Are ADHD People Neurodivergent? Experts Say No.

Are ADHD people neurodivergent? Uncover the truth behind this pressing question and discover how it can change the way we think about ADHD and neurological differences.

I thought ADHD Classification Was Settled? … Not So Fast.

Are ADHD people neurodivergent or not? While it is widely recognized as a medical condition, the question of whether or not ADHD should be considered a form of neurodivergence has been the subject of ongoing debate.

Neurodivergence refers to variations in how the brain functions, processes information, and experiences the world. It encompasses various identifiable conditions, such as autism and dyslexia.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by symptoms such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

How my head works

The neurodiversity movement advocates for the acceptance and inclusion of individuals with neurodivergent conditions into society and the workplace. This has brought attention to the idea that ADHD may be considered a form of neurodivergence.

In addition, many individuals with ADHD also describe their experiences as being different from the neurotypical population.

On the other hand, there are criticisms of the medicalization and potential overdiagnosis and the overprescribing of drugs associated with ADHD.

There are also concerns about stigmatizing individuals with ADHD. If ADHD is classified as a neurodivergent condition, the label of neurodivergent can carry negative reactions, which the neurodiversity movement campaigns against.

There is the question, “how would people who are neurodivergent know how their experiences are different than neurotypical individuals if they do not experience them?” We will tackle that question in a bit.

This article aims to explore the argument for and against ADHD as a neurodivergent condition and to better understand the disorder and neurodivergence in general.

We will look at the definition and symptoms of ADHD, review scientific research and personal accounts, and ultimately come to a conclusion about whether or not ADHD should be considered a neurodivergent condition.

ADHD vs Neurodivergent

Some Facts About ADHD

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a diagnosis of ADHD requires the presence of six or more symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity for at least six months.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the global prevalence of ADHD is estimated to be around 5.29%. However, the actual prevalence of the condition may vary depending on the population studied and the criteria used to diagnose it.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 6% – 16% of children aged 3-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD at some point in their lives.

Also, ADHD appears to be higher among males than females. The diagnosis rates of ADHD are around 13.2% of males and 5.6% of females.

The prevalence of ADHD also varies by age, with the highest diagnosis rates among children and adolescents. However, it is important to note that ADHD is not a condition that can be outgrown. It’s lifelong. Estimates suggest that around 2.8% of adults have the condition.

The difference in percentages by age raises a question. Why is there a significant difference between the 11% diagnosis in children and 4% in adults? We will address this a little later in this article.

This highlights the need for continued research and understanding of ADHD across the lifespan, as well as appropriate diagnosis and treatment for individuals of all ages.

Neurodivergent

So What Is Neurodivergence? 

Neurodivergence refers to variations in how the brain functions, processes information, and experiences the world.

The concept of neurodivergence is closely related to the idea of diversity in general. Just as there is diversity in physical characteristics, cultural backgrounds, and abilities, there is also diversity in how the brain functions.

Some additional examples of neurodivergent conditions, in addition to autism and dyslexia, are dyscalculia, dyspraxia, and Tourette syndrome. These conditions are all characterized by variations in brain function, and they can affect individuals differently.

The prevalence of neurodivergent conditions varies widely depending on the condition, and the population studied. For example, the NIH estimates that around 1 in 43 children in the United States have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. In addition, approximately 15-20% of the population has dyslexia.

Arguments: ADHD People Are Neurodivergent 

Scientific research has provided strong evidence that ADHD is a neurological disorder caused by abnormalities in brain development and function.

It has been shown that individuals with ADHD have a different brain structure and function compared to neurotypical individuals, particularly in areas of the brain involved in attention and impulse control.

Many individuals with ADHD report feeling like they are “wired differently” and that their brains function uniquely. This is consistent with the idea that ADHD is a form of neurodivergence.

Some argue that viewing ADHD as a neurodivergent condition can help to reduce the stigmatization associated with the disorder. ADHD would be understood as a natural variation of the human brain rather than being seen as a behavioral problem or a lack of willpower. This is, of course, contrary to the idea that people with ADHD would face more stigma with the neurodivergent label.

The theory is that considering ADHD as a neurodivergent issue will lead to more empathy, acceptance of individuals with ADHD, and a greater understanding of their unique needs, strengths, and weaknesses.

Additionally, considering ADHD as a neurodivergent condition can contribute to a more accurate assessment and effective treatment, as it would be viewed as a brain-based disorder requiring a different approach to traditional behavioral treatments.

adhd medication

The Case Against ADHD People Being Neurodivergent

Some critics argue that the medicalization of ADHD is problematic and that the condition is often over-diagnosed and seriously overprescribed for.

The shortages of ADHD medications in late 2022 and 2023 add some credibility to this claim, although the full details of the reasons for the shortage are still unclear.

They argue that many symptoms associated with ADHD, such as difficulty paying attention and impulsivity, are common behaviors that occur in all individuals to some degree.

It’s said that the condition is often used as a label to explain away normal childhood behaviors rather than a real neurological disorder.

There is a legitimate concern that our current fast-paced culture is artificially creating the symptoms of ADHD.

The over-exposure to video games, social media, short videos, and flashy quick bursts of information have contributed to this idea.

The theory is that in our society, particularly young people, many exhibit signs of ADHD without having neurodivergent brain activity.

There is also an argument that the vast majority of children being initially diagnosed with ADHD receive this diagnosis from their teachers, even though it is, in fact, a complex condition that needs to be medically diagnosed.

Another argument against ADHD as a neurodivergent condition is that it can further stigmatize individuals with it. If ADHD is classified as a neurodivergent condition, it may be viewed as something fundamentally different from the norm, which can perpetuate negative stereotypes and discrimination.

Some experts also argue that the concept of neurodiversity should only be applied to autism and other conditions that are more clearly neurological in nature and not to ADHD.

They argue that ADHD does not fit well within the idea of neurodivergence as it is a disorder that is not specific to the brain but also has behavioral, social, and environmental aspects that need to be considered.

Additionally, some argue that classifying ADHD as a neurodivergent condition may lead to a reduction in funding for research and services specifically targeted toward individuals with ADHD. This could limit access to effective treatment and support for individuals with the condition.

Finally, it’s important to note that the concept of neurodivergence is relatively new and has yet to be fully understood by the scientific community. Therefore, more research is needed to define and understand it correctly. Consequently, it may be premature to classify ADHD as a neurodivergent condition, and more research is required to understand the relationship between ADHD and neurodivergence fully.

Breaking Down The Arguments

Assigning Stigma Paradox – Hint: It’s Not A Morality Question.

ADHD society

I find it peculiar that the argument is made on both sides that assigning ADHD as a Neurological disorder has arguments for and against it being harmful to people diagnosed with it.

While I don’t doubt there are instances of negative interpretation that will manifest in either model, this line of thinking seems entirely subjective.

More to the point, the reaction to classification is entirely irrelevant to the actual results. Instead, the scientific observational results of data and diagnosis, along with their margin of error, should be the only factor in labeling a condition accurately.

Recognizing The Differences With One Set Of Eyes?

Some people have argued that someone who says they experience things differently than a neurotypical person couldn’t possibly know what a neurotypical person experiences. I can understand the argument in theory.

The idea typically comes from people who would identify as being neurotypical. The reality is that for many people, the differences are clear, plentiful, and extreme.

This observation is difficult for children who have limited life experiences to draw from or a baseline of what would be considered “typical.”

Recognizing the differences becomes much clearer for adults with years of experience doing day-to-day chores, tasks, jobs, and projects with responsibilities and priorities.

As an adult, it’s much easier to identify how your mind processes situations differently. When you’ve gone through years of frustration in not being able to learn or complete tasks in the prescribed manner, then making personal adjustments that are successful, it becomes clear things are not the same.

As adults, many ADHD people will learn to adapt by creating workarounds, customized approaches and processes, and even behavioral changes that others see as highly unusual.

These changes can make life easier to accommodate the way an ADHD mind works.

What happened to all of the ADHD Kids?

childhood brain

Certainly, the idea that ADHD has been overdiagnosed can be and is likely true. However, That does not diminish the fact that ADHD exists. ADHD is still a fairly new diagnosis.

Many adults would most likely fit the diagnosis but, for various reasons, choose not to get diagnosed. Perhaps it’s a pride issue or denial. In many cases, they have, as adults, developed coping strategies and adaptations, as discussed earlier, that have allowed them to function fully to a point that they do not see the need.

The simple fact is that more children are being tested for ADHD as a percentage of the population than adults. The number of ADHD adults will undoubtedly rise as the younger generations of ADHD children grow into adulthood.

What The Data Tells Us – The Nail In The Coffin

Structural and functional differences in the brain have been observed in individuals with ADHD. 

These differences include changes in the size and structure of certain brain regions, such as the prefrontal cortex, the basal ganglia, and the cerebellum. These regions are involved in attention, impulse control, and decision-making, which are all affected in individuals with ADHD.

Additionally, studies using functional imaging techniques, such as fMRI, have revealed that there are differences in the way the brain processes information in individuals with ADHD. 

Studies have found that individuals with ADHD have reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in attention, and increased activity in the basal ganglia, which is involved in impulsivity.

Conclusion

It seems that the argument of ADHD not being a Neurodivergent disease is actually the wrong argument. The data is clear. ADHD is, by definition, undoubtedly a Neurodivergent condition.

The real question is, are there more people who have been diagnosed with ADHD who are not actually ADHD individuals?

Specifically for those with a love/hate relationship with your ADHD.

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