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‘Neurodivergent affirming therapy'- how to spot the bullsh*t?


Are you looking for a neuro-affirming therapist psychologist? It might be for an autism or ADHD assessment, or ongoing therapy? Many practitioners claim to be ‘neuro-affirming’, but sadly miss the mark...

 

What is 'Neuro-Affirming'?

Neuro-affirming practice recognizes and respects the diverse ways in which brains can function. It's about affirming our unique neurological makeup without trying to fit us into a neurotypical mould.


‘Neuro-affirming’ is a Popular Buzzword!

Many therapists are ‘getting on the bandwagon’, but not quite sure where it’s taking them. The neuro-affirming paradigm, whilst being a wonderful but slow cultural shift, is not deeply understood. I’ve come across websites of other therapists who say that they’re ‘neuro-affirming’...they might have one or two blog posts on the topic and used the word ‘neuro-affirming’ here and there, but on another page on their website, they refer to ‘ASD’, ‘spectrum’, ‘aspie’, ‘disorder’, or something similar…In other cases, you might not see them using these words, but things like ‘a person living with autism’ or ‘a person on the spectrum’... (again, autism is not a monster I'm living with, plus I’m not standing on a rainbow!)

 

Some Examples

I've heard of a number of unfortunate examples...one therapist insisted that their child learn neurotypical social skills (for example, she asked that he look at her when saying hello and goodbye, and would talk about ‘not dropping the conversational ball’ and so on). I've heard of another therapist try to convince someone that they were not autistic, and how fortunate that is. I’ve heard of other therapists refer to the word ‘residual autism’, and that you can 'fall off the spectrum'. But as we know, once you’re born autistic, you are always autistic—you can’t just 'fall off the spectrum'!!

 

How to Find a Neuro-Affirming Therapist – Tips


1. Check Out Their Website

You can tell by the way that the website is written—if it sounds smooth and professional, whilst also using the odd buzz word, I doubt they are neuro-affirming. Maybe they would like to be neuro-affirming! Does their website seem 'autistic friendly'? If there are loads of moving panels, hard to read font, and busy graphics, they might not have thought about what their website (their digital office) should consider... Is there an 'all abilities button'? Does it feel genuine? Does it feel like it's all written by an AI tool? (watch for words like 'delve!')

 

2. Assess Their Therapy Space (if relevant)

A therapist's environment speaks volumes. I've heard of a therapist who claimed to specialize in supporting autistic people but had fluro lights in her office…arghhh!!! Another one who has incense burning at the reception and no fidget toys at all.

 

3. Do They Embrace Their Own Neurodiversity?

If you’re after someone who is truly neuro-affirming, it's helpful to see a therapist who is neurodivergent themselves. We live and breathe it- we GET it. Also, I'd rather see someone who is open about being autistic themselves. Some of us state that we have 'lived experience of neurodivergence', but this could mean our child, partner, or parent is autistic, or has OCD, or dyslexia. It's very vague. Yes, it's a slight risk stating up front on my social media and website that I am autistic, but it's also role-modeling to my neurokin about being open. It's harmful for our mental health to mask and hide our true autistic selves. Let's be brave.

 

What to Do When You Can’t Find the Help You Need?

There is such a high demand for our services, that it makes it hard to A)- find a therapist, and 2)- find a truly neuro-affirming therapist. We often have closed books too. So I what to do? I would look to find the many wonderful autism advocates, counsellors, mental health occupational therapists, mental health social workers, and other mums and dads who have ‘been there’. Psychologists are not the 'holy grail'... I have had help from many wonderful autistic counsellors who are very practical and helpful.

 

Checklist: Neuro-Affirmative Therapy in Action

  • Respectful and inclusive language

  • Sensory-friendly environment

  • Focus on strengths, not just challenges

  • Avoids pushing neurotypical social norms

  • Uses practices tailored to neurodivergent needs

 

How am I personally ‘neuro-affirming’?

  • I am autistic myself, and have an autistic family

  • I am loud and proud to be autistic!

  • I use neuroaffirming language, and hate terms like ‘red flag’, ‘deficit’, ‘abnormal’, ‘risk’, or ‘disorder’ (I have used the term ‘ASD’ where needed to for SEO in a couple of spots haha, but always in inverted commas, and am clear that I dislike using the term ;)

  • I use a strength-based approach, highlighting our key positive traits and unique gifts

  • I use a trauma-informed approach, given that many of us have post-traumatic stress symptoms, like myself

  • I role model openly stimming, moving my body how it wants to move, removing my shoes and crossing my legs, letting my eyes go where they need to go, changing topics, talking over the top of each other… this is all normal and natural

  • I see people from their lens, not my own- autistic people are all so different to each other as well

  • I see autism and ADHD as a disability, and not as a disorder. It comes at a cost, but there are cool bits

  • I view meltdowns as a personal crisis, and not as a behaviour- we are not being manipulative

  • I would never recommend ABA therapy to anyone

  • I firmly believe that we are different, and not less, and that all brains are unique.. I’ve noticed that some autistic folk can feel superior to neurotypical people, but that’s just maintaining the issue- we are all human, and have a place in society as equals.

 

I hope this blog has helped!

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