Neurodiversity refers to the natural variability of neurological patterns that exist among individuals. This includes different forms of brain processing, which can cover a wide range of characteristics and differences, such as autism, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), dyslexia, and Tourette syndrome, among others. Neurodiversity recognizes that each person has a unique brain and, therefore, different abilities, needs, and perspectives.
The relationship between neurodiversity and mental health is complex and multifaceted. Some neurodivergent people may experience additional challenges in their lives, which can affect their mental health. Studies have shown that some neurodivergent conditions, such as autism and ADHD, are associated with higher rates of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and social difficulties.
Living with ADHD or autism can be challenging in itself, but the presence of co-occurring mental health conditions can significantly compound the difficulties. These challenges may include:
- Overlapping Symptoms: Some mental health conditions share symptoms with ADHD or autism, making accurate diagnosis and differentiation complex. This overlapping can lead to misdiagnosis or delayed interventions.
- Impaired Social Functioning: Individuals with autism and co-occurring conditions may experience heightened social difficulties.
- Emotional Dysregulation: Co-occurring conditions can exacerbate emotional dysregulation, leading to mood swings and difficulty coping with everyday stressors.
While autism and ADHD are frequently associated with neurodiversity, there are other neurodivergent conditions which also have unique impacts to mental health. People with Learning conditions such as:
- Dyslexia: that primarily affects reading, spelling, and writing skills. Dyslexia is a result of individual differences in areas of the brain that process language. People with dyslexia may have difficulty with phonological processing, which can make it challenging to decode words and comprehend written language. The article also points that dyslexia is not due to problems with intelligence, hearing or vision. Most children with dyslexia can succeed in school with tutoring or a specialized education program. Emotional support also plays an important role.
- Dyscalculia: a specific learning condition related to mathematics. Dyscalculia is a math learning disability that impairs an individual’s ability to learn number-related concepts, perform accurate math calculations, reason and problem solve, and perform other basic math skills. The exact cause of dyscalculia is not fully understood, but it's thought to be related to differences in brain function and structure that impact the brain's ability to process and comprehend numerical information. It’s important to note that dyscalculia is not necessarily a reflection of overall intelligence; individuals with dyscalculia can excel in other areas while struggling with math. Still, according to ADDitude Magazine, dyscalculia frequently co-occurs with dyslexia, a learning condition in reading; about half of children with dyscalculia also have dyslexia.
- And a Neurodevelopmental condition such as Dyspraxia, that affects coordination and motor skills, as a result of a disruption in the way that messages are passed between the brain and the body, may also face mental health challenges, as follows:
Dyslexic individuals may experience high levels of anxiety and stress related to academic tasks. Struggling with reading and writing can affect social interactions, leading to feelings of isolation and difficulty forming friendships. They may feel ashamed or guilty about their learning difficulties, especially if they face criticism or a lack of understanding from others. The ongoing frustration and challenges associated with dyslexia can sometimes lead to feelings of sadness and depression.
According to The National Health Service (NHS), a person with dyslexia may:
- Read and write very slowly.
- Confuse the order of letters in words.
- Be confused by letters that look similar and write letters the wrong way round (such as “b” and “d”).
- Have poor or inconsistent spelling.
- Understand information when told verbally, but have difficulty with information that’s written down.
- Find it hard to carry out a sequence of directions.
- Struggle with planning and organization.
Individuals with dyscalculia may face repeated difficulties in math-related activities, leading to feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth. Persistent struggles with math can cause frustration and anxiety, particularly in academic environments where math skills are frequently assessed. The ongoing challenges and negative experiences associated with dyscalculia can contribute to the development of depression in some individuals.
It is not a mental health disorder in itself, but individuals with dyspraxia may experience mental health struggles due to the challenges they face in daily life. Difficulties with everyday tasks like tying shoelaces, writing, or using utensils can lead to frustration and feelings of inadequacy, impacting self-esteem and self-confidence. Besides, individuals with dyspraxia may find it challenging to cope with stress and anxiety, especially in situations that require fine motor skills, coordination, or quick responses.
In childhood, (also known as developmental coordination disorder or DCD) usually refers to a disorder in which children do not develop the motor skills that are expected for their age. In adults, dyspraxia can come on after a brain injury or stroke, or as a symptom of dementia.
Though not always, dyspraxia often coexists with other learning conditions, such as dyslexia (difficulty reading, writing and spelling) and dyscalculia (difficulty with mathematics); as well as AD/HD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
Coping with mental health challenges can be a unique and personal journey for each neurodivergent individual. Here are some general strategies that may be helpful:
- Seek Professional Help: Consulting with mental health professionals who are experienced in working with neurodivergent individuals can provide valuable support and guidance.
- Build a Support Network: Surround yourself with understanding and supportive friends, family members, or support groups. Connecting with others who share similar experiences can be comforting and validating.
- Learn Coping Skills: Develop coping skills to manage stress, anxiety, and overwhelming emotions. Breathing exercises, mindfulness practices, can be particularly beneficial.
- Educate Yourself and Others: Learn about your neurodivergent condition and educate those around you, including friends, family, teachers, and employers. Raising awareness and understanding can lead to increased empathy and support.
- Focus on Strengths: Embrace and utilize your strengths. Neurodivergent individuals often have unique abilities and talents that can be leveraged to their advantage in various aspects of life.
It’s worth noting that coping strategies may vary depending on the specific neurodivergent condition and the individual’s preferences. It’s essential to be open to trying different approaches and seeking professional guidance when needed.
Neurodiversity encompasses a wide range of conditions, each with its unique characteristics and challenges. What affects the mental health of one neurodivergent individual may differ significantly from another. This heterogeneity requires tailored approaches to understanding and addressing mental health concerns. Each individual is different so it can be challenging to address, but with enough diligence and awareness, we can all do a better job of understanding and helping each other.