What is neurodiversity and how social networks help people to be diagnosed

social networks

Getty Images

Many people had never heard of the word neurodiversity until a few years ago.

However, the term, used to describe the wide and varied differences found in the human brain, has now entered our general vocabulary.

Social networks like Clubhouse, Twitter and TikTok have played a crucial role in this change. They have provided a much-needed space where people can talk about their neurological differences.

In fact, for many, social networks have given them the proof they needed to realize that they are neurodivergent.

It was particularly valuable during the pandemic, when people with diverse brains were able to find online communities and people with whom they could relate.

What is?

So what is neurodiversity?

It is the recognition that the mind can work in several ways and that these differences are just natural variations in the human brain.

Lawrence Fang, director of the neurodiversity project at Stanford University (United States), defines it as follows: “It’s just a way of describing that our brains are different and, like any human being, you won’t be good at everything” .

Fang thinks it may be more difficult for some people to recognize or accept the differences that occur in the brain.

“Gender diversity is something that you can easily identify, just like racial ethnic diversity is something that you can easily detect because you can see it. But neurodiversity is something that you can’t see most of the time,” she adds.

People who are neurodivergent may have cognitive variations such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, or dyspraxia.

Rach Idowu

Rach Idowu

Rach Idowu has multiple types of ADHD that present in different ways.

There are three main types of ADHD, and their effects can vary from person to person. It is often diagnosed in childhood, but more and more adults are discovering that they experience this type of neurodivergence.

Rach Idowu is a blogger, business owner, and have various types of ADHD.

“The attentive type of ADHD may mean that you display symptoms or traits such as being easily distracted and inattentive to detail, procrastination, poor organization, and poor working memory,” he says.

“The hyperactive-impulsive type of ADHD shows traits of impulsiveness and easily interrupting people,” he adds.

“I have a mixed type of both.”

And he adds: “Also I am very creative and good at solving problems“.

Experiences among neurodivergent people can vary.

Some may be sensitive to environments that cause sensory overload. Others may process information in a different way, while some may not be able to read facial expressions or may have difficulty identifying numbers and words.

The neurodiversity movement

According to Stanford University’s Neurodiversity at Work program, between 15% and 20% of the world’s population is considered neurodiverse.

During the 1990s there was a movement that raised awareness of neurodiversity and embraced the inclusion of all people with possible neurodivergence.

Judy Singer, Australian sociologist, coined the term neurodiversity in his 1998 thesis to promote equality and inclusion of “neurological minorities”.

Today, neurodiversity is seen as a social justice movement and has gained much more mainstream awareness.

Research and education are increasingly important in how certain disabilities and neurological conditions are viewed.

Difficulties with diagnosis

rose thomas

rose thomas

Rosie was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, during the covid pandemic.

A growing movement has helped raise awareness of neurodiversity, but many people still struggle to be diagnosed and supported.

Rosie Thomas is 33 years old and lives in Berlin. She was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020 during the covid-19 pandemic.

She later decided to become a tutor and works to support other people like her.

“For three decades, I literally thought I was like a total Martian. I thought no one else was like me,” she told the BBC.

“I was seeing my psychiatrist, who said that all these things that I was struggling with were symptoms of depression. I knew I wasn’t depressed and now I know these were examples of executive dysfunction.”

Executive dysfunction refers to the range of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral difficulties that often occur after injury to the frontal lobes of the brain.

rosie saw uno video on TikTok of a woman in her 40s with ADHD who described symptoms that resonated with her head.

She Googled “ADHD in Adult Women” and found that she matched most of the character traits described.

He then self-diagnosed as having ADHD.

I read it and cried. It was like reading my diary”He says.

Fang explains that the process of getting a formal diagnosis varies widely around the world and can be very expensive, which is why many people don’t go this route, though he warns there are significant benefits to seeking professional help.

“I think the potential concern could be that sometimes there are websites that diagnose people based on what the parameters say but, in fact, its not that easy like a diagnosis of a website,” he says.

“For example, people on the autism spectrum sometimes have stereotypical behaviors such as repetitive behaviors and this could be confused with the obsessive behaviors in obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

“If you have an incorrect diagnosis, then you’re basically going down the wrong path and that’s why it’s more helpful – if you’re suspicious, or if someone is suspicious – to have a diagnosis with a neurological expert,” he says.

Social media support

Lyric Holmans

Lyric Holmans

Lyric Holmans started a hashtag to encourage his followers to ask questions of people with neurodiverse experiences.

With many struggling to find support through traditional medical channels, many like Rosie are turning to social media for help.

Lyric Holmans is autistic, 35 years old, and from Texas.

A lifestyle and neurodiversity blogger and youtuber, Lyric said he discovered he was autistic through social media communities. at 29 years old.

He started the #AskingAutistics social media hashtag to help people ask questions about the disorder.

Lyric believes the hashtag is important because it allows people with lived experiences of autism to be asked all the things they’ve wanted to know.

“Identity is invisible, especially if you don’t have the language to explain that experience,” he says.

“It’s really hard to quantify those experiences if you don’t have any images of people like you.”

Lyric believes that social media has made it much easier to find other people you identify with.

“You post a question and then followers start interacting with each other, sharing things and helping each other ask for help.”

more difficult for women

Although social media is making it easier for people to get support, women still are less likely to be diagnosed.

Doctors and mental health professionals often overlook its symptoms.

When it comes to taking an autism test, Fang says, “Men tend to have more stereotypical behavior, more repetitive, and you see it less in women. That’s something that makes men much easier to identify.” .

Fang’s research found much more “camouflage” in women on the spectrum compared to men.

Lawrence Fang

Lawrence Fang

Lawrence Fang is conducting pioneering research in the field of neurodiversity at Stanford University, United States.

Camouflage or mask is the use of strategies to disguise autistic characteristics and compensate for the social difficulties associated with it. These strategies can be used consciously or not.

When it comes to ADHD, she says there are more women who are the attentive type and more men who show more of the hyperactive, commanding-impulsive type.

In school settings, for example, Fang notes, “If you pass your (class) work and you’re quiet, the teachers don’t care, they think you’re fine.”

“Hyperactive and impulsive (students) are the ‘troublemakers’ and that’s why they get attention.”


While it may be more difficult to diagnose women, there is also a stigma around admitting and talking about his neurodivergence.

Rach says that after publicly revealing that she is neurodivergent, many people from all over the world have contacted her.

In addition to receiving messages from women, he also had many black men come forward to say they felt neurodivergent.

“Some people are very embarrassed by the stigma associated with ADHD,” he says.

“I was at ComicCon last year. I was talking onstage and then someone came up to me. I think I was in my mid-40s, and they said, ‘I was diagnosed after reading your blog; I am autistic‘”.

Rach was also diagnosed during the pandemic and found social media to be an essential coping tool.

He put out a call to see how many people were also struggling to adapt during the pandemic due to their neurodivergence and the response was incredibly valuable.

“There were a lot of people, men, women of all ages, who found out they had ADHD during the pandemic“, he expresses.

“I was 26 at the time, and it was actually in a documentary I watched on Netflix, there was a grown man talking about his struggles with ADHD and he talked about how many ADHD medications changed his life.”

positive outlook

Simone Billes

Getty Images

Olympic gymnast Simone Biles has spoken about her own experience with neurodivergence and has used her voice to raise awareness of various conditions.

Something that the neurodiversity movement promotes is self-care.

As awareness of mental health has increased in recent years, there is more discussion of health care reaching neurodivergent people as well, and this could be a factor as to why social media was prolific as a communication tool. diagnosis.

Fang agrees that there has been a great development in the way we feel about these conditions.

“I think one thing that’s definitely different from 20 years ago, when you didn’t use social media, is that stigma has decreased of mental illnesses and neurodivergent diseases”.

Everyone the BBC spoke to said how awareness and understanding of their realities has helped improve their quality of life.

Some prominent figures have also spoken out about their own diagnoses.

Businessman Elon Musk said on the American comedy show Saturday night Live who is on the autism spectrum, while US Olympic gymnast Simone Biles has been outspoken about having ADHD.

Model, actress, and singer Cara Delevingne has also spoken extensively about dyspraxia and ADHD.

These high-profile accounts of neurodiversity may make more people think about their experiences, and in turn help more people ask the question: “Am I Neurodivergent?“.

Remember that you can receive notifications from BBC World. Download the new version of our app and activate it so you don’t miss out on our best content.

bbcnews |  world - footer
on this note

Leave a Comment