Neurodiversity: your common questions answered

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Bernadette Lockley and Maisie Stocks are Co-Founders, Co-Leads and Co-Champions of the Neurodiversity Community at Bupa
18 March 2024
Next review due March 2027

Neurodiversity is a term used to describe differences in the way people process information and view the world. These differences are natural - they just mean that our brains work in other ways. Read on to find out more about neurodiversity and why it’s important to recognise these differences.

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What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity describes the differences in how our brains work. No two people are the same - there’s lots of variation in how we think and behave. Neurodiversity recognises and celebrates this variation and challenges the view that these differences are signs of a disorder.

What does it mean to be neurodivergent?

At least one in five people in the UK are thought to be neurodivergent. This means they may think, behave, and process information differently to ‘neurotypical’ people.

Neurotypical people are people who aren’t neurodivergent. They make up most of the population.

Everybody is unique, and neurodiversity is complex. But thinking about these differences may help neurotypical people understand neurodiversity better.

For example, offices are often designed with a neurotypical mindset. They may be challenging for neurodivergent people to work in because they can be noisy or busy.

Some people try to hide (‘mask’) their neurodiversity. This added pressure to ‘fit in’ can cause stress, anxiety, and depression. But neurodivergent people also have different thinking styles and perspectives, which can lead to new ideas and ways of working.

For example, someone with dyslexia might find it tricky to read quickly, but may flourish in a creative environment.

What are neurodivergent conditions?

There are lots of different types of neurodiversity. Some examples include:

Someone who is neurodivergent might have traits of more than one condition. For example, someone with autism could also have ADHD or dyslexia.

How do I know if I’m neurodivergent?

Types of neurodivergence can differ between people. One person with autism isn’t the same as another person with autism.

Think about how you act and behave. Are there any patterns in how you learn or interact with others? In general, neurodivergent people may:

  • have difficulties keeping time
  • find it difficult to be organised
  • struggle with memory and concentration
  • have poor listening skills
  • have low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression
  • be creative, original, and determined

Certain traits and behaviours are associated with specific types of neurodiversity. For example, someone with dyslexia may:

  • mix similar words up
  • read slowly or need to re-read text to understand it
  • find it hard to listen and focus
  • find it difficult to organise themselves or manage their time

Whereas someone with autism might:

  • find social interactions difficult – including recognising how other people feel
  • like to follow a routine
  • be sensitive to light, sound, taste, or touch
  • have focused interests

But not everyone with autism or dyslexia will have all of these traits. And someone might have traits of both.

If traits like these are interfering with your day-to-day life, you might find it helpful to speak to a GP or a mental health professional. Neurodiversity is often diagnosed in children because this is when difficulties can first become obvious. But these challenges can carry on into adulthood.

How can I support someone who is neurodivergent?

Because no two people are the same, the support a neurodivergent person might need will also differ. But here are some things you could consider.

  • Be flexible. If your neurodivergent friend would rather text than speak on the phone, communicate with them in the way they prefer.
  • Be understanding. Not everyone works or responds in a neurotypical way. For example, someone who is autistic might find it hard to make eye contact when they speak with you. And someone with a tic disorder may twitch or make sounds that they can’t control.
  • Be clear and direct with your expectations. Neurodivergent people might not understand your meaning if it’s not clear.
  • Consider your environment. Neurodivergent people might have sensory differences. These differences mean that certain environments can cause sensory overload. Think about how you can reduce that overload. For example, if your child is autistic and sensitive to sound, active noise cancelling headphones or ear defenders might help block out loud noises.
  • Be aware of stereotypes. There are lots of stereotypes about neurodivergence. For example, if someone is ‘high functioning’, that just means their neurodivergence doesn’t affect others. But this is misleading - they might still find certain environments difficult.
  • Listen and respect others. Neurodivergence is something we have no control over. But if someone in your life is neurodivergent, they might feel pressure to fit in. Or, they might feel misunderstood. Simply listening to them helps – they’ll usually know what they need, and might explain what they find challenging. And you’ll get to know them better in the process.

These are just some examples of things you can do to support someone who is neurodivergent. And knowing how neurodiversity can affect someone’s life is a great first step to helping support them.

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Bernadette Lockley (She/her) and Maisie Stocks (They/she)
Bernadette Lockley and Maisie Stocks are Co-Founders, Co-Leads and Co-Champions of the Neurodiversity Community at Bupa



Sheila Pinion, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

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