Neurodiversity: A Wellness Paradox |

4 min read

“To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate.” —Anthon St. Maarten.

RF studio / Pexels

Source: RF studio / Pexels

Could oversensitive and neurodivergent clients possess some very positive characteristics?

The Center for Creative Studies and Talent Development at the University of Georgia has found a strong correlation between brain structure and temperament in people labeled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and others who are considered creative. A diagnosis of ADHD was highly correlated with creativity.

A recent article in Frontiers in Psychology has linked symptoms of impulsivity and hyperactivity to creativity. Are there other neurodivergent individuals who demonstrate strengths that usually go unrecognized due to their clinical diagnosis?

Could we approach the reality that it would be more beneficial to move away from our neurodevelopmental deficit model and move towards a more positive neurodivergent perspective?

We often refer to anxiety as not just anxious but as being overanxious or oversensitive. Perhaps we also need to refer to disorders that are neurodivergent as oversensitive.

These oversensitive disorders have been linked to advantageous and positive cognitive traits. Evidence of these positive traits appears in the research on depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and even some forms of schizophrenia.


“Neurodiversity” is a word used to explain the unique ways people’s brains work. While everyone’s brain develops similarly, no two brains function just alike. Being neurodivergent means having a brain that works differently from the average or “neurotypical” person.

The science of neurodiversity has advanced a more complex and positive view toward mental health disorders. Neurodiversity does not ignore or negate the real challenges associated with brain disorders but instead offers a deeper, more diverse view of human experiences that have been diagnosed as disorders.

Anxiety and Neurodiversity

Multiple studies have shown that people with high anxiety more accurately assess emotions in others, can better predict outcomes, are more attentive to details, and perform at a higher standard at work. High anxiety also correlates with intelligence. This intelligence may have co-evolved with worry.

Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Numerous studies have found that certain forms of depression are accompanied by above-average intelligence and creativity. Bipolar disorder has also been linked with creativity and artistic temperament.

At an Iowa Writers Workshop recently, researchers found that 80 percent of the writers had some form of mental illness, compared to 30 percent of the control group of non-writers. In this study, a paradox is seen between diagnosed pathology and higher levels of functioning.

Schizophrenia and Neurodiversity

Even a genetic disposition to schizophrenia has been associated with creativity and achievement. The entire population of Iceland was surveyed, and revealed higher scores in mathematics and creativity for people with first-degree relatives who had experienced psychosis. Less successful and less creative people of Iceland had no such genetic connection to psychosis.

Strengths of Diversity

Neurodiversity research seems to rebuke our collective illusion of sameness when it comes to the diagnosis of mental health disorders. Perhaps we have only looked at the downside of neurodiversity without nearly enough attention being paid to some of the upsides.

Brain differences are not only related to mental health issues but may also be related to a range of positive cognitive skills. Skills such as creativity, problem-solving, intelligence, and innovation among the mental health-disordered population have been overlooked and grossly underutilized.

Going back to the primeval period, we were probably very diverse. One tribe may have been moody and withdrawn, another hyperactive, and still another antisocial. Perhaps there was enough neurodiversity to guarantee the survival of the human species. We know that biodiversity determines survival in nature.

Neurodiversity Essential Reads

Could neurodiversity also be part of the survival mechanism that created where we are today? It does appear that homogeneous societies may have been disadvantaged when compared to more diverse societies.

Maybe we have finally arrived at an awareness that neurodiversity needs to be acknowledged as a potential tool for future positivity around the client’s strengths and not just their weaknesses.

S.M. Robertson concludes:

Putting more emphasis on the strengths of neurodivergent individuals will increase their well-being, reduce stigmatization, and, therefore, improve their quality of life because creativity can be an outlet for emotions, a source of pride, or even a source of income. It will also benefit society as a whole to move away from looking at the neurodevelopmental deficit model and move toward the neurodivergent perspective.

Oversensitivity and neurodiversity do not have to be an overwhelming liability. Recognition of the positive attributions of neurodiversity can be an asset when put to appropriate use.

Through recognition of these positive aspects of neurodiversity, we may be able to move further away from the negative aspects of a mental illness model and toward a more positive model of mental wellness.

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