In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of neurodiversity. Neurodiversity celebrates the idea that neurological differences, such as autism, ADHD, or dyslexia, are natural variations of the human brain rather than disorders to be fixed. This shift in perspective has led to an increased demand for therapists who embrace the principles of neurodiversity. In this article, we will explore the steps you can take to find a neurodiversity-affirming therapist who understands and respects your unique needs.
What Is Neurodivergence?
Each person’s brain develops differently, which impacts how they think, feel, behave, and perceive the world around them. Neurodiversity refers to how each person’s brain develops differently.
There is no one definition of “normal,” and the term neurodivergence was developed to describe those whose neurodiversity differs from what society expects.
Having a neurodivergent identity can result in disability, but some neurodivergent people believe their neurodivergence is not a disability. There is truth and validity in both perspectives.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, defines neurodivergence as those with neurodevelopmental disabilities such as learning disorders, ADHD, autism, intellectual disabilities, etc. However, the term was initially intended to include all brains that diverge from neurotypical standards, like brains with mental health diagnoses.
Neurodiversity refers to the perception and interaction with the world that differs from others.
What is Neurodiversity-Affirming Therapy?
Neuro-affirming therapy aims to encourage and embrace the uniqueness and strengths of neurodivergent children and adults and provide them and their families with skills, tools, and strategies for improved participation at home, at school, and at play. Among the possibilities are:
- Finding ways to meet the needs of neurodivergent children and adults by understanding their perspective.
- Respecting and understanding neurodivergent communication styles.
- Assisting individuals with their sensory needs by understanding them.
- Promoting neurodivergent listening rather than neurotypical listening.
- Providing assistance with self-advocacy and problem-solving.
- Understanding how other people react, communicate, and react to their emotions so that children and adults can better choose how to respond.
- Supporting children and adults to recognize their triggers and identify calming strategies by validating their feelings.
- Creating safe spaces and allowing time for processing.
- Incorporating stimming into safe self-regulation techniques.
- Using language affirming neurodiversity
The following are not included in neurodiversity-affirming therapy:
- Promoting masking, loss of autonomy, or loss of self-determination.
- The elimination of stimming behaviors.
- Aiming to “cure” neurodivergent behaviors by setting specific goals.
What are the Risks of Finding a Non Neurodiversity-Affirming Therapist?
In the past, therapy has not been neurodiversity-affirming. It is assumed by the medical model of mental health that neurodivergence is something that needs to be fixed. Neurodivergent communities have pushed back on this approach as a default treatment approach.
Without a neurodiversity-affirming therapist, they may require their client to change or correct behavior simply because it is atypical, even if it is not harmful.
The autism community has challenged the idea that applied B (ABA) is the correct “treatment” for autism. While autistic people may use stimming behavior to self-regulate or cope with uncomfortable sensory experiences, many have been taught to hide it because it is “annoying” or “distracting.”
Since masking is very stressful for autistic people and can create burnout in the long run, a treatment that requires masking is harmful.
Those who are not neurodiversity-affirming may also have a limited understanding of neurodivergent communities. The therapist who lacks this background may need the client to teach them about neurodiversity, leading to frustrations and extra demand for the client.
Neurodiversity-affirming care is culturally competent care. Neurodiversity-affirming therapists have taken steps to be aware of their own biases and to gather as much knowledge as possible about their clients before working with them.
Finding a neurodiversity-affirming therapist
1. Research and Understand neurodiversity:
Before beginning your search for a neurodiversity-affirming therapist, you must familiarize yourself with the concept of neurodiversity. Educate yourself about different neurodivergent conditions and the challenges individuals may face. This knowledge will help you navigate through the process of finding a therapist who embraces and respects neurodiversity.
2. Seek Recommendations and Referrals:
Start by contacting your support network, including friends, family, or any neurodivergent communities you may be a part of. Ask for recommendations and referrals for therapists with experience working with neurodivergent individuals. These personal recommendations can be invaluable in finding a therapist who understands the unique needs and strengths of neurodivergent individuals.
3. Utilize Online Directories and Resources:
The internet can be a powerful tool for finding a neurodiversity-affirming therapist. Numerous online directories specialize in helping individuals find therapists knowledgeable about and affirming neurodiversity. Websites like LGBTQ and ALL can filter your search within our database based on specific criteria, including expertise in neurodivergent conditions.
4. Interview Potential Therapists:
Once you have compiled a list of potential therapists, take the time to interview them. Prepare a list of questions that will help you gauge their understanding and commitment to neurodiversity. Inquire about their experience working with neurodivergent clients, their approach to therapy, and how they incorporate the principles of neurodiversity into their practice. This interview process will help you determine if the therapist is a good fit for your needs.
5. Consider Specialized Certifications:
Some therapists pursue specialized certifications or training in neurodiversity or specific neurodivergent conditions. Look for therapists who have obtained certifications, such as Certified Autism Specialist (CAS) or ADHD Certified Clinical Services (ADHD-CCS). These certifications indicate that the therapist has received specialized training, making them better equipped to understand and support neurodivergent individuals.
6. Trust Your Gut Feeling:
Finally, trust your intuition when choosing a neurodiversity-affirming therapist. Pay attention to how comfortable you feel during the initial consultation or interview. A strong therapeutic relationship is built on trust and understanding, so choosing a therapist with whom you feel a connection is crucial.
Finding a neurodiversity-affirming therapist can be a transformative step toward better mental health and well-being for neurodivergent individuals. By conducting thorough research, seeking recommendations, utilizing online resources, interviewing potential therapists, considering specialized certifications, and trusting your intuition, you can find a therapist who will provide the support and understanding you deserve.
Remember, your unique neurodivergent identity is a strength to be celebrated, and a therapist who embraces neurodiversity can be an invaluable partner on your journey toward personal growth and self-acceptance. Find a neurodivergent-affirming therapist on LGBTQ and ALL today!