By Dr Poppy Gibson
The number of diagnoses of neurodivergent conditions is on the rise, and the use of labels is expanding. This special issue of The Frame talks about neurodivergence. The other contributors may have been diagnosed with a condition or they may have self-diagnosed a condition. They may have been born neurodivergent, or they may have an acquired neurodivergence, which is situational and can be resolved through treatment. If you as the reader have been diagnosed as neurodivergent, does the label help or hinder your life? Are neurodiverse labels harmful in creating a prophetic fallacy? This opinion piece questions the value of a label.
The reason this is so close to my heart? I had sepsis 8 years ago, and was hospitalised in intensive care for 9 days. Since this time, although my physical recovery was fairly quick, my mental recovery has been a slow and difficult journey. After meeting a sepsis specialist earlier this year and talking with them about my lingering symptoms and behaviours, they told me they suspect I have Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We all know PTSD develops after a traumatic event, but did you know that PTSD is classed as an ‘acquired neurodivergence’? I certainly didn’t. And with someone with ADHD, I wasn’t expecting to find anyone suggest further labels for me. But what have I done with the specialist’s suspicion? Nothing. I haven’t been to see my GP because I feel that I am coping. Would an official label of PTSD help me or make me feel better? I don’t think it would. So for now, I do not wish to have this disorder confirmed or denied. But the question of whether a diagnosis would help the healing process is something I reflect upon often.
…a label can help you accept who you are, and seek knowledge to understand who you are further…
Labels And Understanding Behaviour
Perhaps labels are useful in better understanding ourselves. For example, if you are feeling stressed that you can’t concentrate, struggle to manage your workload, and are being impulsive- could a neurodivergence be behind your behaviours? Having a label might help you accept these behaviours as part of who you are, and can provide peace for some people who are wondering why they find
certain tasks difficult. Having a label can make it easier to connect with other people with the same label, or at least to read books, articles and websites about your diagnosis. Perhaps a label can help you accept who you are, and seek knowledge to understand who you are further. Labels don’t excuse our behaviours, but they can explain them.
The Role Of Social Media In Labelling Neurodivergent Conditions
Social media plays a big part in spreading awareness of neurodivergence. Is this helpful, in allowing the viewer to recognise if they may have a condition? Or it this harmful, if TikTok ends up acting like a medical measure stick? For many people who have not felt able to speak to their family or friends about their suspected condition, finding social media content that resonates can be reassuring. Finding role models with certain labels who are living happy and successful lives can remind the rest of us with the same label that we, too, can find coping strategies for our behaviours.
Labels And Seeking Support
Diagnostic labels can be of value when seeking support; labels can help caregivers ask for signposts, labels can help when asking for treatment as it gives the practitioner a clearer idea of the type of behaviours that may need support. Some people may wish to explore different treatments, interventions or medications; having a label is necessary for these next steps of treatment to be prescribed.
Labels And Prejudice
Although we are seeing greater acceptance of neurodivergence in society, even the word ‘neurodivergence’ is often misused by those who are still learning about the term. Back to my earlier ponderings about PTSD, I do think that if the condition was confirmed, it might cause alarm to family, or friends, or even my employer; and perhaps this is why I do not wish to undergo assessment at this time. We do not wish to be treated differently because of our labels; however we know that often people’s prejudice comes from a place of ignorance, and I believe that our societal understanding of neurodivergence is still in it’s baby stages.
If you feel that you may have a neurodivergent condition, and you feel that you would like to be assessed, then do it. Often the first step can be contacting your GP. If you have a feeling that you align with a certain condition, but you don’t feel the need to have it proven or disproved, then don’t. If you are coping, then maybe you feel you don’t need to rock the boat.
But if you ever feel you aren’t coping, and your daily function becomes trickier and things start to slide, then please: Find out if the label fits.
Dr Poppy Gibson
Dr Poppy Gibson is a neurodiverse educator.
Poppy works as Senior Lecturer, and her key interests involve children’s psychological development and mental health and wellbeing.
Poppy holds a Doctorate in Education from Oxford Brookes University. Poppy’s doctoral thesis was awarded the ‘Most Downloaded’ from EThOS databases in Autumn 2020. Her thesis explored young girls’ experiences of using social media, online interaction, and communication with others online in a ‘third space’, and how these interactions build up a social reality and impact upon identity formation.