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Neurodivergent vs Neurotypical: What’s The Difference?

Published on 05/06/2024
neurodivergent vs neurotypical whats the difference

We know that no two people are exactly alike, and that includes our brains. However, neurologists, educators, and behavioral specialists may use distinguishing terms to describe their patients or clients as neurodivergent OR neurotypical.

What Evaluations Determine Neurodivergent vs Neurotypical?

When clinicians assess a child, teen, or adult, they use several criteria to evaluate whether they’re neurodivergent vs neurotypical. These terms are considered non-medical because no medical criteria or measurable calculations are typically used to diagnose a client as neurodivergent.

Instead, professionals perform evaluations while listening carefully to the parents, caregivers, teachers, and (if possible) the individual’s experiences to learn more about the patient’s/client’s:

  • Age-appropriate communication.
  • Intellectual ability. 
  • Emotional function.
  • Ability to learn.
  • Social skills.
  • Sensory experience.
  • Motor skills.
  • And more.

Neurotypical children and adults

Children or adults considered neurotypical absorb and reflect the world around them in ways that are considered more or less “normal.” They may be ultra-sensitive to emotions or environmental stimuli, but it doesn’t seriously or negatively compromise daily function. 

A neurotypical person may also exhibit above- or below-average intelligence, may not be the greatest athlete, or could be highly introverted or extroverted social butterflies - yet their behaviors do not notably inhibit their school, social, or familial interactions.

Those who are neurotypical:

  • Communicate using words, hand gestures, and facial expressions (this includes someone who is deaf and uses fluent sign language).
  • Conversations and storytelling happen in a way that is more or less balanced, taking turns listening and speaking.
  • Have an intellectual capacity and ability to learn that falls within the normal spectrum for their age group.
  • Have a general ability to process and express their emotional experience within a reasonable range of reactivity.
  • Are adept at reading others’ emotions or moods by paying attention to body language and tones, despite what a person’s words might say.
  • Are not reactively triggered by things they’re sensitive to in the environment - such as flickering lights, loud or unanticipated noises, or crowds.
  • Develop physically, including motor coordination, in alignment with a pedicatiraican’s normal childhood/adolescent development indicators.

If you have a child who is neurotypical, you won’t typically notice any of the red flags that go up for parents of neurodivergent children.

Signs a child may be neurodivergent

Sometimes, a pediatrician or daycare professional notices the signs of neurodivergence in a child - especially with first-time parents. Most children defined as neurodivergent have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including children with “high-functioning autism.” 

However, the term is also being used to describe children with dyslexia, dyscalculia (trouble grasping numbers or basic math), sensory processing disorder (SPD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and more.

Signs that a child is neurodivergent include:

  • Being nonverbal long after most children begin to speak (going beyond even the “normal” range of delayed speaking.
  • Having extreme reactions (meltdowns, episodes of inconsolable hitting/kicking/flailing with themselves or caregivers, etc.).
  • Slow motor coordination/development which can also cause delayed potty training.
  • Inability to read others’ emotions or to understand how their words or physical affronts affect others.
  • Complete lack of interest in socializing with others and/or an inability to understand the give/take of conversations, game playing, what to say and what not to say in public, etc.
  • Struggle or incapable of using patience and focus to complete normal tasks at home or at school.
  • Extreme struggles with reading and/or math.
  • Signs of sensory processing disorder (clumsy in movement, unaware of their body in space, extreme reactions to tight/itchy/or uncomfortable fabric/textures, obsession with certain textile sensations, oral fixations, extreme reactions to certain foods, spinning/repetitive motions, etc.)

If you notice any of the signs above or others that resonate with the concept of neurodivergence, contact your pediatrician. Early intervention and customized household/school behavioral plans work wonders to return a sense of calm, normalcy, and support to parents and caregivers of a neurodivergent child.

Neurodivergence in girls

It’s also worth noting that girls who are neurodivergent are less likely to be assessed as such when compared with their male counterparts, even when they display obvious signs of ASD. One reason for this is the female brain’s social wiring, which makes them more likely to “self-learn” social cues that make them more included in the group. 

Unfortunately, this makes them less likely to receive early interventions and support. So, if your daughter displays some signs of ASD or neurodivergence, but her social skills seem somewhat “normal,” we still recommend seeking assessment through her school or local behavioral assessment professionals.

Strengths Associated With Neurodivergence

There is nothing inherently “wrong” with being neurodivergent, but it often makes life more challenging or even dysfunctional, depending on a person’s behaviors.

However, as mentioned above, access to forward-thinking therapies, strategies, and behavioral plans provides peace of mind and a healthy semblance of a routine for families, classrooms, and social relationships.

Many of the “red flags” or signs of neurodivergence and ASD focus on the negative. However, many children who fall under the neurodivergent umbrella have many strengths, and celebrating these easies the way forward. Some of the most common include:

  • Straightforward honesty.
  • Ability to focus intensely on a specific topic.
  • Strong observation skills.
  • Good with puzzles and problem-solving.
  • Above-average skills in certain areas, usually math, music, or art.
  • Exceptional memory skills with facts and figures.
  • Contentedness and skill at performing repetitive tasks or functions.
  • Work well solo once they’re given clear direction.
  • Ability to work effectively in isolation

As behavioral specialists, we are excited to learn more about our client’s strengths and then leverage those to create successful ways for them to integrate smoothly and with less upset in family, academic, and group dynamics.

Best Therapies For Neurodivergent Children

The therapeutic progress made in the world of neurodivergence has transformed the landscape for children and individuals with ASD. Some of the most successful involve behavioral therapy models to help individuals integrate into the neurotypical world. 

This includes things like:

  • Working on communication skills using a wide range of tools that encourage communication from both verbal and non-verbal clients.
  • Teaching children how to read expressions and gestures (and to use them!) so they can interact more successfully with peers.
  • Role-playing and games help neurodivergent children understand how to take turns, congratulate the winner when the client loses, respond politely when they don’t want something or are triggered by something, use their personal toolkit when overstimulated, and so on.
  • Emotional and social support for their primary caregivers, siblings, and extended family.

The ART Team Specializes In Behavioral Support For Neurodivergent Clients & Families

Is your child displaying signs of neurodivergence, or do they already have an ASD diagnosis? Get in touch with the Autism Response Team

Our experienced behavioral therapists dedicate their lives to supporting clients just like you. We are a wealth of information, education, actionable ideas for custom behavioral plans, and additional resources for you and your family.

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