Diagnosed as “Normal” but Feeling Like an Outsider? 10 Signs You Might Be Neurodivergent

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Everyone has their own way of thinking. Despite this, most people are what is considered neurotypical. Others have exceptionalities and are considered neurodivergent.

Neurodivergence can present in many different ways. Common conditions associated with neurodivergence include ADHD, autism, OCD, Tourette’s syndrome, dyslexia, and many more. Many of these conditions are commonly misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.

While some signs point to neurodivergence, it is also important to understand that there are many other ways that neurodivergence can present itself. Also importantly, just because you have seen some of these signs in yourself or others does not mean that you are necessarily neurodivergent. Such conditions vary widely, leading to a diverse mix of individuals.

Let’s explore ten signs you might be neurodivergent.

10. Toe Walking

Individuals with autism and other neurodivergent diagnoses tend to move in atypical or unusual ways. One walking pattern commonly seen is toe walking. The person will walk on their toes as if tiptoeing all the time, or they can walk on the balls of their feet.

Toe walking can lead to long-term issues with foot pain and short-term issues with blisters, calluses, and quickly worn-down socks and shoes.

Toe walking alone does not dictate a person being neurodivergent, as many young children do it, then one day just stop. But for children, one early sign of neurodivergence (typically autism) is toe walking, usually coupled with other signs. Yet, it is a helpful sign for parents, teachers, and doctors to look for because it can be easily observed.

9. Self-Focused Talk

You’ve got to look out for number one, and for a neurodivergent person, this is no problem. In fact, they may look out for number one a little too much.

Often, neurodivergent people may have difficulty making lasting friendships because they are often seen as self-focused. Individuals with neurodivergence are intensely focused on themselves and their own interests. They may talk exclusively or excessively about themselves, sometimes not leaving space for the other person to get involved in the conversation. This can make conversations and, ultimately, friendships very difficult.

If you or a person you know seems to fixate on their own situation, interests, and needs, this may be a sign of neurodivergence.

8. Difficulty Sleeping

Neurodivergent people tend to have specific sleep needs. This can be attributed to several different neurodivergent conditions. According to Autismspeaks.org, more than half of children with autism have chronic sleep problems.

Sleep issues can be caused by sensory issues, particularly light and noise sensitivity. Others may need to sleep near or with someone, leading to many families having a full bed at night just to encourage some form of sleep.

Evening routines are vital to encourage positive sleep. Consider staying away from screens and other active or loud areas as you wind down for the night. While almost everyone suffers from sleep issues at some point, those with neurodivergent conditions may deal with them nightly.

7. Following a Rigid Routine

Most people like to have a routine and stick with it. However, this is taken to another level regarding people with neurodivergence diagnoses. Individuals with autism benefit greatly from structure. But when that structure is changed, altered, or adjusted, this can cause extreme anxiety and outbursts.

Any kind of deviation from a typical routine or structure may be met with resistance. For individuals with autism, their routines are incredibly specific. An individual may want to wake up at 8:00 every morning and immediately go and brush their teeth. If another person is using the bathroom at that time, this can be very challenging to deal with.

This devotion and borderline obsession with routines can be problematic, but it can also be helpful when developing a structure for younger individuals, especially those when first diagnosed with neurodivergence. An unwillingness to alter or change a routine or schedule is often a sign of autism and neurodivergence in general.

6. Sensory Overload & Adaption

Neurodivergent people think differently from neurotypical people and experience the world in a completely different way. One of the most notable ways this can be seen is sensory sensitivity. These individuals can have a heightened awareness of touch, sound, light, and smells.

Some things may simply be irritating for a neurotypical person, such as loud chewing or a person who needs to shower. A neurodivergent person may have difficulties in crowds for such overwhelming sensitivities. Intense sensitivity to light, sound, touch, and smells clearly shows neurodivergence.

You may see individuals with noise-canceling ear protection at a busy theme park, or someone may have to only purchase tagless clothes to discourage uncomfortable touching. Those with neurodivergence must find ways to adapt to the world around them since our world is catered to the neurotypical.

Sensory sensitivity is one of the most important aspects of neurodivergence because it affects the person’s worldview and how they interact with the world around them.

5. Avoiding or Difficulty Maintaining Eye Contact

One of the most commonly associated characteristics with neurodivergence is a lack of eye contact. This can be a true challenge, but it is often addressed early in education, and neurodivergent students can often overcome it with intense practice.

Specifically, women with neurodivergent diagnoses are more likely to maintain eye contact than men. Regardless, if you or someone you know has challenges or difficulties achieving or maintaining eye contact, this may be a sign of neurodivergence.

Of all the items on this list, eye contact is probably the most well-known sign of being neurodivergent.

4. Heightened Anxiety

It is an unfortunate fact of life that everyone deals with anxiety to varying degrees. For neurodivergent individuals, this anxiety can be extreme and significant. Social anxiety is regularly associated with neurodivergence, particularly autism and ADD; these individuals may:

  • Reflect or obsess about future social interactions
  • Make unsuccessful efforts to be sociable
  • Feel left out
  • Self-isolate due to fear of rejection
  • Talk down to oneself out of fear of failure

While it is not always the case, social anxiety and many other associated anxieties may lead to other mental health issues. This can include a propensity for addictive behavior, depression, and in some cases, self-injurious behaviors.

Whether a person is neurodivergent or not, these are serious issues to be addressed with a mental health professional.

3. Stimming Behavior

Self-stimulating behavior, commonly known as stimming, refers to repetitive behaviors that a neurodivergent person does when excited, nervous, angry, etc. Stimming is an early sign that a young person may be neurodivergent. While some of the above actions are less obvious, any of them can be a sign of a neurodivergent person.Stimming behaviors may include:

  • Repeated phrases or questions
  • Rocking
  • Spinning
  • Tapping
  • Hand flapping
  • Picking skin
  • Humming
  • Covering and uncovering ears

Individuals with neurodivergent conditions typically stim to process feelings, usually those associated with overstimulation or anxiety. It’s important to note that stimming does not always come from a negative place. Individuals with autism often stim when they are very excited.

Despite stimming being positive for the individual, it is often not socially appropriate and can lead to individuals being ostracized. This can add to social difficulties and compound feelings of anxiety and stress. Furthermore, stimming individuals are not doing it on purpose and are often unaware that they are doing it.

2. Intense or Obsessive Interests

Another sign of neurodivergence is a fixation on a particular subject or object. This can be something very specific, like a song, or something much broader, like marine biology. Either way, the individual fixates on one particular idea or subject.

Such intense interests can be an obstacle when carrying on during daily life. However, on the other hand, having an obsessive interest can lead to connections with others who share the same interest. Fixation on one particular subject can be a great help as well when it comes to career choices. Many neurodivergent individuals have taken their career fields by storm, making discoveries, inventing, and positively impacting society.

If you are obsessively interested in one specific subject or topic, you may be neurodivergent.

1. Social Difficulty

It is important to understand autism, ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome, and other exceptionalities begin at birth. However, these conditions regularly go undiagnosed until a child begins to develop. Older individuals who are undiagnosed neurodivergent individuals start to discover their differences typically by looking back at social interactions.

People who are neurodivergence have difficulty responding to social cues. This is not because they do not want to be social; often, it is quite the opposite. Rather, individuals who are neurodivergent have challenges reading facial expressions, may not understand some non-verbal communication, and are often confused by sarcasm.

Because of difficulties socializing, along with some of the difficulties on the list above, neurodivergent individuals are often lonely and misunderstood. Of course, it is important to know that not every person with social difficulties is neurodivergent. However, a repeated pattern of difficulties socializing and making and keeping friends is a sign that a person might be neurodivergent.

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From lab coats to local markets, Viola Gilbreath traded calorie charts for culinary symphonies. A graduate of nutrition, she champions vibrant health through accessible, joyful eating. Whether whipping up community salads or blogging "flavorful fuel," Viola empowers people to listen to their bodies' unique rhythms, composing a delicious symphony of one on every plate.