The term “neurodivergence” describes individuals with “abnormal” thought patterns. Most commonly, the term is attached to those who struggle with a mental illness, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). ¹ The problem is there’s no clear definition for “normal” thought patterns. Therefore, some may wonder, “is OCD neurodivergent?”
Simply put, people with OCD are neurodivergent. Still, some argue this shouldn’t be a bad thing. Judy Singer, a sociologist and author of the book The Neurodiversity Movement, believes that people should embrace neurodivergence. That we need to move away from the stigma associated with terms like “disable” or “disorder,” and teach people how to make the most of their minds.
Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look at OCD and neurodivergence. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
What is Neurodivergence?
Neurodivergence is a non-medical term that defines differences in brain development and function from that of a neurotypical (normal) person. In other words, people who are neurodivergent have mental strengths, weaknesses, and struggles not seen among the general population.
However, even with this definition, there is no universal agreement to define what “normalcy” is – both medically and theoretically. Therefore, people with neurodivergence are often display symptoms of a mental disorder, such as OCD, autism, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Still, being neurodivergent doesn’t mean you’re lacking in all mental functions. In fact, research has shown that neurodivergent people have stronger: ²
- Ability to envision three-dimensional objects
- Look at the world through a different perspective
- Short- and long-term memory
- Solving complex math problems
With that said, being neurodivergence doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, many people have learned to use it to their advantage.
What are the Types of Neurodivergence?
It’s no secret the brain is so complex that no two work the same. In turn, the same can be said of the neurodivergent brain. As of now, researchers have been able to identify the following types of neurodivergence:
- Developmental Dyscalculia (DD) – a learning disability that makes it difficult to understand math problems, numbers, and computing challenges. ³
- Dysgraphia – a learning disability that makes it difficult for one to express themselves in words. In turn, these individuals may also struggle with spelling, writing, and other language-based activities. ⁴
- Meares-Irlen Syndrome – a disorder that makes it difficult for the brain to accurately process visual and sensory information. In turn, this will alter a person’s perceptions. ⁵
- Hyperlexia – A person with advanced reading abilities, and/or a fixation with patterns, letters, numbers, logos, and maps. ⁶
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – a condition where one’s anxiety causes them to produce involuntary and repetitive obsessions and/or compulsions. ⁷
- Tourette’s Syndrome – a genetic condition where involuntary tics cause undesired sounds and movements. Some have linked this condition to anxiety, stress, and OCD. ⁸
- Synesthesia – when one sense (i.e. sound) is simultaneously connected to one or more other senses (i.e. sight). ⁹
How to Tell if You’re Neurodivergent?
Since neurodivergence is not a medical condition, you will not receive such a diagnosis from a mental health professional. However, this way of thought can be associated with mental health and physical conditions.
Therefore, if you receive an OCD or another mental health disorder diagnosis, there’s a likely chance you have neurodivergence.
Even if you don’t receive a diagnosis, you can still be neurodivergent. As mentioned, the term is simply attached to those who think differently from normal brain functioning.
However, since there’s no way to measure “normal thinking,” we also don’t have any measures for neurodivergent thinking. On top of this, those who are neurodivergent show a vast array of signs, making it difficult to determine one’s case from another.
Above, we laid out the types of neurodivergence for you to determine if you struggle with any of the most common neurodivergent conditions. If you’re still unsure, we recommend doing further research into neurodivergence and discussing the matter with your doctor.
What Conditions are Neurodivergent?
People who struggle with neurodivergence can usually be diagnosed with one (or more) of the following conditions:
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Bipolar Disorder
- Down Syndrome
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Prader-Willi Syndrome
- Sensory Processing Disorders
- Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
- Tourette’s Syndrome
- Williams Syndrome
Can You Treat or Prevent Neurodivergence?
Since this is not a medical condition, you cannot treat or prevent neurodivergence. However, since neurodivergence is associated with mental health conditions, those can be treated and potentially cured.
In the case of OCD, a doctor will offer you two treatment options: medication and psychotherapy. When together, these treatments will provide you with enough relief to go about your day-to-day life. ¹⁰ On top of this, you’ll likely find neurodivergent thought patterns diminish over time. Namely, through psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy allows us to develop an understanding of thought patterns and challenges they pose. A therapist will then help you develop coping techniques in order to diminish those patterns. For those who are concerned with neurodivergent thinking, we highly recommend bringing up these concerns with your psychologist.
So, is OCD neurodivergent? Yes! Neurodivergence thought patterns are commonly found within those struggling with OCD.
Therefore, it’s in your best interest to treat the OCD itself. As a result, you and your therapist can work towards treating neurodivergent thought patterns – allowing you to go on and live a fulfilling life.
Still, neurodivergence should not be seen as a “disorder.” In many regards, it can provide an individual with beneficial and unique ways of thinking.
Still have questions about whether or not OCD is neurodivergent?
We invite you to ask them in the comment’s section below. If you have any other knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ Harvard Health Publishing (Harvard Medical School): What is neurodiversity?
² Oxford Journals (British Medical Bulletin): Neurodiversity at work: a biopsychosocial model and the impact on working adults
³ Pediatric Neurology: Developmental dyscalculia
⁴ National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS): Dysgraphia
⁵ Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatria: Irlen syndrome: systematic review and level of evidence analysis
⁶ Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders: Hyperlexia in children with autism spectrum disorders
⁷ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
⁸ National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS): Tourette Syndrome
⁹ frontiers in Psychology: Synesthesia: an introduction
¹⁰ HHS Public Access: Pharmacological treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder