Neurodiversity and ACT

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a concept that recognises and celebrates the natural variations in human neurology and cognitive functioning. It emphasises the idea that neurological differences, such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other conditions, are simply variations of the human brain rather than deficits or disorders that need to be cured or normalised. The term was coined by Australian sociologist Judy Singer in the late 1990s and has since gained prominence in the fields of psychology, education, and advocacy.

At its core, neurodiversity challenges the traditional medical model of viewing neurological differences as inherently pathological or problematic. Instead, it promotes the acceptance of diverse neurological profiles and advocates for the inclusion and equal rights of neurodiverse individuals in society. It recognises that neurodivergent people possess unique strengths, talents, and perspectives that contribute to the richness of human experiences.

Neurodiversity also highlights the importance of accommodating and supporting the needs of individuals with different neurological profiles. This can involve providing reasonable adjustments in educational and work settings, creating inclusive environments that value diverse communication styles, and recognising and respecting different sensory sensitivities. By embracing neurodiversity, society can foster greater understanding, empathy, and acceptance, leading to improved well-being and quality of life for neurodiverse individuals. Society can also benefit from the different unique strengths that neurodiverse people bring to the table.

In recent years, the neurodiversity paradigm has gained traction, leading to increased awareness and advocacy efforts. It has spurred a shift in the discourse surrounding neurological differences, promoting a more inclusive and accepting society that values the diversity of human minds.

How can ACT therapy support neurodivergent people?

ACT is a form of therapy that focuses on fostering psychological flexibility and acceptance of one’s internal experiences, while also taking committed action toward values-aligned goals.

There are a number of ways in which ACT therapy can support neurodivergent people:

  • Embracing neurodiversity: ACT promotes the acceptance of one’s unique neurology and cognitive functioning. It helps individuals recognise and embrace their neurological differences as valid aspects of their identity, reducing self-judgment and promoting self-compassion.
  • Mindfulness and acceptance: Neurodivergent individuals may experience intense sensory sensitivities or have difficulties with emotional regulation. The mindfulness techniques incorporated into ACT therapy helps individuals observe and accept their thoughts, emotions, and sensory experiences without judgment or avoidance.
  • Values clarification: Identifying core values and aligning actions with those values can be empowering for neurodivergent individuals as it allows them to focus on what truly matters to them and make choices that are in line with their personal aspirations and goals. This may be especially important for people who have experienced high levels of stigmatisation and trauma, and have not had the opportunity to fully explore their personal values.
  • Building psychological flexibility: ACT aims to enhance psychological flexibility, which involves being present in the moment, accepting difficult thoughts and emotions, and choosing actions that align with one’s values. This can support neurodivergent individuals in navigating challenges, adapting to changing circumstances, and developing resilience.
  • Coping with stigma and social challenges: Neurodivergent individuals often face stigma, misunderstanding, and social difficulties. ACT can provide strategies for managing the impact of these challenges, fostering self-acceptance, and developing effective communication and social skills.
  • Problem-solving and goal-setting: ACT helps individuals clarify their goals and develop strategies to overcome obstacles that may arise. This can be particularly useful for neurodivergent individuals who may encounter specific challenges related to their neurology, such as executive function difficulties or sensory sensitivities.

It’s important to note that ACT therapy should be tailored to the unique needs and experiences of each individual.

For neurodivergent individuals:

Neurodivergent individuals may benefit from working with therapists who have expertise in both ACT and neurodiversity, as they can provide a more nuanced understanding and address specific challenges associated with neurodivergence.

For professionals:

Our live training and on-demand courses are available to extend your learning around neurodivergence and ACT therapy. Also take a look at our blog for the latest insights into ACT.

Upcoming live training

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6 hours (6APA CEs / BACB CEUs)
Working with neurodivergent adults

Jennifer Kemp

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Two 3 hour sessions (6 CE credits)
Mastering ACT

Robyn Walser

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12 hours (12 APA CEs / BACB CEUs)
Introducing acceptance and commitment therapy

Dr. M. Joann Wright

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