I found out I’m neurodivergent – how do I feel about this?


Counsellor Andrew Macdonald in a consulting room with pride flags behind him. He helps people who are neurodivergent.
Image: Andrew Macdonald (supplied)

Resident clinical psychotherapist, Andrew Macdonald explores the reactions of people diagnosed as being neurodivergent. 

First up, what are we talking about when it comes to being neurodivergent?  Depending on which side of the science fence you sit on, it can be explained as having an atypical way of thinking and processing information. 

Hang on, I hear you say.  What’s atypical? 

It’s a word used to look at development compared to that of the masses.  In other words, my development may be different to many others. 

Unfortunately, in the not-so-distant past, you would hear words like “normal” and atypical used in the same sentence.

In my clinic, I often meet folks who have recently been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a form of neurodivergence and I regularly experience two reactions.

One being, elation, clarity and peace; the other being panic, fear and dread.  In this article let’s look at both of those reactions.

The “Oh that makes so much sense” reaction

With your diagnosis in hand, suddenly life makes more sense. 

It helps explain why you did certain things or behaved differently to others and perhaps gives you a label to see things through. 

This reaction is fine, though it may come at a risk if held onto too tightly.  What if my newfound diagnosis becomes the reason for almost all that I do? 

There’s a potential risk that I start using this label to describe behaviours that have nothing to do with it.

Further, it might even become a major part of my identity.  “Hi, I’m ASD Andrew”… as I forget about all the other parts of me.

The “Oh no, my life is ruined” reaction

How have you got through it to this point?

And how does having this new diagnosis change things?

Was your life that ruined before? 

Usually with clients, when they start sharing their dread, it comes down to social stigma and discrimination. 

The fear about what others will think of them, the concerns about careers and relationships and the belief that their life is by some means less fabulous than anyone else’s. 

Remember, neurodivergence brings with it a different way of thinking and processing. 

Some might say, a superpower or at least, an operating system that is different to many others. 

Let me present to you, a few examples: Hannah Gadsby, Bill Gates, oh and allegedly, Albert Einstein (hard to confirm that one).

Seeing our diagnosis as something that has decided to turn up, ring the front doorbell and say “hey I’m hanging with you today” is an alternative to letting it take over our lives, define our identities and fuel the diminishing stigma that still exists today.

Sure, there are plenty more reactions, these two just like to turn up in the therapy room so often.

Andrew Macdonald is a psychotherapist and counsellor with Jefferson Place.

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