Neurodiversity and Mental Health

What is Neurodiversity?

Learn more about neurodiversity and how it can be experienced, along with where to find further support.

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What is Neurodiversity?
What is Neurodiversity?

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity refers to the different ways the brain can work and interpret information. It highlights that people naturally think about things differently. We have different interests and motivations, and are naturally better at some things and poorer at others.

A 'neurodivergent condition’ refers to those of us who have developmental differences that affect our behavioural and cognitive abilities, such as autism or dyslexia, while people without a neurodivergent condition are sometimes referred to as ‘neurotypical’.

Neurodiversity in the UK

It is estimated that around 1 in 7 people (more than 15% of people in the UK) are neurodivergent, meaning that their brain functions, learns and processes information differently to those who are neurotypical.

Many forms of neurodivergence are experienced along a ‘spectrum’; while each form of neurodivergence (such as dyslexia or autism) has a range of associated characteristics, we are all unique and how we experience these conditions will vary from person to person. How a person experiences the neurodivergent condition can also change and develop over time.

Neurodiversity in the UK
Some common experiences among neurodivergent people include:

Some common experiences among neurodivergent people include:

  • Difficulty understanding facial expressions or verbal processes such as jokes or sarcasm; maybe taking things very literally
  • A strong affection for or dislike of certain colours, textures, smells, flavours, or sounds
  • A need to have strict routines and/or very clear instructions for tasks
  • Extreme focus, or preferred hobbies and topics that may be talked about at length
  • Difficulties with learning (e.g. reading, writing, or developing speech and language skills)

Other challenges (such as ‘tics’ often experienced with Tourette’s Syndrome) which can deeply affect the ability of the person to socialise or to work, without support for them, and those around them.

Many of us experience feelings of anxiety, low mood, or loneliness when we feel isolated from the people around us. If you are struggling with your mental health, you can find further support on our Feelings page.

Forms of Neurodiversity

There is a whole range of conditions under the umbrella term of neurodiversity, and often this is also called the ‘autism spectrum’. Although not everyone with a neurodivergent condition is necessarily on the autism spectrum, people who are on the spectrum often have a combination of neurodivergent conditions.

Some types of neurodivergent conditions are: 

Autism - also referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC)

  • A person with autism can experience extreme anxiety and difficulty with social communication, sensitivity to sensations (e.g. light, sound, touch, or taste), repetitive or restrictive behaviours (e.g. spinning an object or hand flapping), and have highly focused interests or hobbies
  • A person with autism can also experience ‘meltdowns’ or ‘shutdowns’ as a result of being overwhelmed by a situation. A meltdown is when the person experiences a temporary loss of behavioural control (which can be physical and/or verbal), while a shutdown involves ‘switching off’ from what is going on around them. Both these experiences can be very intense and exhausting for the person.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

  • Affects behaviour and/or attention control, and often impacts a person’s concentration, time awareness, motivation, impulse control, and experiences of hyperactivity
  • A person with ADHD can also experience anxiety and sleep difficulties

Tourette’s Syndrome

  • A condition that causes a person to experience involuntary sounds and/or movements (often referred to as ‘tics’)
  • These ‘tics’ are not usually harmful, but they can become painful or distressing for the person experiencing them and can become worse if the person is anxious, stressed, or tired

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Forms of Neurodiversity (continued)


  • Affects certain learning abilities such as reading and writing
  • A person with dyslexia can find it difficult to interpret words and numbers, such as when spelling, remembering numbers, or taking written tests 


  • A condition that affects a person’s movement and co-ordination
  • A person with dyspraxia can experience issues with their balance, fine motor skills, remembering information, and everyday tasks such as preparing a meal or getting dressed
  • Dyspraxia can also affect how a person interacts in social situations and experiences their emotions

While these are some common characteristics that can be associated with these types of neurodivergence, we all experience things in different ways. There are many neurodivergent conditions that are associated with other conditions such as Autism (e.g. Pathological Demand Avoidance), but the person’s needs and behaviours can vary from the more commonly known characteristics.  

There are many misconceptions around neurodiversity, such as assumptions that a neurodivergent person is unintelligent or that neurodiversity only refers to autism. These misconceptions can have a significant impact on the person’s emotional and mental wellbeing; if you, or someone you know, has a neurodivergent condition and you are struggling with this, there are many forms of support that can help you. Find support in your local area by clicking here.

How can neurodiversity affect mental health?

Learn more about the importance of understanding neurodiversity and how to support someone with a neurodivergent condition.

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How can neurodiversity affect mental health?
Neurodiversity and Mental Health

Neurodiversity and Mental Health

Some effects of neurodivergent conditions can be difficult to manage, to live with, or to be understood by others. It is increasingly being recognised that, rather than just focusing on the difficulties around neurodiversity, the person’s strengths and skills should be identified, promoted, and supported.

We all have unique variations in our brain chemistry which can cause us to perceive and react to the world in many different ways. We can understand different types of neurodiversity as just that; differences, neither good nor bad, that can provide unique advantages or ways of perceiving the world.

If you care for someone with a neurodivergent condition, you can find further advice and support in our Carers module.

Do I need help with my mental health?

When we feel isolated or not accepted because of our differences, this can have a significant impact on our mental health. Neurodivergent people can be more likely to experience feeling socially rejected or isolated, work-related pressure, or being abused and this can lead to self-harm and/or suicidal ideation. Allowing a person to feel safe, supported, and accepted (even if not understood) can help to ease these feelings and reduce the risk of harm.

If you, or someone you know, are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, it’s important to reach out for help. If you or another person needs urgent help, you can Get Help Now or call 999 in an emergency.

Do I need help with my mental health?
How can I support someone who is neurodivergent?

How can I support someone who is neurodivergent?

There are many things that we can all do the raise awareness of different individual needs and support those of us with neurodivergent conditions. Some ways to support a neurodivergent person’s needs are:

  • Listening to the person and taking time to understand their individual needs
  • Communicating with the person in a way that is most suitable for them (e.g. meeting 1-1 rather than in a large group)
  • Being aware of necessary sensory requirements and/or other reasonable adjustments (e.g. noise-cancelling headphones, dimmed lighting, quiet rooms, extra time to process what the person had read or heard)
  • Recognising and encouraging the person’s areas of strength
  • Tailoring support to the individual rather than generalising
  • Collaborating with the person to find suitable services and support networks that would be helpful, or having relevant signposting available
  • Having information about local authority assessment processes
  • Encouraging open conversations about neurodiversity and celebrating our individual differences

For more advice and guidance about supporting people with neurodivergent conditions, click here.

What help is available?

Some of us can find it difficult to acknowledge that ourselves, or another person close to us, may have a neurodivergent condition, and it can feel overwhelming at first. However, research into neurodiversity has been developing over recent years, and there are many forms of support available depending on the individual needs of you and/or your loved ones.  

By law, every region in England is required to support autism assessments for those who might be on the autism spectrum, and this assessment will examine various areas of neurodiversity.

For information about neurodivergent assessments in Sussex, go to the Sussex Partnership website.

Your local authority must also provide appropriate support for anyone diagnosed with a neurodiversity condition to ensure that they can get the best educational or work-related support available for them.

Following assessment, therapy will be available as well as mechanical or digital support for any specific challenges you may face. This can include language therapy, eating support therapy, education support, and advocacy, as well as grants and services to provide individual support and respite for carers.

What help is available?

Where to find support:

Here are some services offering information and support for neurodivergent conditions such as Autism, ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, Dyslexia, and Dyspraxia. For other mental health services in your local area, click here.

National Autistic Society - Supporting people on the autism spectrum and their families

PDA society - Information, advice, and support for people affected by Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA)

Tourettes Action - Information and support for people living with Tourette Syndrome, as well as parents and families. Includes support about TS at work, and in regard to housing, benefits, and transport.

ADHD Foundation - An integrated health and education service working to empower neurodivergent people and raise awareness of neurodivergent conditions

British Dyslexia Association - Support, advice, and assessment services for children and adults

Dyspraxia Foundation - Information, support, and advice for parents, adults, and professionals affected by Dyspraxia

Action for Children - Support for parents of children with neurodivergent conditions on the Autism spectrum

Get Help

Get Help

If you have a neurodivergent condition (or you are support someone who is neurodivergent) and this is affecting your mental health, it is important to ask for help. The National Autistic Society is a good place to start as this has information and support for many neurodivergent conditions along with Autism. To find services in your local area, click here.

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