The Difference Between Neurodiversity Representation and Self-Diagnosis

 Autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disorders like dyslexia, and mood disorders such as bipola
Neurodiversity representation can help you feel validated, but for those who aren’t diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental condition, representation can lead to self-diagnosis. Read on to learn the difference between the two and how they’re connected.

Autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disorders like dyslexia, and mood disorders such as bipolar disorders all fall under the neurodivergent umbrella.

As many as 20% of people identify as neurodivergent, and so neurodiversity representation is no doubt important. Seeing yourself represented in media (books, TV shows, and movies) can go a long way toward helping you feel seen and heard.

There’s a fine line, though, between neurodiversity representation and self-diagnosis. Our team of psychotherapists here at Brooklyn Integrative Psychological Services helps you navigate that divide. 

Here’s what you need to know about neurodiversity representation and self-diagnosis. 

Neurodiversity representation

Authentic neurodiversity representation involves depicting neurodivergent individuals in a realistic and respectful manner without resorting to caricatures or stereotypes. It captures the diverse ways in which neurodivergent individuals navigate the world, highlights their unique strengths and challenges, and their many different perspectives.

Neurodiversity representation:

  • Improves empathy
  • Combats stigma and misrepresentation
  • Provides visibility and validation
  • Encourages diversity in perspectives

Not all representations are authentic. Some misguided producers and content creators may depict nothing more than stereotypes. 

Not sure if your show is authentic or not? The Vanderbilt School of Engineering created its own Neurodivergent Watch List that features only authentic neurodiversity representation. The magazine ADDitude has its own list of 10 movies with neurodiversity representation.

If you’re watching a film or reading a book that feels disrespectful or depicts misrepresentations, empower yourself to set it aside. Go instead with a more accurate depiction of characters and their neurodiversity, no matter the medium.

The limitations of self-diagnosis

While authentic neurodiversity representation is no doubt important — neurodiversity representation helps to promote acceptance and inclusion, all while celebrating the diverse ways in which you experience and interact with the world — it can be a slippery slope to self-diagnosis.

Self-diagnosis refers to the identification of neurodivergent traits or conditions on your own without formal assessment or diagnosis by a qualified professional. For example, you might see a character portrayed in a movie that exhibits a similar pattern of thinking as you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have the same neurodevelopmental condition as the character.

While self-diagnosis can be a starting point for self-awareness and personal growth — it can prompt you to seek a professional evaluation here at Brooklyn Integrative Psychological Services — it also comes with inherent limitations and risks.

Considerations regarding self-diagnosis include:

The complexity of the condition

Neurodevelopmental conditions like autism or ADHD are complex and multifaceted. They require thorough evaluation by trained professionals to ensure accurate diagnosis and appropriate support.

Not only are neurodevelopmental conditions complex, but many conditions share symptoms, and it may be hard (if not impossible) to differentiate between them on your own without a professional evaluation. Anxiety and ADHD, for instance, can both contribute to difficulty making decisions — but for different reasons.

The risk of misinterpretation

Some neurodivergent traits may overlap with typical variations in behavior or personality. Without expert guidance, it’s possible that you may misinterpret these traits and arrive at an inaccurate self-diagnosis.

Access to resources

Formal diagnosis opens doors to treatment, accommodations (e.g. individualized education plans (IEPs) in school), and interventions that can significantly improve your quality of life. 

Self-diagnosed individuals may miss out on these resources.

A note on diagnosis in children: while your child may not self-diagnose, you may see some of your child’s traits represented. Our team can provide care for adolescents and teens, so don’t hesitate to reach out on behalf of your child.

The fine line between neurodiversity representation and self-diagnosis

While self-diagnosis can validate your experiences and provide a sense of identity and belonging, it’s important to remember that self-awareness is best complemented by professional guidance so that you get an accurate diagnosis and the resources you need.

If you’re a content creator or digital storyteller, prioritize authentic representation by consulting with neurodiverse individuals, conducting research from reputable sources,  amplifying diverse voices, and avoiding harmful stereotypes.

How we can help

If you’re starting to witness neurodivergent traits in yourself, don’t limit yourself to a self-diagnosis. Your provider here at Brooklyn Integrative Psychological Services can conduct professional evaluations, diagnose conditions, and recommend the evidence-based care you need — whether that’s medication, therapy, or lifestyle guidance.

To get started with a formal evaluation, click here to book your appointment.