Am I Neurodivergent?

Janet Coburn
3 min readOct 29, 2023

Last week I wrote about language that has been lost from technical meaning to become popular usage. This week I want to explore a term that may or may not apply to me — neurodivergent.

The dictionary definition I looked up said that neurodivergent means “differing in mental or neurological function from what is considered typical or normal.” It added that the term is “frequently used with reference to autistic spectrum disorders.” The alternate definition given is “not neurotypical,” which is no help at all.

I’m not on the autism spectrum, so I don’t “qualify” as neurodivergent that way. And I don’t have any of the other disorders, like ADHD, that typically are associated with neurodiversity. So where does that leave me?

Another definition: “Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one ‘right’ way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.”

I like that better. It leaves room for a lot of varieties of neurodivergence.

A medical website explained it this way: “Neurodivergent is a nonmedical term that describes people whose brains develop or work differently for some reason. This means the person has different strengths and struggles from people whose brains develop or work more typically. While some people who are neurodivergent have medical conditions, it also happens to people where a medical condition or diagnosis hasn’t been identified.”

Wikipedia also notes, “Some neurodiversity advocates and researchers argue that the neurodiversity paradigm is the middle ground between strong medical model and strong social model.”

It’s true that my bipolar disorder means my brain and my behavior are not typical. I feel neurodivergent, even though I know that’s hardly a criterion. I’ve accepted that my bipolar is somewhere in the middle ground between the medical model and the social model. For a long time, I believed in the medical model absolutely. To me, my bipolar disorder was brought on by bad brain chemistry. I couldn’t see any glaring social problems such as abuse in my family. Mine was very much the traditional social model — working father, stay-at-home mother, one sister. I never suffered domestic violence or sexual abuse.

What I didn’t see was that there are other kinds of traumatic events, some of which I did experience as a child. Some of them were so painful that I remember having meltdowns because of them. Young adulthood brought more trauma. Since then, a combination of medication and therapy has helped. Perhaps the medication helped with the part of my disorder that was caused by my brain, while therapy helped the social trauma part.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the idea of a spectrum. Although autism is often considered using the convenient concept of a spectrum, I know that “being on the autism spectrum” is not accepted by all. High-functioning or low-functioning, people are at base autistic or non-autistic, not “a little bit autistic,” as the spectrum seems to imply. Other people find the spectrum idea useful.

I’ve also thought about the introvert/extrovert spectrum. It makes sense to me that no one is truly at either end of that spectrum — all introvert or all extrovert. Nor is anyone pure ambivert, evenly poised between the two ends of the spectrum. We’re all various degrees of ambivert, leaning toward one side or the other, but sharing some of the characteristics of each.

My brain has developed differently or works differently for some reason. But according to the spectrum philosophy, no one is totally neurotypical or totally neurodivergent. We’re all jumbled somewhere in the middle. A little to one side and we’re considered one or the other. So, I see myself as on the neurodiversity spectrum — neither one nor the other and not evenly balanced between the two. Somewhere in the relative middle, to one side or the other. Part neurodivergent and part neurotypical.

Whatever I am, I’m not 100% neurotypical or 100% neurodivergent. But I’m at least partly neurodivergent. And I’m comfortable with that.

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Janet Coburn

Author of Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us, Janet Coburn is a writer, editor, and blogger at butidigress.blog and bipolarme.blog.