ADHD and Neurodiversity in counselling

I have worked with many people with ADHD and autism. Neurodiversity describes the differences in the way that people's brains work.

There is no 'right' way for the brain to work, there is a wide range of ways that people perceive and respond to the world, these differences are to be encouraged and embraced.

Some clients come to counselling with questions as to their characteristics and traits, questioning and wanting to explore this. They may go on to seek diagnosis with the support of therapy.

Counselling can play a huge part in helping people come to terms with their diagnosis and cope with how the condition impacts on their lives and relationships.


ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition; that is to say, its symptoms, and associated behaviours and traits are the result of a person’s brain developing differently during the key stages of development before they were born or as a very young child.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Causes of neurodevelopmental conditions include:

  • Genetics

  • Trauma at birth

  • Infectious disease

  • Immune disorders

  • Nutritional factors

  • Physical trauma

It is becoming increasingly recognised that, along with ADHD, a person may experience symptoms of other neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism, Asperger’s, Tourette’s syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), dyslexia, and dyspraxia.

  • Approximately 1 in 2 people with ADHD have dyslexia

  • Approximately 1 in 2 people with ADHD have dyspraxia

  • 9 in 10 people with Tourette's have ADHD

  • 2 in 3 people with ADHD have autistic spectrum traits, and people with ADHD are 8-fold more likely to meet full criteria for an autistic spectrum diagnosis

While it is common for neurodevelopmental conditions to occur with co-occurring mental health conditions, (eg. ADHD + bipolar), due to poor awareness it is also common for neurodevelopmental conditions to be misdiagnosed as mental illness. 

What is neurodiversity?


Neurodiversity is a term that refers to the natural differences between people  originated in the 1990’s by Australian sociologist Judy Singer. It can be compared to terms such as race, culture, class and gender and is useful to describe people with varying characteristics and behaviours of neurodevelopmental conditions alongside the “neurotypical” majority in an open accepting and non-prejudiced way.


It is thought that up to 15% of the population are thought to be neurodiverse.  The remaining majority are neurotypical.

Diagram created by Mary Colley & Joseph Aquilina

  • ~8% of people in the UK are thought to have ADHD.

  • ~10% of people in the UK are thought to have dyslexia.

  • ~8% of people in the UK are thought to have dyspraxia.

  • ~6% of people in the UK are thought to have dyscalculia.

  • ~1% of people in the UK are thought to have an autistic spectrum condition.

  • ~1% of people in the UK are thought to have Tourette's syndrome.

  • It is thought that as research develops, certain mental health conditions such as psychopathy, some personality disorders and schizophrenic conditions will come to be re-interpreted as having been diagnosed both in people who experience symptoms due to poor mental health and people who are experiencing neurodiversity and require different approaches to care.

  • An additional ~3% of the population are known to have generalised intellectual disability.

  • Some people believe that being generally intellectually gifted might be a form of neurodiversity, citing rare conditions like savant syndrome and hyperthymesia (highly superior autobiographical memory) as extreme examples of neurodiverse giftedness.

Many aspects of society are based on the assumption that there is one form of 'the human mind' and accordingly, many systems (education, employment, health and social services, social relationships) have been built up premised on being neurotypical. Creating and having more understanding of neurodivergence is not only beneficial for everyone, but fair.

Language to use

  • Neurodivergent: When talking about the individual person. 

  • Neurodiverse refers to the community.

  • Neurotypical: People that have typical brain functions.

  • Coexisting conditions: Use this instead of comorbid conditions.

  • Conditions: Neurodevelopmental conditions over disorders.

  • Hyperfocus: Overfocus on one thing or task.

  • Often for many hours.

  • Special interest: Obsessive special interest research or hobby.

  • Masking and camouflaging: trying to blend in and act like a neurotypical. Often exhausting.

  • High functioning autism. Functional labels are outdated and can suggest inaccurate assumptions about a person's ability and difficulties. They separate the person from the condition.

  • Aspergers syndrome: An older term meaning high functioning autism. 


Some ADHD traits:

  • High intolerance  of uncertainty

  • Now and not now thinking.

  • Ruminating 

  • Misreading feedback

  • Catastrophising

  • Negative self  talk

  • People pleasing

  • Emotional outbursts

  • Racing brain

  • Darting mind

  • Stimming

  • Burn out

  • Masking 

  • Hyper focus. Over-focussing for many hours


ADHD strengths:

  • Creative thinking

  • Visual/spatial reasoning/ability

  • Hyperfocus

  • Passion and courage

If you'd like to find out more, then do get in touch and we can have an initial chat free of charge.