The Intersection of Neurodiversity and Mental Health Therapies


Most people are neurotypical, meaning their brains work in a conventional or expected way, but anyone can be neurodivergent and some individuals may not realize they are until later in life. Neurodevelopmental differences, such as autism and dyslexia, were considered disabilities in the past, but in recent years the value of neurodiversity in society has been recognized and there’s been a push towards better acceptance and inclusion. 

This article is the first of a series looking at how neurotech breakthroughs are further revolutionizing our understanding of neurodiversity and its connection with mental health.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a broad term that represents the different ways that people think, behave, communicate, and process information. The term was first coined by Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist, in the late 1990s to recognize the natural variations in human neurology and highlight that there’s no such thing as a ‘normal’ brain. 

Neurodiversity encompasses a wide range of conditions, including dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorder. Each condition tends to have common traits, for example, autism is often characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication, while ADHD is associated with hyperactivity, impulsivity, and difficulty with focus and attention. But every individual is unique and can experience different challenges to another person with the same condition. 

Neurodiversity and mental health

Neurodiversity doesn’t refer to a mental health condition, nor do neurodivergent individuals necessarily suffer from poor mental health, but studies have shown markedly higher rates of mental health symptoms such as anxiety among neurodiverse populations. 

This susceptibility could be due to social barriers, lack of support, or the stress of being in environments where differences are not understood and respected, and can culminate in difficulties with social interaction, heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, and repetitive behaviors. 

Below are some of the more common neurodivergent diagnoses and the mental health symptoms that are likely to occur alongside them:


Dyslexia involves difficulty processing language, including how speech sounds relate to letters and words. For this reason, many individuals with dyslexia find it difficult to focus on tasks involving reading and writing.

This can overwhelmingly affect school and professional work, meaning those with dyslexia often struggle with self-esteem despite it having nothing to do with intelligence. Some individuals, especially children and young adults, tend to feel like they’re falling behind, causing them to feel isolated and inadequate. This is not helped by dyslexia often being viewed as a minor condition that’s easy to manage. 

Feelings of anxiety or depression tend to hit hard when a deadline or major project is looming, but some people struggle with powerful anxiety and panic on an ongoing basis.


Dyspraxia is a neurodevelopmental condition that causes problems with coordination and makes it difficult for the individual to perform motor skills such as drawing or using scissors. Although most people show major symptoms by the time they start school, dyspraxia symptoms can be mild and dismissed as simply being clumsy. 

Because motor skills are so visible, people with dyspraxia are often the targets of jokes or bullying, which can have a massive impact on their self-esteem and mental health. People with dyspraxia are also more likely to have other neurodivergent conditions, such as ADHD or autism spectrum disorder.


Some individuals with ADHD may mainly have symptoms of inattention, an inability to remain on task or stay focused, while others may primarily have symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity. Hyperactivity can involve talking too much, fidgeting, or tapping, and impulsivity involves acting without thinking, interrupting, or struggling with self-control. 

Around three in ten children with ADHD have anxiety disorders, alongside problems with depression and self-esteem in response to feeling overwhelmed or out of control.

Autism spectrum disorder

Autism spectrum disorder is a complex and often misunderstood condition that can include a number of symptoms, including:

  • Difficulties with social interaction
  • Verbal or non-verbal communication struggles
  • Repetitive behavior
  • Insistence on adhering to a routine
  • Hyperfixation or restricted interests
  • Extreme sensitivity or insensitivity to sensory stimuli

Every person’s experience with autism will be different. Some people have minor issues and can live on their own without assistance, while others may have symptoms that dramatically impact and impair their day-to-day lives. And, just like the other neurodiverse conditions, rates of depression and anxiety are higher among those on the autism spectrum. 

Autism also has links to higher rates of gender dysphoria, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and personality disorders, each of which introduces its own set of complex mental health challenges.

Potential therapies

As neurodiversity covers such a large population, it would be impossible to effectively address the mental health needs of the group as a whole. They therefore need to be looked at on an individual basis to ensure effective support and treatment is provided. 

Some tried and tested methods, such as positive reinforcement-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can work well, while in other cases, therapies may involve changing environments or building a plan that better suits the condition. 

Understanding the role of sensory processing in neurodiversity is also essential to help develop strategies and interventions that can help individuals manage their anxiety and sensory sensitivities effectively. 

Sensory processing refers to how individuals perceive and respond to sensory stimuli from their environment. Neurodivergent individuals often have heightened sensitivity or hypo-reactivity to sound, touch, and taste. The sensory overload experienced in crowded or noisy environments, for example, can lead to increased anxiety and overwhelm.

Embracing neurodiversity

By embracing neurodiversity, we can create a more inclusive and accepting society that values the diverse talents, skills, and perspectives of all individuals. 

It can also lead to breakthroughs in various fields. Many groundbreaking discoveries and innovations have been made by individuals who think differently and approach problems from a unique angle. Harnessing the strengths and perspectives of neurodivergent individuals allows us to unlock new possibilities and advance our understanding of the world.

Browser Update Required

This website does not support your current version of Internet Explorer, Please download the recent version from one of the links provided.

Update to Google Chrome Update to Internet Edge