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February 26, 2024

BIPOC Neurodiversity and Mental Health

Being a woman of color and neurodivergent, whether autistic or living with ADHD, presents a unique set of challenges that are often compounded by societal biases and systemic barriers. The journey towards understanding one’s neurodivergence, seeking diagnosis, and accessing appropriate support can be a daunting one, but it’s a journey worth taking to better understand oneself and thrive in a world that doesn’t always accommodate differences.

The Challenge of Diagnosis

Receiving a diagnosis of autism or ADHD can be particularly challenging for people of color due to various factors. Underdiagnosis is the primary issue. Research has shown that non-white individuals are less likely to be diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disorders compared to their white counterparts. This is often attributed to systemic racism within the healthcare system, cultural stigma surrounding mental health, and a lack of awareness about neurodiversity within Black communities. This intersects with the myth that girls are not autistic. In the late 90s and early 2000s, autism and ADHD were equivalent to a little white boy that was highly intelligent, but not the most social. He was very hyper and misunderstood. Diverging from that picture continues to prove difficult, with women realizing they are autistic, ADHD, or both, when their children finally receive diagnosis, or they receive enough information through online platforms to begin the process of self-diagnosis. Once they begin this journey, they might receive ample feedback akin to “you don’t seem autistic” or “women don’t have ADHD”. Of course, the broader public often does not comprehend the diagnostic symptoms of these divergencies in the first place. Furthermore, the symptoms of autism and ADHD can manifest differently in Black individuals depending on how they are socialized in the world according to race and gender, leading to misdiagnosis or the dismissal of symptoms as behavioral issues or other disorders. Stereotypes and biases about how neurodivergence “should” look can lead to Black individuals being overlooked or misunderstood by healthcare professionals. To talk to a BIPOC therapist about neurodivergence, book a free consult here: Reach Out for Support | Contact Us | WOC Therapy.

Validating Self-Diagnosis

In the face of these challenges, self-diagnosis can be a valid and empowering option for many women. Recognizing and understanding one’s own neurodivergence, even without an official diagnosis, is a crucial step towards self-acceptance and seeking appropriate support. It’s essential to validate the experiences of those who may not have had access to formal diagnosis due to systemic barriers.

At WOC, we understand the immense difficulty of obtaining official diagnosis. Girls of color are socialized to be hard workers, respectful, and competent from a young age. Autistic and ADHD symptoms are often so buried under a mask that a grown woman presenting for diagnosis may only appear slightly shy, stiff, or hyperemotional. They will have learned how to force eye contact, adapt acceptable stims, and hide meltdowns and shutdowns from everyone but their close family. Because of these complications, we will never tell a client that they are not neurodivergent. We will work closely with them on the diagnostic end to validate their experience, especially the pain of misdiagnosis and misunderstanding throughout their childhood and adolescence.

Diverse asian girls

Understanding Support Needs

It’s important to recognize that neurodivergent individuals have a wide range of support needs. With the advent of the term “neurodivergent”, terms like “higher functioning” and “lower functioning” became less congruent. Those terms indicate that individuals with lower support needs have “less” of a brain diversity and those with higher support needs do not “function” appropriately. The reality is that neurodiverse people are being compared to a status quo that functions on power and productivity, not any sort of true human criterion of “functioning”. Lower support needs individuals often suffer in silence because society encouraged them to be as neurotypical as possible. Of course, they have the privilege of masking to the effect of getting further in a capitalist and ableist world, but their mental health is often the trade off, with debilitating burnout happening frequently. Higher support needs individuals receive proper resourcing and care because of the more visible symptoms, but they are often on the brunt of ableist assumptions about their internal life, intelligence, and abilities. Using correct terminology like “lower support needs” and “higher support needs” emphasizes the importance of individualized support rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all approach.

Therapy and Neurodiversity

Therapy can be incredibly beneficial for neurodivergent individuals, regardless of whether they have received an official diagnosis. Therapy provides a safe space to explore and understand one’s neurodivergence, develop coping strategies, and address any comorbid mental health conditions that often accompany neurodivergent diagnoses. Conditions such as anxiety, depression, and personality or mood disorders often co-occur with autism or ADHD. Therapy can help individuals learn to manage these challenges effectively and improve their overall quality of life.

Overwhelm is a natural response to realizing that you have several disorders on top of a divergent brain. Unfortunately, trauma happens at an increased rate to children with neurodivergences. They may experience bullying, increased discipline from parents and teachers, and are more susceptible to face abuse because they are not neurotypical. The result is several additional mental health conditions that make life all that more difficult for a neurodivergent person. However, by attending psychotherapy and beginning to heal your inner child who was not accepted, you may find that the symptoms of other conditions naturally decrease. Healing is possible and probable when attending therapy and other somatic interventions like energy healing.

Embracing Intersectionality

Lastly, it’s crucial to acknowledge the intersectionality of being both a woman of color and neurodivergent, along with queerness. BIPOC neurodivergent women face unique challenges stemming from the combined effects of racism, sexism, homophobia and ableism. Understanding and addressing these intersecting identities is essential for creating truly inclusive and supportive environments. It is vitally important to seek support through neurodivergent community and a neurodivergent or neurodivergent affirming therapist. By entering these spaces, you can begin to heal the hurt and trauma that has occurred as a result of living in this neurotypical world. It is highly likely to have a unique gender presentation and approach to relationships and sexuality as a result of being neurodivergent. Though this increases chances of negative experiences, it also creates a vibrant and unique life that can be validated through healthy community. To read more about these intersections, check out this article from the genderspecialist.com! The Intersection of Gender, Sexuality, and Neurodivergence — Rebecca Minor | Gender Specialist

In conclusion, navigating the intersection of BIPOC and neurodiversity comes with its own set of obstacles, but it’s a journey that can lead to greater self-awareness, self-acceptance, and empowerment. By validating self-diagnosis, understanding support needs, embracing therapy, and acknowledging intersectionality, we can work towards creating a more inclusive and supportive society for all neurodivergent individuals, regardless of race or ethnicity.