What Is Neurodiversity


Have you ever heard of neurodiversity? Do you know someone with a neurodiverse condition such as Autism Spectrum Disorder or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder? I am pretty sure that, even if you have never heard of the term neurodiversity, you do know something about the mentioned disorders. 

Unfortunately, defining neurodiversity is quite a challenge. A simple definition is that this term refers to the fact that there is a diversity of minds and brains. According to this definition, everyone would be neurodiverse as, as you can deduce, no two individuals have the exact same brain and mind.1 However, the term neurodiverse is typically used to describe those individuals whose brains process information in a way that is not typical of most people, such as an individual on the autism spectrum. These individuals are said to be neurodivergent.

Approximately 15-20% of the population are neurodivergent. It is thus important to understand neurodiversity, as up to 1 in 5 people are thought to be neurodivergent. Raising awareness of neurodiversity is essential, mainly because this could help to ensure that these individuals have equal opportunities to access education and employment. Also,  improving people’s understanding of neurodiversity can improve the mental health of those who are neurodivergent by making them feel accepted and understood, which would reduce the psychological stress associated with feeling excluded. 

Lastly, those with neurodivergent traits can have unique talents and different perspectives on things. In summary, understanding and raising awareness of neurodiversity can contribute to a more empathetic, equitable, and innovative world. In this article, we will explore the different forms of neurodiversity and the importance of understanding and raising awareness of the diversity in neurological and cognitive characteristics that exist in our society.

Neurodivergent conditions

As briefly mentioned, there are different neurodivergent conditions. These include:

This disorder is characterised by repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests and deficits in social communication. Children with ASD are more likely to have problems with language, intellectual disabilities, and epilepsy. Some individuals with ASD may become distressed when their environment changes because their adaptive capabilities are really low. The cause of ASD is still unknown, but the prevalence of ASD is said to be increasing - likely due to an increase in case identification and global awareness.7 Nowadays, ASD is diagnosed in around 1 in 68 children.2 Behavioural interventions are the primary treatment approach for ASD.3 

People with this condition can be restless and impulsive and usually have difficulties focusing. These symptoms are noticed at an early age in most cases. Apart from these, people with ADHD sometimes suffer from sleep problems and anxiety disorders, too. As with ASD, the exact cause of ADHD is unknown. However, we do know that there are differences in the brains of individuals with ADHD compared to others and that this condition runs in families. The risk factors of ADHD seem to include being born prematurely, having a low weight at birth, and smoking, drug, and alcohol abuse during pregnancy. Medicines are usually prescribed as a first-line treatment, but cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be helpful too.

  • Dyslexia 

Individuals with dyslexia have difficulties with written language; it is a challenge for them to learn how to decode words. This learning disorder is estimated to affect 5-17% of children, a huge impact on our society.4 The exact causes of dyslexia are unknown, and indeed, the development of this disorder cannot be explained by either a low IQ or psychiatric, neurological, or sensory difficulties.5 Dyslexia is typically diagnosed using tests to assess reading, spelling, and phonological skills. Imaging techniques, such as electroencephalogram (EEG), are being studied as potential tools for prediction purposes. Phonic-based treatments are considered to be the most effective.4

  • Other neurodivergent conditions 

Even though the previous three are probably the most common conditions, there are more, including:

  • Dyspraxia (also known as developmental coordination disorder): characterised by impaired coordination of movement.
  • Tourette’s syndrome: A neurological condition that causes people to make involuntary movements or sounds called tics.
  • Auditory processing disorder (APD): A disorder that affects how people interpret sound. People who suffer from APD have difficulty understanding auditory information.

Benefits of neurodiversity

Even though, as stated above, being neurodivergent might present challenges in our society (e.g., due to sensory issues and trouble concentrating), neurodivergent individuals have unique strengths which can be helpful (e.g. at work or educational settings) for improving productivity, engagement, innovation, and other aspects. As an example, neurodivergent people can provide innovative and diverse perspectives, which can be helpful, for instance, in problem-solving. A study showed that participants who had been diagnosed with ASD were more creative and innovative than those who were not neurodivergent and demonstrated that diversity within a group (including neurodiversity) increases productivity, creativity and profitability and, in fact, leads to increased sales among other benefits.6

Challenges and misconceptions

Neurodivergences are often seen as something negative or as a deficit. Maybe nothing surprising, taking into account that in our history, those who are different have been, in most cases and at the very least, marginalised and excluded as if they were worse than the rest or “deficient”. Even though the situation has improved and discrimination and exclusion have decreased, to date, there are still some myths and misconceptions related to neurodiversity. Fighting these myths and spreading knowledge might be an effective way of increasing awareness of neurodiversity and is essential to breaking down stigmas and stereotypes. Some myths include: 

  • Neurodiversity only includes autism spectrum disorder: as stated above, neurodiversity includes a wide range of disorders. However, some people still think that the term is used only for autistic individuals.
  • Neurodivergent individuals are all similar: we all are unique, and this does not exclude those with neurodiverse conditions. Everyone sits at different places on the cognitive spectrum, and neurodivergent individuals will all face different barriers and will all have different talents. 
  • Neurodiverse individuals cannot succeed in the workplace: as stated above, even though neurodiverse employees might face challenges at work (e.g. difficulty organising tasks or adapting to change), many might be able to increase their productivity as neurodiverse individuals can be more creative and innovative than neurotypical employees.
  • Neurodiversity is a mental health condition: mental health conditions include depression, bipolar disorders, and anxiety disorders, but do not include neurodiverse conditions, such as ADHD and ASD. Instead, these only refer to neurological differences in the way people think and process information. However, those with a neurodiverse condition are considerably more likely to suffer from mental health conditions and thus need support with any mental health-related concern.
  • Neurodiversity does not affect women: this is a common misconception due to old stereotypes and lower diagnoses. Nevertheless, it is not true, as each year, thousands of women are diagnosed with neurodiverse conditions in the UK alone.

With all this, it is easy to see why increasing awareness is important. If we do not break down stigmas and are unempathetic, it will always be difficult for people with neurodiverse conditions to feel accepted and understood, which is essential for increased well-being and improved mental health.


Neurodiversity is a term that is difficult to define. It is used to refer to the diversity that exists in the ways that we think and process information. The majority of people are said to be neurotypical, and those who process information in a different manner are referred to as neurodiverse. There are different neurodiverse conditions, the most common ones being ASD, ADHD, and dyslexia. The prevalence of these conditions is considerably high, and it is highly important to understand them. Increasing awareness and breaking down stigmas, myths, and stereotypes is essential to make people with neurodiverse conditions feel accepted and understood, and thus, we, as a society, should be aware of this need and try to be empathetic and aware.


  1. Dwyer P. The neurodiversity approach(Es): what are they and what do they mean for researchers? Human Development [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 Dec 7];66(2):73–92. Available from: https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/523723
  2. Mughal S, Faizy RM, Saadabadi A. Autism spectrum disorder. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 [cited 2023 Dec 7]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK525976/
  3. Hirota T, King BH. Autism spectrum disorder: a review. JAMA [Internet]. 2023 Jan 10 [cited 2023 Dec 7];329(2):157. Available from: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2800182
  4. Habib M, Giraud K. Dyslexia. In: Handbook of Clinical Neurology [Internet]. Elsevier; 2013 [cited 2023 Dec 7]. p. 229–35. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/B9780444528919000233
  5. Werth R. What causes dyslexia? Identifying the causes and effective compensatory therapy. Antal A, Sabel B, editors. RNN [Internet]. 2019 Dec 13 [cited 2023 Dec 7];37(6):591–608. Available from: https://www.medra.org/servlet/aliasResolver?alias=iospress&doi=10.3233/RNN-190939
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  7. Zeidan J, Fombonne E, Scorah J, Ibrahim A, Durkin MS, Saxena S, et al. Global prevalence of autism: A systematic review update. Autism Research [Internet]. 2022 May [cited 2023 Dec 7];15(5):778–90. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/aur.2696
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Susana Nuevo Bonastre

Bachelor of Pharmacology – BSc, University of Manchester

Susana is a pharmacologist with strong organizational and communication skills and a special interest in medical writing. For her final year at the University of Manchester, she did a project in science communication, for which she developed an e-learning resource to increase awareness of Major Depressive Disorder. Susana is currently finishing a taught Master’s in neuroscience and psychology of mental health at King’s College. Susana has experience as a mentor and as a medical writer at Klarity Health and, even though she is specially interested in mental health and psychopharmacology, she has also written articles related to nutrition and different diseases.

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