Does Having Anxiety Mean You Are Neurodivergent?

by | Sep 14, 2023

Whether we like it or not, anxiety is apart of our lives. It plays an important role in motivating our mental state into accomplishing tasks or items that would otherwise be difficult for us. It can also push us to explore new opportunities. A new term has erupted among parents, students, and psychologists alike. The description of being neurodivergent. I wanted to take the time to discuss what being neurodivergent means and if having anxiety means you are neurodivergent.

What Does it Mean to Be Neurodivergent?

Before we begin discussing anxiety and its relationship to being neurodivergent, we must first discuss what being neurodivergent means. myclevelandclinic.org says:

The term “neurodivergent” describes people whose brain differences affect how their brain works. That means they have different strengths and challenges from people whose brains don’t have those differences. The possible differences include medical disorders, learning disabilities and other conditions. The possible strengths include better memory, being able to mental picture three-dimensional (3D) objects easily, the ability to solve complex mathematical calculations in their head, and many more.

Each person’s brain is unique and works differently. Each person has different strengths and weaknesses and neurodiversity is a term to promote that. The point of the term is to promote acceptance through the idea of being different as opposed to being disabled. Accommodations can be made for those who are neurodivergent. Another point to be made about neurodivergence is that a medical diagnosis is not required. That does not mean individuals who are neurodivergent can’t be diagnosed either. The following are common conditions that neurodivergent individuals may have:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Dyscalculia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Dyslexia
  • Anxiety Disorder

This is by no means an exhaustive list either. Many neurodivergent individuals may have multiple or none of these diagnosed conditions. In addition you may have noticed anxiety disorders have a spot on this list. Diagnosable anxiety disorders are a common trait among neurodivergent individuals. It can come in the form of social, learning, or performance anxiety just to name a few.

Anxiety and Being Neurodivergent

Anxiety and neurodivergence have a complex relationship. Both neurotypical and neurodivergent individuals can have anxiety, but the intensity of said anxiety matters. Severe anxiety disorder can be argued as being under the umbrella of neurodivergence. However, anxiety can still appear in neurotypical individuals. If the anxiety is debilitating to a learning experience for an individual, this would mean the individual is neurodivergent.

Many anxiety-neurodivergent cases involve school or classroom refusal by students. This is actively harming their learning time and power. Accommodations are in place for students who experience this level of anxiety. These accommodations take the form of online schooling, more time on tests, less projects, etc. Each school is different with how they present and offer these accommodations so it’s important to look into your institutions policies.

In general, most forms of social anxiety are not considered neurodivergent. It is important to note that the term neurodivergent is still new and the definition is always changing. At the time of writing this article, anxiety has a complicated relationship with being neurodivergent. This complication mainly comes from how common and broad the term of anxiety is. Most conditions that are traditionally considered neurodivergent also include symptoms of anxiety. While differing in severity, it is still a big factor in determining the neurodivergence of an individual.

Anxiety Vs. Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety is apart of all of our lives. It is a left over evolutionary trait from our great ancestors that include responses like fight or flight. Once necessary for our survival, anxiety now has less importance in today’s society but it still a very active player. Individuals who have higher levels of anxiety may have a diagnosis relating to anxiety. These diagnoses include:

  • General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Phobias

This is a brief list of some of the most common types of anxiety disorders. In general, a diagnosis in anxiety means that the anxiety is crippling and affecting your every day life. These can affect your school work, social interactions, and more. The most common feeling is the loss of control in a given situation. This is where I’d consider an individual with anxiety to be neurodivergent. Most likely they have a different approach to learning or situations from most people.

To conclude, the term neurodivergent is complicated. With it being a relatively new term in the field of psychology, there’s not a whole lot we know with its relationship to anxiety. If you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder or think you could be diagnosed with one, I urge you to take a neurodivergent test. This will give you a better idea of if you are neurodivergent and need accommodations.

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