How to Discuss Neurodivergence with Someone

25 Jul 2023




minute read

Last Updated

Jan 23, 2024

Neurodivergence describes the difference in how our brains work. There are many different traits and signs associated with neurodivergence such as hyperactivity, language processing differences or focused interests. There are also many strengths associated with neurodiversity, like hyperfocus, creativity and empathy.

Perhaps you've already noticed neurodivergent traits and strengths in someone you care about, or maybe you suspect they might have a specific neurodivergence like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, or dyspraxia.

You also might’ve noticed that they are experiencing some of the struggles often associated with neurodivergence. Bear in mind that often the struggles associated with neurodivergence come from a lack of understanding of how one’s mind works or because of an unsuitable, unsupportive environment.

If you think someone close to you might be neurodivergent and that some support could make a positive difference in their life, you might consider talking to them about it. Discussing someone's neuroprofile can be a sensitive subject to navigate, especially if they have never considered it before as there is often stigma and bias associated with neurodivergence. This means it’s important to approach the conversation with care and empathy.

Have a look at our tips on how to discuss neurodivergence with someone:

🧠 Learn more about neurodiversity

Educating yourself on neurodiversity and its associated traits can help you understand what someone might be experiencing. One place to start learning more is Noetic’s library.

💭 Think about why you are bringing this up

It might be helpful for the person to understand why you think they are neurodivergent, and what benefits this realisation can bring. Reflect on what you have learnt about neurodiversity, its strengths and the benefits that support can bring.

⏱️ Choose the right time

If this is the first time someone has mentioned neurodiversity, this might be a surprising conversation for them. Make sure you find a comfortable, private space to have the conversation where the person feels comfortable to react naturally.

🗣️ Avoid using stereotypes and deficit-based language

Too often the narrative surrounding neurodiversity and its associated stereotypes focus on what is ‘wrong’ with someone, rather than the strengths it can bring. Try to avoid reinforcing those stereotypes and talk about the strengths your loved one has.

👂 Listen

Listen to what the person says and allow them to react in whatever way is natural to them. Let go of any expectations you might have of how they’d react or what they might do about it.

⏰ Give them time

This might be the first time someone has thought about potentially being neurodivergent, so allow them some time to process their thoughts and feelings.

🤗 Ask what support you can give them

After a few days check in with them to see how they are doing and ask how you can support them. It might be useful to provide them with affirmative information about neurodiversity or encourage them to connect with others who have experienced similar things.

Remember that discussing neurodivergence can be a personal topic for some so it's important to approach the conversation with empathy. It can also be really validating for someone who has thought about these things before but has not expressed them to anyone.

The Impact of Supportive Friends

Ai Ling, cofounder of Noetic, only thought about being neurodivergent after some of her friends mentioned it to her. Here’s what she had to say about discussing neurodivergence with your close ones:

“I started thinking I had ADHD in my early 20s once a couple of friends said "I've just been diagnosed with ADHD and I think you might have it too", but I didn't actually get diagnosed until years later because of a nightmare referral process and getting sidetracked along the way. We've often heard that loved ones are the ones who prompt us to address it because they're the first ones to see it.

Getting a diagnosis was pivotal for my confidence and energy levels but it’s a process that can take years to navigate. Without my friends prompting me I don’t think I’d have been able to understand myself on a deeper, more affirmative level and allowed that to breathe life into my relationships and career.”