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NEURODIVERGENT AFFIRMING THERAPY

Bay Area Mental Health continuously strives to provide a framework for safe, supportive, and caring relationships with neurodivergent people. Neurodiversity is... DIVERSE! There is no one way to described neurodivergent people and that is why it is so cool. We celebrate that diversity in ourselves and our clients.

Image of a brain floating on a pale purple background surrounded bu the following words: ADHD, AuDHD, Autism, Synesthesia, Hyperfocus, Sensory Processing Disorder, Distractibility, Highly Sensitive People, Dyslexia, Rejection Sensitivity

Neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism, ADHD, high sensitivity and dyslexia are the result of normal, natural variations in the human brain. We dislike the term "disorder" when discussing these variations because there are gifts inherent to enhanced neural connectivity that exists in neurodivergent (ND) brains. In other words, neurodiversity suggests that having a different way of thinking or processing information is a natural part of being human, just like having a different eye color or height.

There is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving. Our mission is to celebrate neurodivergence and help neurodivergent people cultivate their unique talents, pursue their passions, and be their biggest, baddest selves.

Neurodivergent (ND) people often struggle because we live in a Neurotypical (NT) world that expects us to comply and be the same. But we aren't built that way! The lens of neurodiversity celebrates the differences and honors the unique gifts that ND people have to offer the world. 

Neurodivergent people do not need to be "cured" or "fixed", though they may have support needs.

Learning to live authentically: Self Acceptance and Unmasking

Self-acceptance is a critical aspect of therapy for neurodivergent people. ND people are trained by society to mask their true identify and desires, which is deeply harmful and traumatizing. Therapy for ND people includes supporting the process of unmasking and helping people understand and embrace their true selves, their unique strengths and challenges.

 

The Relationship Between Trauma and Neurodivergence

Trauma and neurodivergence are co-occurring, with individuals who experience neurodivergence (such as autism, ADHD, or learning disabilities) being at increased risk for experiencing traumatic events as a result of trying to fit in to a neurotypical (NT) world. Additionally, the unique experiences and challenges associated with neurodivergence can make it more difficult for individuals to process and recover from trauma. Many ND people present with symptoms of complex trauma and find this confusing because they cannot isolate a life threatening event. However, when the subtext of the world is that something is wrong with you, you are experiencing trauma and invalidation on a daily basis.

Masking is the attempt made by a ND person to hide their differences and that is what drives the trauma symptoms. Many ND people are also highly sensitive so they take events to heart deeply and are often more emotionally wounded than people who are less sensitive.

 

Autistic Meltdowns versus Autistic Burnout

Autistic Meltdowns and Autistic Burnout are two distinct, yet related, experiences that individuals on the autism spectrum may face.

 

An Autistic Meltdown is a sudden, intense, and overwhelming emotional outburst that is triggered by sensory overload, stress, frustration, or other environmental factors. Autistic Meltdowns are characterized by a loss of emotional control, verbal or physical outbursts, and a sense of being overwhelmed by emotions and sensations.

 

Autistic Burnout, on the other hand, refers to a state of exhaustion and emotional depletion experienced by individuals on the autism spectrum. It is characterized by a decline in functioning, increased anxiety, depression, and other emotional symptoms, as well as increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli. Autistic Burnout can be caused by a combination of factors, including social and communication difficulties, sensory overload, and a lack of support and understanding from others.

 

While Autistic Meltdowns and Autistic Burnout are different experiences, they both can have a significant impact on an individual's quality of life. It is important for individuals who are experiencing symptoms of Autistic Meltdowns or Autistic Burnout to receive appropriate support and care. This may include accommodations for sensory sensitivities, therapy to address social and communication difficulties, and support for managing stress and anxiety.

Autistic Burnout vs Treatment Resistant Depression (TRD)

Autistic Burnout and Treatment Resistant Depression are two different mental health conditions that can look identical. The problem is that if someone with autistic burnout is treated as though they are depressed, it is likely to make them feel worse. 

Read Article on Autistic Burnout VS. TRD

Autistic Burnout refers to a state of exhaustion and emotional depletion and is characterized by a decline in daily functioning (ADLs or activities of daily living) and an increased hypersensitivity to external stimuli, as well as increased anxiety, depression, and other emotional symptoms. Autistic Burnout can be caused by a variety of factors, including social and communication difficulties, sensory overload, and a lack of support and understanding from others. A masked autistic person may appear ot be "highly functional" but the masking is quietly taking a toll and the masked person can quite literally collapse seemingly overnight, though in reality it has been building for years.

 

Treatment Resistant Depression, on the other hand, refers to a type of depression that does not respond to standard treatments, such as medication or therapy. This can be due to a variety of factors, including the presence of co-occurring mental health conditions, medication side effects, or a lack of adherence to treatment. Individuals with Treatment Resistant Depression may experience persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities, and difficulty functioning in daily life.

 

While both conditions can be difficult to manage, it is important to receive a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment to address each individual's specific needs and experiences. Treatment for Autistic Burnout may include support and accommodations for sensory sensitivities, as well as therapy to address social and communication difficulties. 

Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy and Autistic Burnout

Increasingly we are noticing that people seeking Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP) for treating a diagnosis of TRD are not actually depressed but rather they are experiencing autistic burnout. KAP is highly recognized for treating TRD and we are also learning that is very helpful the the unmasking and self-acceptance process of recovering from autistic burnout as well.

 

 

Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria

Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD) refers to an excessive emotional vulnerability to perceived rejection or criticism that is experienced by neurodivergent people. Individuals with RSD have an intense fear of being rejected or criticized by others, which can lead to a heightened sensitivity to perceived slights, rejection, or criticism. This sensitivity can lead to significant distress and can interfere with an individual's daily life, relationships, and overall functioning and withdrawal into social isolation and self recrimination.

Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA)

Pathological Demand Avoidance is experienced by some neurodivergent people. This trait can be highly problematic in the corporate world and in relationships. It is especially difficult for people who have both a tendency to procrastinate and also have PDA - the more you push them to do a task the more they resist and refuse and yet their internal pressure is increasing because they know that they are behind and yet too paralyzed to take action.

Common Misdiagnoses of Neurodivergence
 

Neurodivergence is just beginning to be understood in its fullness. Someone once said "when you have met one autistic person, you have met one autistic person", meaning that there is no one description of autism and neurodivergence. Rain Man was an excellent movie, but a poor descriptor of what neurodivergence actually looks like.

 

ND people often exhibit emotion dysregulation, have trouble in relationships, have some executive dysfunction and experience trauma, and because the world of psychology and psychotherapy has not yet fully caught up with embracing neurodivergence, misdiagnoses are common. A few that we see often are:

 

  • Treatment Resistant Depression

  • PTSD

  • Borderline Personality Disporder

  • Bipolar Disorder

If you think you may be Neurodiverse you can explore further on this page with many psychometric tests for Autism and ADHD.

Coming in April 2023:

Unmasked: An Online Group for Neurodivergent Adults

 

Tues Evenings from 5-6:30 PM with Linnea Butler, LMFT

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