, behavior, and interactions with other people. It is caused by brain differences and is often referred to as a neurodevelopmental disorder. In the U.S., about 1 in 54  children fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. Autism may affect a person’s life drastically or only in minor ways. 

Is ADHD Neurodivergent? 

People with ADHD could also identify as being neurodiverse. For instance, time management may be difficult for those with ADHD. Those who are toddlers may take longer to acquire their first language. However, they frequently exhibit high degrees of enthusiasm, ambition, and originality in their thinking.

The Impact of Neurodiversity 

Neurodiversity and neurological conditions can exist on a spectrum. This means that being neurodiverse can impact an individual in a variety of ways, from minor effects to substantial consequences. In many ways, their uniqueness can inspire positive outcomes for themselves and the people around them. 

Neurodiverse people are often taught that they are different in some way, or they may notice it themselves. However, how they view those differences is what matters. It’s important that they embrace and celebrate what makes them unique rather than viewing it as a deficiency or disadvantage.  

In fact, neurodiverse people can sometimes benefit from extraordinary gifts. For example, people with ADHD can be much more creative than their peers because of their neurodiversity. They can think on their feet and have great ideas. 

Many from the autistic community can process information in a short period of time. When people with autism need to recall information, their memory skills often make it simple. In addition, they may have skills and talents that are rare and tend to think outside the box. For this reason, autistic workers can be a great asset to a company

Although the impact of neurodiversity on an individual can vary widely, there are many positive outcomes that can stem from it. Being neurodiverse often causes people to embrace others despite differences because they know what it’s like to see the world through a unique lens. They may be passionate about making others feel accepted and cared for and fight for equal treatment of all kinds of people. They are often team players with a heart for cooperation. 

Neurodiversity And Self-Esteem

Having a developmental, learning, or cognitive disorder can be challenging, especially when you don’t have support from the people around you understanding intersectionality. This is true of any type of condition, whether it be physical or mental. Since society tends to operate neurotypically, people with neurodevelopmental differences may struggle to fit in and accept themselves as they are. 

Although the neurodiverse community brings a lot of positive benefits to the world around them, sometimes all people want is to feel like they belong. When neurodiverse individuals don’t have that sense of belonging and acceptance, it can negatively affect their self-esteem and self-worth. They may wish they were more like other people, even though their differences are out of their control. They might also look around and see their peers succeeding with little effort; meanwhile, despite their best attempts, it’s still hard for them to get ahead. It can be difficult to understand, especially for younger neurodivergent minds.

Getty/Halfpoint Images

Luckily, neurodiversity encourages individuals to embrace their differences and focus on their strengths. It is a concept that is helping to reduce the stigma that has long been associated with various learning, behavioral, and cognitive conditions. 

Neurodivergent individuals can increase their self-esteem in these ways: 

  • They can nurture and lean into their unique skills, interests, and gifts. 
  • They can focus on their strengths more than those things they struggle with. 
  • They can celebrate even the small accomplishments. 
  • They can seek help from a neurodiverse-affirming mental health care provider. 
  • They can stop comparing themselves to their peers.
  • They can find a neurodiverse role model to look up to. 
  • They can befriend other neurodiverse individuals and find other supportive friends.

It can seem like the world is constantly trying to promote conformity. Those who don’t conform to this idea of normality can feel left out, excluded, or rejected, which is never a good feeling. However, those in the neurodiverse movement have the opportunity to promote individuality and embrace their differences. 

By accepting themselves exactly as they are, they can encourage others to do the same. Individuals who don’t identify as neurodiverse can help by accepting and including all types of people, not just those who act or think as they do. Creating a sense of belonging for everyone is a team effort well worth trying to achieve. 

Neurodiversity And Mental Health 

The mental health conditions experienced by those in the neurodiverse spectrum can range from mild to more severe, but these same conditions can just as easily impact people who do not identify as neurodivergent. That being said, people with certain neurodiverse conditions are more prone to mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. For example, among people with autism, 80% experience mental health disorders, with anxiety being the most common. Depression is a close second. 

The prevalence of mental health disorders among the neurodivergent population may be explained by the unique way in which they interact with the world. Or it could be because of other brain differences. Either way, each person is impacted differently and can face unique challenges as a result.  

Neurodiverse individuals might also face mental health issues when they feel ostracized by society. Ostracism could come from bullying in school, harassment, or someone generally feeling like they don’t fit in. Children and adolescents living with autism are 63% more likely to be bullied than their neurotypical peers. Bullying in school can cause low self-esteem and low self-worth in neurodiverse students, each of which contributes to poor mental health. 

Neurodivergent or not, most of us want to fit in and belong. When that need isn’t met, it can take a toll on our mental health. The effect may be loneliness, social isolation, or depression. The world can send a lot of negative messages to those who are different; that’s why it’s vital to recognize that these differences are a strength and not a deficiency. 

What Is Neurodiverse Friendly Mental Health Care? 

Being neurologically diverse will be a different experience for every individual. Often, mental health care requires providers to be mindful of their client’s unique needs. It can be difficult to find providers who understand the neurodiverse community, but finding the right professional is essential to receiving the best care. Neurodiverse-friendly mental health care doesn’t define people’s differences as problems to be solved; rather, it views them as strengths, needs, and challenges to be explored. 

Currently, the mental health care system is in more need of neurodivergent-affirming therapists and other professionals. Increasing the number of mental health professionals who understand neurodivergence can help create a more inclusive system for all individuals. It can also promote individuality, higher self-esteem, and a greater sense of  identity. 

Those in the neurodiverse community also deserve better resources to care for their mental well-being. Certain learning and developmental disorders can make it harder for individuals to understand their condition and what treatment options might be best for them. Resources should not only be more accessible in school and the workplace, but they should accommodate the unique ways in which neurodivergent individuals absorb information and learn. 

Although diversity initiatives are on the rise, the neurodivergent community is still often overlooked in the mental health care system. Disparities that exist include higher costs, poorer care, and worse health outcomes. Mental health conditions are also more prevalent in the neurodiverse population, yet it is still more difficult for them to receive support and treatment. In these ways, neurodiversity can put people at a disadvantage, especially when it comes to their mental health. 

Moving forward, it’s important to increase awareness of neurodiversity and give health care providers the tools, resources, and training they need to help their neurodiverse clients. Neurodiversity-friendly education will help providers learn about best practices when it comes to treating the mental health of their neurodiverse clients. 

Everyone can have a part in promoting positive self-esteem for those in the neurodiverse community. 

Schools can help by accommodating students in school with learning disabilities. 

Businesses can do their part by hiring neurodiverse people, or even create jobs for them.  

By embracing neurodiversity and elevating neurodiverse voices, we can strengthen society through new talents, unique perspectives, and different ways of thinking and doing. Most importantly, we can encourage neurodiverse individuals to be themselves in school and the workplace without fear of rejection. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
The Neurodivergent Community Offers Unique Perspectives And Faces Unique Challenges

Where To Turn For More Help

Neurodiversity affirming counselors understand the strengths of neurodiversity and approach therapy based on those strengths, not as problems that need to be fixed. These licensed counselors understand the characteristics of different conditions, as well as mental health conditions that may arise,  and know how to adjust therapy to approach these unique characteristics. 

Finding a professional neurodiversity-affirming counselor in your local community can be difficult, and many have long wait lists due to high demand. With BetterHelp online therapy, you can connect with an experienced, qualified, neurodiversity-affirming therapist to help you through life’s toughest moments. And you can connect from the comfort and quiet of your own home. Not only is it often more affordable than traditional options, but it tends to be more convenient as well. You can pick up a phone, tablet, or computer and chat with your therapist through messaging, a phone call, or a video conference. 

Takeaway

The neurodiversity population is rapidly growing, and so is the movement to recognize the strengths that the neurodiverse community offers through the unique ways in which their brains work. Psychotherapy from a neurodivergent-affirming counselor, such as through BetterHelp, understand the need to shift some aspects of traditional counseling to help groups of the neurodivergent community thrive. Reach out to BetterHelp today!

For additional help & support with your concerns

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started