Neurodivergency and its effect on identity

From autism to ADHD, being neurodivergent defines a person for the rest of their lives due to each disorder affecting development at a young age, though it may not be for the worse.

Neurodiversity is a concept that includes multiple disorders that involve cognitive abilities, such as autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and others. Those without these types of disorders are described as neurotypical.

The name was coined in 1998 by a sociologist named Judy Singer. Singer wanted to highlight that while people with these disorders were different, it did not mean that they were lesser than their neurotypical peers.

Out of the listed disorders, autism has the most potential to drastically change a person’s identity. This is because autism is a developmental disorder that can put children on completely different paths from their peers.

Autism is typically diagnosed early in a child’s life, which is due to parents noticing things about their children that make them concerned. These can range from not making eye contact, playing with toys in unusual ways or showing signs of delayed development.

In a study by Lily Cresswell and Eilidh Cage, a group of students with autism were tested to see what effect the disorder had on their identities. The main categories were the assimilated group, which was made up of autistic people that had fit in with non-autistic groups, and the marginalized group, composed of people that did not fit in with the majority of non-autistic groups.

Their results found that the main difficulty an autistic adolescent will face is figuring out where in society they want to fit in. It does not, however, play a major role in mental health issues directly.

People with autism will have to decide whether they want to fit in or stand out. While neither affects mental health, fitting in with the non-autistic majority seemingly produced more positive effects. One reason for this is that assimilating reduces bullying among peers.

The study also found that autistic people that aligned with the non-autistic culture tended to say more positive things about themselves than those that didn’t align with either group. They also found that less than half of the participants reported themselves to be autistic, which they state is likely due to their perception of autism.

The other identity-forming disorder is ADHD. The disorder affects a person’s ability to concentrate, ability to function and ability to maintain compulsions.

ADHD, like autism, is usually diagnosed early in life, but there are many examples of adults getting a diagnosis up into the middle of their lives. There can be a great difference between a person that was diagnosed at a young age and a person that was diagnosed at an older age.

With how ADHD affects a person’s cognitive and behavioral abilities, it is very common for people with ADHD to have trouble fitting in with society. Some examples of this include failing school, being fired or having trouble maintaining relationships.

Learning how to live with ADHD is the best treatment, since medication tends to stabilize a person’s life instead of enhancing it. Understanding different ways of task management, as well as how ADHD may affect individually, is just as vital as being medicated.

The best way to live life as a neurodivergent person is to understand that while you may be different, you are in no way less deserving of things or less capable than your peers. There will always be a place in society for people that are different, and what may seem to be a problem at one stage may end up becoming a benefit at another.

(1) comment

Matthew Miller

I particularly appreciate and completely agree with the idea that the best way to treat ADHD is to learn how to live with it. Medicine will help individuals with ADHD feel more in control of their train of thought and compulsive actions than usual, but that’s only a good starting point for coping—organization, timers, comfortable learning environments, turning off notifications, minimizing distractions, separating work into smaller chunks to avoid being overwhelmed by the largeness of tasks, getting a better understanding of how much time you spend on things, and so on are incredibly, incredibly worthwhile. And if one medication doesn’t work for you, realize that there are dozens of alternatives designed to work in different ways for different people. Don’t give up!

One of the best resources I’ve found to help me understand the extent to which ADHD impacts a person’s behavior, responses, and mannerisms, along with effective coping strategies, was the YouTube channel “HowToADHD.” I’ve found it immensely useful and informative, and even if you don’t think you have ADHD I think it’s worth checking out.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.