What is neurodiversity affirming therapy?

What is neurodivergence?

We all have different brains, with different strengths and weaknesses. Some people share similarities in the way their brains process information. People who share these similarities can be described as sharing a ‘neurotype’. People with the most common neurotype are sometimes referred to as “neurotypical,” and those who have neurological differences from the average are sometimes referred to as “neurodivergent.” Neurodivergence encompasses a range of differences, including Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Dyslexia, and Tourette’s, to name a few. Read more about Autism.

Since neurodivergent people live in a world that has been largely designed to suit the needs and comfort of neurotypical people, neurodivergent people are at increased risk of experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health difficulties. For example, some neurodivergent people have sensory sensitivities (e.g., to noises or smells), making normal classroom settings difficult to learn in, and shopping at busy supermarkets exhausting.

What is neurodiversity affirming therapy?

Neurodiversity Affirming Therapy is a way of delivering therapy that affirms and supports neurodivergent differences, rather than viewing these as deficits that should be ‘cured.’ The aim is to find ways to support the person with the areas that are causing them difficulty, while appreciating that their needs and strengths may look different to that of neurotypical people.

Most therapeutic approaches can be delivered in a neurodiversity-affirming way. Evidence-based treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy may target mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression, while being delivered in an affirming way that adapts the approach to the specific needs of the individual.

For example, neurodiversity affirming therapy may include the following:

  • Learning how to manage sensory overload (e.g., knowing your triggers and how to prepare for or manage these)

  • Finding ways to maximise your executive functioning (i.e., your ability to plan, focus and deal with distraction) and get help from others when needed

  • Understanding your signs of stress and burnout

  • Learning how you can manage stress and situations that you find difficult

  • Exploring your self-identity and building self-acceptance

  • Understanding how to self-regulate by engaging in your interests and passions

  • Learning to unmask and be your true self, and find safe places where you can do this

  • Understanding your unique strengths and how to harness these across your life

At its core, Neurodiversity Affirming Therapy is designed to support neurodivergent individuals to feel empowered rather than stuck, and to build a fulfilling life as their unique selves. This includes individuals who are wondering whether they might be neurodivergent. Seeking formal diagnosis is an individual choice that you may wish to discuss with your clinician.

Written by Dr Monique Williams, Clinical Psychology Registrar

More information

If you would like to know more about neurodiversity affirming therapy, or to book an appointment with Dr Monique Williams, or another one of our experienced clinical psychologists, contact our friendly client team by calling 6143 4499 or email via our contact page.

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