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Neurodiversity Affirming Therapy: Why we need it



What is Neurodiversity Affirming Therapy?


Let’s start with the word Neurodiversity, as coined by Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist. This refers to the naturally occurring differences in the way our brains function and the behavioral traits we have. It’s used to describe the diverse experiences and interactions we each have in the world. This includes the way we think, learn, and behave. We each have a unique brain, however some are more typical in its functioning, whiles others diverge from the “typical.” The different terms to describe this are “Neurotypical” (typical brain) and “Neurodivergent” (non-typical brain). Neurodiversity is the umbrella that explains both tracks - “Neurotypical and Neurodivergent.”


Now, to be considered Neurodivergent, you likely experience differences in how you process information, how you connect to and relate with others, the types of things you are interested in and how intense the interest is, your attention, your memory, your body movements and functions, and so on. Some common diagnoses that often fall under the Neurodivergent umbrella are: Autism, ADHD, OCS, Dyslexia, Tourette Syndrome, and Dyscalculia. Although these labels may be highlighted when discussing Neurodivergence, many other diagnoses fit within this as well - (Depression, Trauma, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, etc.). You can find an image depicting this umbrella below.


Sonny Jane, @LivedExperienceEducator, www.livedexperienceeducator.com



Our society was created for Neurotypical brains. This includes how therapy is often delivered, as well. So, to offer a Neurodiversity affirming therapy environment, Neurodivergence must be considered. Really, not just considered, it should be understood and honored. I’ll list some ways this can be done soon.


We’ve spent some time talking about Neurodiversity…. let’s talk about what it means to be affirming. To be affirming means to respect, support, accept, and work towards understanding another person. Neurodivergent people are often misunderstood, not fully supported or accepted, and sometimes not even respected.


To put the words together - Neurodiversity Affirming therapy - we’re talking about a therapist who is aware of, accepts, respects, and supports the differences in our brains.

Now this does not mean the therapist knows everything there is to know about a particular groups of people or area of divergence, but it does mean they are willing to learn about it and accept it as a difference not something to “cure” or “fix.” The big difference I see in a therapist who is affirming and one who is not is the affirming therapist says, “I want to understand how you operate in the world and support that,” while the non-affirming therapist says, “I want to diagnose what’s wrong with you and treat/fix this problem with your brain.”

 

Here are some things you could expect from a Neurodiversity Affirming Therapist:
  • Your therapist will not try to change, fix, or cure you. They will seek to understand, accommodate, and support you.

  • Your therapist will spend time learning about you - treating you as the expert of your life- not the other way around.

  • Your therapist will support and accommodate you with things like lowering the lighting, changing the seating arrangements, providing ways to stim (fidget/soothe) and allowing it, providing different forms of communication, etc.

  • They will help you stay regulated and offer different ways to soothe your nervous system.

  • They will help you work towards your goals… not society’s, theirs, or any one else’s goals.

  • They will acknowledge and give space for all aspects of your experience- your strengths, challenges, traumas, triumphs, and pains of being Neurodivergent in a Neurotypical world.


 

Maybe you’re already seeing some of the benefits of working with an affirming therapist and the difficulties of working with a non-affirming therapist. I’ll highlight a few for you anyways.


Benefits of working with Neurodiversity Affirming therapist
  • Feel empowered

  • Feel accepted

  • Increase self-acceptance

  • Learn more about yourself

  • Process trauma and stressors that often get overlooked

  • Feel like a whole person, not someone who is broken

  • Learn skills that actually help to improve your life


Difficulties of working with a Non-Neurodiversity Affirming therapist
  • Further engrain the belief that something is wrong with you and you’re too difficult to be helped

  • Continue working on changing yourself and not accepting yourself

  • Feel broken and like a burden

  • Trouble finding the right therapist, maybe going in and out of therapy repeatedly

  • Giving up on therapy altogether

  • Reinforcing masking behaviors to fit into society, which therefor leads to an increase in stress and possible burnout

  • Feeling misunderstood


If you are Neurodivergent or suspect you might be, there is help for you! There are often barriers to finding the right therapist who gets you and can actually help. They do exist, but, I agree... they are hard to come by. If you'd like to speak with me to see if I can help or if you'd like names of some other therapists who are affirming, please reach out. I'm happy to chat and point you in a helpful direction.

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