What Does Neurodivergent Mean? Exploring the Benefits of Neurodivergent Affirming Counseling


Did you know that about 15-20% of the world’s population is considered neurodivergent? This means that their brains operate differently and these people don’t perceive and interact with the world like the rest of us.

The term ‘neurodivergent’ refers to individuals with variation in their mental functions. Neurodivergence can include conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Neurodivergence may refer to other subsets and groups as it is not a “fixed medical term.”

Because of these different functions, these individuals don’t usually operate according to social standards and expectations. However, it doesn’t mean they’re less capable or can’t adapt to social norms.

In this article, we’ll explore the essence of neurodivergence and point out how Neurodivergent Affirming Counseling can help these individuals build their own strength.

What is Neurodivergence?

Neurodivergence can be defined as the variation in brain function and behavioral traits that lead to differences in sensory processing, learning styles, and communication strategies. This term was developed by Australian sociologist Judy Singer in the 1990s, who aimed to change the understanding of normal and abnormal and prove that neurodivergence isn’t a deficit but a valuable aspect of human variation.

The thing that makes neurodivergent people different is their soft skills. Usually, they struggle with emotional intelligence and find it hard to understand social cues and emotional expressions in others. As a result, sometimes social interactions and relationships are rather challenging for them.

On the other hand, many neurodivergent individuals also possess better memory and innovative ways of thinking (for example, they often have the ability to mentally picture three-dimensional (3D) objects or solve abstract mathematical calculations easily).

Even though the term ‘neurodivergent’ isn’t medical, it’s an important concept that recognizes cognitive diversity and promotes inclusive environments where there’s no “normal” or “abnormal”.

Types of Neurodivergent Conditions

Neurodivergent individuals usually have at least one of the conditions that are related to developmental disorders, neurological differences, or just viewing the world differently. Note that people who are diagnosed with this condition may even choose not to refer to themselves as “neurodivergent.”

Here are some mental health conditions that neurodivergent individuals may have:

  • ADHD – Individuals with ADHD often find it hard to maintain focus, which leads to difficulties in managing tasks and impulsivity. This can impact academic achievements, work productivity, and social relationships.
  • Autism spectrum disorders – People with ASD may experience social communication challenges and diverse sensory sensitivities. Asperger’s syndrome, which is the highest-functioning form of autism, also falls under this category. These people usually have strengths in detail-oriented tasks, memory, and concentration in areas of interest (e.g., Cope & Remington, 2022).
  • Dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia – These learning differences mean individuals might struggle with reading, math, or writing. However, they frequently develop innovative problem-solving skills and can easily understand complex patterns that average individuals can’t.
  • Down’s syndrome – Individuals with this condition have an extra chromosome that completely changes the way their body, brain, and mental functions develop. Therefore, they have specific physical traits and developmental variations.

Various other conditions, like Tourette’s syndrome (which involves involuntary tics), sensory processing disorders, intellectual disabilities, and sometimes even social anxiety or bipolar disorder, can be considered neurodivergence, as they can significantly influence people’s interactions with the world.

Trauma and Neurodivergence

Neurodivergent people are more likely to experience trauma due to challenges in processing and coping with stressful events. For example, studies show that people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are particularly vulnerable to being exposed to traumatic events (Li et al., 2024). Research also shows that individuals with developmental disabilities, including autism and intellectual disabilities, are at a higher risk of having adverse childhood experiences (Hibbard & Desch, 2007).

This tendency could be explained by the fact that neurodivergent individuals experience the world in a different way. In particular, here are some potential reasons why they’re more likely to be impacted by traumatic experiences:

  • Traumatic sensory overload

Due to increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli, neurodivergent individuals experience common sounds as overwhelming. For example, everyday noises like fire alarms or rustling bags can trigger overwhelming stress responses. Often, they hide their reactions to avoid embarrassment. But that way, they prevent their nervous system from properly processing these threats.

  • Bullying and social isolation

Neurodivergent people are more likely to experience bullying and isolation, which can lead to long-term emotional trauma. The struggle to conform to societal norms can make them mask their true selves to fit in. This lack of authentic connection intensifies feelings of being misunderstood and isolated.

  • Difficulty communicating

For neurodivergent individuals, effectively communicating their needs and emotions to others can be a challenging task. The pressure to conform to societal expectations of communication often makes them feel like they’re perceived as difficult. This misinterpretation hinders meaningful connections and access to appropriate care.

How Can a Neurodivergent Person Build Their Own Strength?

Considering that neurodivergent individuals view the world differently from others, they require specific strategies in order to express themselves. Tailoring approaches to their individual needs, such as being in a sensory-friendly environment or participating in activities that match their interests, can boost self-esteem and social skills.

Furthermore, it’s important for them to practice clear communication skills to better express their needs and thoughts. Certain types of therapies, such as occupational or speech therapy, can help neurodivergent people develop communication skills and promote their emotional health and well-being (e.g.,  Kornbalu & Robertson, 2021). While these therapies are helpful, one specific type of therapy that’s especially beneficial for individuals with neurodivergent conditions is Neurodivergent Affirming Counseling.

Neurodivergent Affirming Counseling

Neurodivergent affirming therapy is a specific type of therapy for individuals who recognize themselves as neurodivergent. This approach values the individuality and experiences of neurodivergent people without viewing their neurodivergence as something to be fixed. This holistic treatment aims to empower individuals instead of conforming them to neurotypical standards. Similar to trauma-informed counseling, the treatment strategies during neurodivergent affirming counseling are based on the perspectives and experiences of each individual.

Neurodiversity-affirming therapy is an evidence-based approach, which means that its techniques are supported by studies. For example, 2023 research shows the importance of using a neurodiversity affirming approach for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, instead of traditional interventions like ABA (Lerner et al., 2023). Chapman and Botha (2022) also note the effectiveness of neurodivergence-informed therapy in redefining dysfunction, accepting neurodivergence, and creating a culture that liberates individuals from neuro-normativity.

Building on these insights, working with a neurodivergent affirming counselor offers several benefits:

  • They create a safe space that acknowledges the unique perspectives and experiences of neurodivergent individuals.
  • They encourage self-acceptance and help individuals see their neurodivergence as a variation rather than a deficit.
  • They are equipped to tailor therapy approaches to suit the individual needs of their clients. That’s how they promote personal growth and self-understanding.
  • They help clients develop better coping strategies tailored to the individual’s specific needs to enhance their ability to manage challenges.

Where to Find a Neurodivergent Therapist

If you recognize yourself as a neurodivergent individual or your loved one views the world differently, finding the right support is crucial to thrive in modern society and navigate systems that might not be suitable for your needs.

At Health for Life Counseling, our licensed therapists are committed to offering counseling that honors and supports neurodivergent individuals. Our evidence-based strategies are designed to help you or your loved one thrive in environments and systems that may not always understand or accommodate neurodivergent needs.

Reach out to our professional counselors at Grand Rapids, MI, and Ada, MI, or get help online to explore how you can make the most of your unique strengths and perspectives that neurodivergence brings.

Note that we accept a wide range of health insurance options, including Blue Cross Complete, UMR, Meritain Health, Optum, and others. Here’s the full list of insurance options with us.

Learn more about the Trauma-Informed Counseling Center of Grand Rapids

Learn more about Counseling and Therapy services at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids

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