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UNDERSTANDING NEURODIVERSITY-AFFIRMING THERAPY: ADHD, AUTISM, & SENSORY DIFFERENCES

UNDERSTANDING NEURODIVERSITY-AFFIRMING THERAPY: ADHD, AUTISM, & SENSORY DIFFERENCES

Neurodiversity affirming therapy is a relatively new approach to mental health care that seeks to celebrate and embrace neurological differences. It recognizes and validates the different ways that individuals process information, emotions, and experiences. As a result, it allows for more inclusive and personalized therapy for those with ADHD, Autism, OCD, and Sensory differences. In this post, we will explore neurodiversity affirming therapy, how it differs from traditional therapy, how to include traditional approaches, and how it can help individuals that have these neurological differences.

What is Neurodiversity Affirming Therapy?

Neurodiversity affirming therapy is an approach that recognizes and supports the differences in how people think, behave and communicate. It accounts for the individual's unique ways of processing information rather than pathologizing them. The term "neurodiverse" is used to refer to individuals who have non-standard neurological differences, including ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and others. Neurodivergent individuals have a different perspective and response to life experiences due to how their brains are wired.

How Does Neurodiversity Affirming Therapy Differ from Traditional Therapy?

 

Traditional therapy pathologizes neurological differences, treating them as a disorder or a deviation from the norm. In contrast, neurodiversity affirming therapy acknowledges and celebrates the strengths that come with neurodiversity. It also emphasizes the importance of accommodating sensory differences in the therapeutic environment, such as lighting, sounds, or textures. Therapy goals are collaboratively identified, prioritizing the needs and interests of the client.

At KDH Counseling we look at how sensory differences contribute to the mental health complaints of our clients.  Hyper proprioception and interception often occurs with individuals who have panic attacks and anxiety. Hyper visual and auditory differences occur frequently in people with social anxiety. So when working with any client I explore how their sensory differences contribute their complaints.  These heightened sensory differences contribute to heightened awareness in the world, what I call a gift / curse.  

How Can Neurodiversity Affirming Therapy Help Individuals with Sensory Differences, ADHD, and Autism?

 

Individuals with sensory differences, ADHD, and autism can benefit immensely from therapy. They may have struggles with mainstream counseling settings, a lack of understanding or awareness of their unique needs. Recognizing these differences and validating them can provide an awareness and understanding of their body, in a way they never have understood been before,  while engaging in meaningful therapeutic approaches. 

For example, individuals with ADHD may experience difficulty with sustained attention, impulsivity, and restlessness, which can result in academic, occupational, and social difficulties. Traditional therapy may employ strategies such as goal-setting and self-monitoring, which may not always be effective for individuals with ADHD. Neurodiversity affirming therapy can incorporate more personalized interventions specific to the individual's unique challenges, such as restructuring the environment to manage distractions. The therapist may also work with the individual to focus on their strengths and develop a more positive self-concept. Trauma work can be very beneficial to release the shame associated with a life of neurotypical expectations.  

Similarly, individuals with autism may have difficulty communicating their emotions, identifying emotions in others, or social interactions. A traditional approach may focus on training social skills, but neurodiversity affirming therapy focuses on validating the individual's unique perspective. By understanding how the individual perceives the world and their emotions, the therapist can use this understanding to build a more connected and empathic relationship. DBT, ACT, RODBT, ERP and other skills based approaches can be modified and used not to make a client more neurotypical but to assist them in their own goals.  

Many individuals who begin therapy often come in with goals that are based on societal expectations of being neurotypical. However, addressing these expectations requires patience and extensive psycho education about their unique neurological makeup.

This type of therapy does not replace traditional methods of Therapy, but it should be integrated into every aspect of our practice.

Just as we wouldn't expect a fish to walk, it is unreasonable to expect someone with sensory differences to conform to our neurotypical lifestyles. The key lies in nurturing a dynamic and inquisitive conversation while adjusting our methods to cater to the unique requirements of neurodivergent individuals. The solution lies in embracing an ongoing journey of learning and adaptation, where creativity thrives and is tailored to each person's distinct needs, challenges, and variations.

Neurodiversity affirming therapy is a person-centered and inclusive approach to mental health care that focuses on valuing the unique perspectives of neurodivergent individuals. It recognizes the strengths that come with neurodiversity and allows for more personalized and effective interventions that meet the needs of the individual. By incorporating sensory accommodations and validating the individual's unique perspective, therapy can become more accessible and empowering for individuals with sensory differences, ADHD, and autism.

If you want to learn more on Neurodiverstiy affirming therapy practices, check out our CE live webinar.  
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