Having a neurodivergent brain has taught me about the importance of resilience and adaptation. And I’ve become less ashamed about living with ADHD and dyscalculia. However, I know that neurodiversity is a new way of approaching mental disorders and learning disabilities. Instead of focusing on the weaknesses, these conditions bring, it’s placed on the strengths associated with them. Additionally, realizing a deviation from the neurotypical mindset creates a new way of thinking and engaging with the world.
Yet, there’s still debate regarding what it means to have a neurodivergent brain, how it impacts daily life, and how to overcome cognitive challenges to adjust to a culture built for neurotypical brains.
The Birth of Neurodiversity
The concept of the neurodivergent brain began when the autistic sociologist Judy Singer started to use this term in the 1990s to describe Autism. She believed that developmental disorders are normal brain variations. Furthermore, these brain variations alter how you learn and process information. Additionally, they impact your reaction to social situations and various stimuli. For example, you thrive when handling high-stress circumstances, whereas others falter under pressure.
Neurodiversity mustn’t be categorized as a disability. While you may need accommodations for work, school, or to manage daily life. Implementing skills and modifications allow you to lead a successful, fulfilling life.
Digging Deeper into the Neurodivergent Brain
As mentioned above, the scientific view of neurodiversity recognizes that the neurodivergent brain approaches problem-solving and thinking differently. In contrast to the neurotypical brain with a linear approach to thinking and problem-solving, the neurodivergent brain does not.
Instead, you utilize out-of-the-box thinking to create alternative possibilities that are missed by others.
Some differences vary from person to person, with some presenting a mild presentation of traits and others an abundance of characteristics. These differences prove the individuality of these disorders.
Another debatable topic is whether mental illness is part of the neurodiverse spectrum. There isn’t a specific definition of neurodiversity, leaving room for interpretation. Mental illnesses are considered neurodivergent because cognitive dysfunction is a common symptom of many mental illnesses. These symptoms impact your way of thinking, behaving, and interacting with the world. And they influence daily life. So, based on this theory, mental illness would be considered a neurodivergent condition.
Disorders and Mental Illnesses Considered Neurodivergent
Mental disorders classified as neurodivergent are Autism, ADHD, Tourette’s, and learning disorders such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and dyspraxia. In addition, mental illnesses included as neurodivergent are Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia, Anxiety, and Depression.
ADHD and the Neurodivergent Brain
Aside from Autism, ADHD is a prevalent disorder associated with neurodivergent brains. And it’s a condition that I’m familiar with as I’ve struggled with ADHD since childhood and finally received a proper diagnosis in my mid-twenties.
While ADHD is widely associated with hyperactivity and inattentiveness, there’s more to it than that. As a matter of fact, it impacts many areas of your life, creating unique challenges for school, career, personal life, and relationships.
Impulse and Self-Control
Having a neurodivergent brain can make it hard to control your impulses because of dopamine deficiency. So there’s a need to find activities and experiences that trigger an increase of dopamine. Thus, creating unhealthy coping mechanisms such as compulsive eating, shopping addiction, and substance abuse.
I’ve experienced firsthand the impact of compulsive eating in the form of disordered eating, which triggered body dysmorphia and negative body image. Additionally, forgetfulness and inability to properly manage money led to excess spending and financial issues. And while I never experimented with drugs, I did abuse alcohol heavily, especially in my twenties to early thirties.
Inability to Execute Daily Functions
Furthermore, neurodivergent brains struggle with complications in executive dysfunction, making you undependable, irresponsible, disorganized, and problematic in work and school settings. Time blindness makes you oblivious to proper time management. You quickly lose track of time or have no idea of how to gauge time. Consequently, you struggle with chronic lateness. You find it hard to complete projects for work or school because you’re distracted or put them off till the last minute. All of which lands you in trouble when you miss an important deadline.
You’re not able to keep up with essential items like your keys, phone, wallet, purse, or other things that are easy to misplace or lose. Being disorganized and forgetful can make it challenging to keep up with items. Thus, creating issues with work when you’re losing important information or forgetting tasks and deadlines. Not to mention constantly losing things like your keys or phone can make time management an issue due to losing time trying to track down those items.
Difficulty Processing Emotions
Emotional dysregulation is another challenge you face with a neurodivergent brain. I struggle with anger management, especially when I‘m struggling to explain myself or feel confused. I’ll get frustrated because I feel overwhelmed and lash out. My patience is nonexistent, and I want things done quickly. I get antsy and irritated waiting in line and find it torture when there are multiple steps I must go through to complete a task.
On the flip side, I’m super sensitive. I cry when I’m upset. And it doesn’t take much for loved ones to hurt my feelings. Which usually causes me to withdraw and push people away.
Often I don’t even understand the emotions I’m feeling. When I’m in social situations with multiple people I can’t concentrate on what’s really going on and become lost. People say things that either I misinterpret or don’t understand until later and become upset. It’s hard to process conversations in group settings which is why I prefer one on one connections.
Although these challenges are typical with ADHD, they’re not exclusive to ADHD. This is just an illustration of what it’s like living with a neurodivergent condition like ADHD.
How to Flourish Despite Challenges
While I believe it’s essential to focus on the positives of having a neurodivergent brain, such as enhanced creativity, unique problem-solving skills. Additionally, functioning well in high-stress situations, being innovative, very energetic, spontaneity, and the ability to hyper-focus on projects and tasks are other perks.
However, it’s essential to find solutions for overcoming the areas you’re weak in to perform as a well-rounded person. Thus, improving your quality of life and decreasing the negative consequences that come with neurodivergent conditions.
Enlisting the Help of a Psychiatrist
The first step is to get properly assessed and diagnosed by a psychiatrist. Having suspicions is one thing but obtaining a proper diagnosis is another. It opens doors for various treatment options and ways to get help. Self-diagnosis doesn’t provide the adequate support needed to manage and live with your condition.
Options that come with working with a psychiatrist include the choice to utilize medication management. For some neurodivergent brains such as myself, medication can make a big difference in your ability to function. While it shouldn’t be considered a standalone treatment or a cure, it is a helpful tool when combined with therapy and lifestyle modifications.
Types of medications used explicitly for ADHD treatment include stimulants such as Adderall and non-stimulants such a Strattera.
Stimulants work to improve attention span, decrease impulsive behavior and hyperactivity. They’re effective at correcting these symptoms in 70% of adults and 70-80% of children. They calm these symptoms due to increased dopamine levels, the neurotransmitter that controls motivation, pleasure, attention, and movement.
On the other hand, stimulants aren’t a viable solution for everyone, including myself. However, while not the first choice for treatment, non-stimulants can help with increasing attention span and improving working memory while decreasing hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, and distractibility.
Working with a Therapist
Therapy is a beneficial tool because it allows you to work through the thought processes that trigger behavior patterns and cause negative consequences. As a result, you’re able to develop skills that will help you overcome challenges and prevent undesirable outcomes.
There are various types of therapy, but cognitive behavior therapy has been the most beneficial for me. I’ve learned to identify thinking patterns that lead me to react and behave in specific ways. And knowing this allows me to take the time to think critically about various situations, scenarios, and challenges I face in daily life and find positive ways to handle them.
Additionally, working with my therapist has allowed me to create strategies and systems that improve my ability to concentrate, focus, complete projects and lessen the impact of my executive dysfunction. Creating routines has led to more order and function in my life. As a result, I feel more productive and efficient.
I’ve also found the courage to speak up for my needs and the accommodations that help me perform at my best. For me, this means being honest with myself about my skills and abilities and choosing jobs and tasks that allow me to deploy on these strengths. Additionally, if I feel overwhelmed, I let others know I need help or take a break and allow myself to come up with alternative methods to approach the situation differently. Finally, when I find myself in a slump, I identify the root cause of what’s going on to find actionable solutions to fix the issue and move forward.
Utilizing a Naturopathic Approach
Traditional medicine isn’t for everyone. For example, you may not be comfortable taking prescription medication or have a negative reaction or adverse effects. In this situation, looking into alternative treatments may provide the solutions you need naturally.
Alternative treatments indicated for ADHD management include supplements and nutritional improvements that address deficiencies believed to intensify symptoms. Supplements that have been shown to improve ADHD symptoms are zinc, Omega-3 fatty acids, iron, magnesium, and melatonin.
A zinc deficiency can contribute to inattention, hyperactivity, and improper cognitive development, especially in children. Supplementing zinc and consuming zinc-rich foods such as oysters, poultry, red meat, dairy, beans, and whole grains can increase zinc levels.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential because they aid in synthesizing dopamine, a common deficiency for ADHD. Having a diet rich in salmon, tuna, halibut, herring, and mackerel can help you get adequate amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, supplementing DHA can support brain health and decrease deficiency.
Low iron levels have been linked to ADHD. This is because iron plays a vital role in the production of dopamine and norepinephrine. Both dopamine and norepinephrine are responsible for taking care of emotions, stress management, and the brain’s reward system.
A magnesium deficiency can lead to issues with irritability, mental confusion, and inattentiveness. Although studies are inconclusive regarding the impact of magnesium on ADHD, taking a low dose under the supervision of a doctor may be beneficial. If supplementing isn’t indicated for you increasing your consumption of magnesium-rich foods like dairy, whole grains, beans, and leafy greens may be better.
Lastly, melatonin can help with sleep complications that are common with ADHD. It’s helpful with regulating sleep, allowing you to fall asleep, helping you stay asleep, and reducing chronic insomnia.
As always, before taking any supplements, discuss them with your doctor.
Working on Personal Development
As I mentioned, early lifestyle modifications are a positive influence on your cognitive function and behavior. Learning how to manage time, increase productivity and improve focus will assist you in your professional and personal life.
Time management is vital for honoring commitments with others as well as yourself. So, finding a sustainable system that meets your specific needs is crucial. A few of my time management hacks that have been beneficial are creating multiple reminders. Is this obnoxious? Probably but it’s highly effective. I create alarms to remind me when I need to leave to head to a location when it’s time to take medication, go to bed, and do any other time-bound activity.
Additionally, when it comes to appointments, I schedule them 30 minutes earlier in my schedule to ensure I’m on time. Another tool that’s beneficial for time management and productivity is calendar blocking. I set aside specific chunks of time for certain activities. This way, I have a designated time frame to work on the task, and it’s on my calendar reminding me that I’ve committed myself to it.
I utilize a digital planner to maintain the monthly, weekly, and daily tasks I need to complete. Doing so has helped me stay on top of projects, plans, and responsibilities I need to be aware of. Additionally, I utilize a guided goal-setting journal that helps me create, plan, and execute my goals. It allows me to break the goal down into smaller goals to determine the actions I need to take to achieve those goals. Finally, I’m given 90 days to complete them and review my progress to achieving my overall goal.
Another system I’ve created is developing a routine. Doing so created daily structure to my life and allowed me to complete tasks and become more responsible. I’ve also developed habits that have allowed me to manage finances, stay on top of household chores, and finish my work.
Creating minimalist habits led me to decrease clutter and become more organized. Keeping things simple means I don’t have an abundance of things to be responsible for. And it means I’m tidier and less messy. Furthermore, organizing my belongings helps prevent me from losing things all the time. Utilizing organizational tools and keeping items in a central location has also proven helpful.
Additionally, utilizing the Pomodoro method helps me stay focused on work and various household tasks. When working, I set a timer for 25–45-minute work blocks and 5–15-minute breaks for a set number of Pomodoro sessions. Usually, ten sessions or higher depending on how long the work blocks are or how long I need to work on my task.
Lastly, I will listen to music or a podcast and use it as a timer. For example, if I need to tidy up, I play a 30–45-minute playlist and make sure I’m done within that time. Or, when I’m getting ready, I’ll listen to a 45-minute podcast and aim to be finished when it’s complete. When I do this, it’s easier for me to keep track of time.
Beginning to Understand and Accept Neurodiversity
While there’s still misinformation and ignorance about neurodivergent conditions, the neurodiverse movement is making strides in changing this. Most importantly, it’s helping neurodivergent brains find self-confidence and acceptance. Personally, discovering all the strengths and unique traits I posses is beneficial for me making it easier to create systems that allow my abilities to shine.
And you can do the same thing too. Stop focusing on all that you’re not and celebrate all that you are. You’re lovely, resilient, and remarkable. You get to define what it means to have a neurodivergent brain and how much impact it has on your life. Furthermore, you have the power to overcome the challenges you face and advocate for your well-being. Just because society was built to favor a neurotypical mindset doesn’t mean you can’t innovate a new approach and make it better.
- WebMD What Is Neurodiversity? Written by Keri Wington, Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on April 07, 2021
- WebMD Beyond Inattention: How ADHD May Be Affecting Your Life medically reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on May 26,2020
- Verywell mind What Does It Mean to Be Neurodivergent? Written by Ariane Resnick, CNC, Medically reviewed by Ann-Lousie T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP, updated on October 06, 2021
- Amatus Recovery Centers Are Mental Health Disorders Considered Neurodivergent? Written by Tyler Mendelsohn on January 28, 2021
- The New Atlantis Mental Disorder or Neurodiversity? Embracing, not fixing, mental differences written by Aaron Rothstein
- Everyday Health 10 Challenges (and Solutions) for Daily Life With Adult ADHD written by Madeline R. Vann, MPH medically reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH on September 1, 2011
- Healthline A Guide to Different Types of Therapy written by Crystal Raypole medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D, CRNP on March 1, 2019
- Healthline The Benefits of ADHD written by Rachel Nall, MSN, CRNA medically reviewed by Alex Llein, PsyD updated on January 19, 2021
- Help Guide ADHD Medications Authors: Lawrence Robinson, Melidna Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Damon Ramsey, MD last updated October 2021
- US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, Frontiers in Neuroscience: Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) stimulant medications as cognitive enhancers Authors: Claire Advokat and Mindy Scheithauer, published online May 29,
Thank you for this! I feel like you have described my brain. So many helpful ideas, you write very clearly, I am grateful for your insight and direction.
You are so very welcome!