What is Neurodivergence?
Neurodivergence refers to any brain structure, or neurotype, that depart from what is considered to be the norm, or rather "neurotypical." Some forms of neurodivergence make navigating day to day life that is built for neurotypicality extremely difficult and some forms simply make it harder. Often folks with divergencies will mask, or attempt to perform as if they are neurotypical, in order to avoid stigma or manage expectations. This can come at a cost, however. Autistic individuals may experience more frequent overwhelm that can lead to burnout. Individuals with ADHD can find they have more difficulties with executive functioning over time. When this is combined with PTSD and/dissociation, known as being multiply neurodivergent, complications exacerbate further.
This is why I find it important to acknowledge the divergencies that are present in an individual particularly when working on trauma and dissociation issues with my clients. Simply working on the trauma history alone will miss how other differences combine with day to day complications navigating expectations from a neurotypical environment which increase stress and make healing from past traumatic experiences slower. In addition, individuals who are autistic or ADHD have higher rates of being exposed to traumatic experiences overall due to a variety of factors in the environment. This is important to include in the therapy dialogue.
In addition, many neurotypical clinicians have difficulty with communication with their neurodivergent clients and are not aware that the difficulty in communication and empathy may be stemming from their lack of attunement to neurodivergent styles. They may perceive issues stemming from ADHD or autism as being entirely derived from a past traumatic experience or vice versa. As as result of these assumptions and styles, they may unwittingly place stigma on their autistic, ADHD and other neurodivergent clients. This ableist perspective and relational style places further shame on their neurodivergent clients which creates an environment that leads to further potential traumatic experiences within the therapeutic frame.
I work from a neurodiversity affirmative framework. I do not seek to push or change my clients to appear more neurotypical. Instead, I help them to look at the ways that they have been shamed or ways that they struggle in a neurotypical environment and we look at how they can find ways to not only acknowledge and respect their needs and differences while simultaneously working on traumatic impacts. I utilize creativity, quirkiness and an overall collaborative approach to assist my clients to not only be more themselves but also to celebrate it.
© 2022 C Keech, LMFT