Neurodiversity For Dummies
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All humans have variations in the way that they think, feel, and experience the world — this is neurodiversity. Neurodivergent conditions such as autism, ADHD, and dyslexia (and dyspraxia, and dyscalculia, and many others) have been part of our human family for a very long time. This Cheat Sheet offers a glimpse into understanding the big, bold, beautiful world of neurodiversity.

Test your understanding of neurodiversity

How much do you know about neurodiversity? Here’s an engaging challenge to test your understanding. Decide whether each of the following statements is true, false, or if you’re unsure. After making your choices, continue reading to see how you did.

Statement True False Unsure
1. How the brain functions varies widely in humans. This is perfectly normal.
2. Most think and communicate in similar ways, but lots of people differ from the majority because of variations in how their brains work.
3. People diagnosed with autism, dyslexia, or ADHD have defective brains.
4. At least one-in-five people have brains that work differently than most.
5. It’s easy for neurodivergent people to live in a world not designed for how they think and experience things.
6. High functioning and low functioning are good ways to characterize the extent to which someone may need support.
7. Understanding and valuing strengths and differences is a good way to empower everyone.
8. Making changes to our environments to support people who are different is often expensive.
9. Using compassion and curiosity, you can develop a better understanding of others that are different from you.

Answer key

  1. TRUE. Human brains function in incredibly diverse ways, and that’s totally normal. It’s just like how everyone has different tastes in music or food — our brains are unique to each of us. This diversity is what makes us all interesting and unique. And it is totally normal!
  2. TRUE. That’s right, most people have similar ways of thinking and interacting. These brains are called neurotypical. But there’s also a significant number whose brain functions quite differently. These brains are called neurodivergent. Understanding, accepting, and supporting this diversity in brain functioning is what the concept of neurodiversity is all about.
  3. FALSE. Actually, that’s a common misconception. Conditions such as autism, dyslexia, and ADHD don’t mean someone has a defective brain. Rather, these are variations in the brain’s neurology. People with these conditions often have unique strengths and ways of perceiving the world. Their brains are not defective; they’re just different.
  4. TRUE. It’s estimated that at least one in five people have brains that function in ways that are significantly different from the majority. This includes those who are neurodivergent, such as individuals with autism, ADHD, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, or dyslexia.
  5. FALSE. People whose brains work differently can find it hard to fit into a world made mostly for those with neurotypical brains. Places and systems usually don’t consider the unique needs and strengths of those with brain differences. Recognizing and accommodating these differences is important for creating an inclusive society where everyone can thrive.
  6. FALSE. The terms high functioning and low functioning are increasingly seen as oversimplified and potentially misleading when characterizing the needs and strengths of individuals. Everyone has their own needs, and these terms often miss the details of someone’s difficulties and talents. It’s better to look at the specific support a person needs, instead of just calling them high or low functioning.
  7. TRUE. Viewing individuals through the lens of their strengths and differences is indeed empowering. This way of thinking creates a welcoming space where everyone’s skills are important, and their challenges are met with care and support.
  8. FALSE. Making changes to help people with different brain functions does cost money, but these changes also offer lasting benefits and value. And the many changes that society can make in its attitude toward neurodiversity cost little-to-nothing at all. Together, these changes can lead to more inclusion, better mental health, and allow people with brain differences to contribute well in many areas. Over time, these improvements can boost productivity, creativity, and social unity, which can make up for the initial costs. Putting money into inclusion and support for those with different neurotypes is an investment that pays off.
  9. TRUE. Approaching others with compassion and curiosity is a powerful way to understand and appreciate differences. This mindset fosters empathy, and is a key step toward building a more inclusive and understanding world for everyone.

10 ways to support parents and caregivers of neurodivergent children

In every community, parents and caregivers of neurodivergent children have a lot on their plate. They must take care of their child and also advocate for their needs in a world that doesn’t always understand or support them. This can be really tough. But here’s the thing: Everyone, whether you’re a friend, family member, neighbor, community member, colleague, or manager, can make a big difference in supporting parents and caregivers of neurodivergent children. You may not know everything about their unique experiences, but here are ten ways you can help them.

Learn about neurodiversity

Maybe you’re encountering the term neurodiversity for the first time, or perhaps you have heard phrases such as special needs or disability but lack a deep understanding of how they relate to neurodivergent people. It’s possible you’re unaware of anyone in your community with a neurodivergent condition such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, or related neurotypes. In any case, neurodivergent individuals are all around us, whether their neurotype is diagnosed, disclosed, or evident through differences in their behavior.

Learning about neurodiversity-affirming mindsets, behaviors, and practices can help you be a reliable and trustworthy source of support for parents who are navigating how best to support their neurodivergent children. This knowledge can enable you to assist these parents with compassion, grace, patience, and a deeper understanding.

Understand neurodivergent conditions

You don’t need to be an expert, but having a basic understanding of neurodivergent conditions is crucial. For example, knowing about the learning needs of neurodivergent children can help you share useful resources. Similarly, learning how neurodivergent individuals use assistive communication devices can enhance interactions. This knowledge promotes inclusivity in different settings, benefiting both children and their caregivers.

Practice compassionate curiosity

Compassionate curiosity involves empathetically understanding the experiences of others. It combines compassion — deep empathy and connection with others’ journeys — and curiosity — an eagerness to learn about their perspectives. This approach fosters better communication, understanding, and connection, creating an environment for open, empathetic conversations, which can lead to stronger relationships and reduced conflicts.

Find practical ways to offer support

Parents and caregivers of neurodivergent children handle various responsibilities, including advocacy, health care management, and maintaining balance. Supporting them can involve practical help such as attending meetings, assisting with tasks, sharing resources, and helping with daily activities. Neighbors can help with carpooling and sharing local event information, while friends can offer quick errands or personal time. Spouses and colleagues can provide relaxation time and workplace flexibility.

Support self-care

Parents and caregivers of neurodivergent children often neglect their own well-being due to their caregiving responsibilities. Encouraging self-care, such as relaxation and exercise, is crucial. Support can include managers offering flexible days off, friends helping with physical activities and involving them in personal interests like book clubs or community events, or family members assisting with household chores.

Advocate for neurodivergent children

Actively promoting neurodiversity in various settings helps support and empower families of neurodivergent children. You can urge political representatives to fund services for neurodivergent individuals, encourage inclusive education strategies in schools, and promote understanding in local businesses. Managers can support employees with neurodivergent children through flexible work arrangements, while friends can ensure inclusivity in social events.

Reduce the barriers families face

Navigating information and services for neurodivergent children can be daunting. Helping parents by simplifying this process, like forming support groups, compiling resource lists, and sharing local service information, is very beneficial. Advocating for better services and inclusion, supporting community initiatives, and promoting neurodiversity in daily life can greatly ease access to support for these families.

Foster acceptance of neurodiversity

Sharing knowledge of neurodiversity is key to supporting parents of neurodivergent children. If you see exclusion or misunderstanding around neurodiversity, like at family events or in workplace flexibility scenarios, use these moments to educate others. Encourage empathy and understanding, and advocate for inclusive practices. Continuous learning and challenging biases will enhance mutual understanding and embrace neurodiversity.

Start with acceptance of what is

If you are the parent or caregiver of a neurodivergent child, what can you do to support yourself through what may perhaps be the hardest task in your life that can also be the most rewarding? When a child is first diagnosed as neurodivergent, most parents’ first reaction is one of shock and disbelief. While such reactions are understandable, continuing to harbor such feelings are hardly ever helpful for the parent or the child. It may in fact hold the parent back from formulating an informed strategy for moving forward to empower the child and themselves.

Start with accepting your child as a unique creation of the universe, fully equipped with all they need to blossom to their potential. Your role is to have that faith, love your child unconditionally, and do everything you can to support and empower them to blossom.

Seek help and support proactively

Parents or caregivers of neurodivergent children may find it hard to accept the need for help. To ease this, be open about how others can support you. Learning from those who have been in similar situations is a crucial part of self-help. Encouraging assistance from others can make your journey more manageable.

How to advocate for yourself

If you are a neurodivergent person, there will be times when you need to speak up for yourself in school, work, social situations, or in your community. In fact, this is something everyone needs to do — whether neurodivergent or not. However, most people were never taught how to do this. But don’t worry. Following are some ways you can exercise self-advocacy in your daily life.

Get to know yourself

Becoming a great self-advocate starts with understanding yourself, your strengths, and your challenges as a neurodivergent individual. One way to gain this understanding is by educating yourself about neurodivergent conditions. You can do this by reading about neurodiversity, learning from neurodivergent people, and exploring articles and research on the topic.

Knowing more about your neurodivergence can help you advocate more effectively to ask for specific accommodations and support. Being able to state your unique needs and preferences (“I work best when ___” or “I would like to request a notetaking accommodation”) makes it easier for others to understand your support needs and to learn how best to support you.

Define the problem

To find the right support for your needs, start by clearly defining the problem you’re facing. Are you struggling with focus in class? Maybe you find it hard to know when to speak up in team meetings. It could be that you need more breaks to manage sensory issues in social situations, or you’re having trouble keeping your space organized.

The key is to be as specific as possible when describing the problem. If you’re having trouble identifying the problem, try reflecting on a challenging situation step by step. Think about what happened, how it made you feel, what caused stress or discomfort, and what could have made it better. You don’t have to figure it all out at once, and it’s okay not to have all the answers right away. Take one problem at a time and break it down into manageable steps. Once you’ve clearly defined the problem, you can start researching solutions to help you achieve your goals.

Gather information

A wealth of information is available on neurodiversity. You can explore your rights online, learn from health care experts and advocates, connect with neurodiversity communities on social media, or conduct your own research. To discover various accommodation options in the workplace, visit It’s also valuable to ask other neurodivergent individuals about the supports they’ve tried and how that has worked for them.

As you gather information on solutions, connect them to your specific needs and preferences. Reflect on situations that cause stress or anxiety and consider activities that help you relax. Trusted friends and family members can provide feedback on how you learn, communicate, interact with others, work, and cope. Take all this information into account when brainstorming accommodations and sources of support that are tailored to your needs.

Generate options

Once you have a clear idea of potential solutions, it’s helpful to weigh the pros and cons of different support options you require in various settings like the classroom, workplace, or social gatherings. Take a moment to assess whether there are any obstacles to implementing these supports (such as cost) and whether you need assistance from someone else. For example, you may simply need a colleague or manager to ask for your input during team meetings. In the classroom, a stim tool may help you focus. To manage social outings effectively, you could schedule breaks to recharge. If organization is a challenge, hiring an executive functioning coach may be a solution.

Make a request

In social settings, you can usually request accommodations directly from those you know. Begin by explaining the problem you’ve defined and how it affects you. Share why certain support would be helpful. Friends and family are often willing to support your needs and preferences when they understand the reasons behind it.

For more formal accommodations in educational institutions or workplaces, the process can vary. It’s beneficial to learn how it works in your specific context. You can often find that information through your school’s Disability Support office or your workplace’s Human Resources office. Typically, you’ll need to provide information about your disability, any limitations you face, and the types of accommodation required. As time goes on, you can reassess your support needs and explore accommodations that better align with your evolving situation.

Bridging the communication gap

There’s a common belief that people who are neurodivergent struggle with empathy and communication. Some think neurodivergent folks just lack the social skills to understand what neurotypical people think or feel, causing mix-ups and making it hard to make friends or connect with others. But is this true? Actually, there’s more to it than it seems.

The “double empathy problem” is a concept that emerged in autism research. Dr. Damian Milton introduced it in 2012. Since then, it has sparked a lot of discussion, both among researchers and advocates. Double empathy suggests that in autism and other neurodivergent experiences, difficulties in communicating and understanding others don’t just arise because of the neurodivergent person. Rather, neurodivergent and neurotypical people often find it hard to communicate effectively with each other because each group has its own unique way of understanding and expressing thoughts.

This whole concept shifts the focus from trying to “fix” neurodivergent people to making our world more welcoming and understanding of different types of minds. It’s about encouraging everyone, whether they’re neurodivergent or neurotypical, to try and bridge that communication gap. It’s really about understanding each other better.

Our perceptions are influenced by our daily experiences, our upbringing, the people we spend time with, and even our cultures. These things shape our expectations of ourselves and others. So, when we meet someone new, these pre-existing expectations affect how we perceive them, leading us to make judgments. It’s like wearing tinted glasses — they change the way we see people.

Here’s what happens:

  • We start with biases: It’s like we already have a script in our heads about how someone should act or think. This sets us up with a bias, and it’s tough to see the real person behind that script.
  • We’re not really open: If we’re busy judging, we’re not really listening. It’s like our mind is already made up, and that blocks us from truly hearing what the other person is saying.
  • People get defensive: Imagine how you feel when someone judges you — not great, right? That’s how others feel too. They may clam up or get defensive, and then real communication just flies out the window.
  • We miss the whole picture: Everyone’s got their story, right? But if we’re stuck on our expectations, we may miss out on what’s actually going on with someone. We forget that people are more than just one thing or one action.
  • Empathy goes out the window: Understanding someone else is all about empathy. But with judgment and expectations clouding our view, empathy doesn’t stand a chance. We’re too caught up in our own head.
  • Hello, misunderstandings: When we assume things based on our expectations, it’s easy to get the wrong end of the stick. We think we get it, but we’re actually way off, and that just leads to more confusion.

Expectations and judgments! They’re like roadblocks in really getting where someone else is coming from. They are at the heart of the double empathy problem.

Practicing compassionate curiosity

Imagine being really open and eager to understand where someone else is coming from, especially when their brain works differently than yours. Compassionate curiosity is about both neurodivergent and neurotypical folks stepping up to close any communication gaps. It requires empathy, patience, and a willingness to keep learning about each other’s worlds.

Here are ways to practice compassionate curiosity:

  • Acknowledge the other person’s life experiences may be very different from yours.
  • Ask questions to really get what the other person is experiencing.
  • Listen for real, without any prejudgment.
  • Think about how your own brain’s wiring could be coloring the way you interpret things.
  • Learn from each other about different ways to process social cues and find better ways to communicate with each other.

Helpful books about neurodiversity

The following is a subset of an ever-growing array of books on various neurodivergent conditions and neurodiversity.


All The Weight of Our Dreams by Lydia X. Z. Brown (DragonBee Press)

Loud Hands: Autistic People Speaking by Julia Bascom (Autistic Self Advocacy Network)

Neurotribes by Steve Silberman (Avery)

Spectrums edited by Maxfield Sparrow (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

The Autism Partner Handbook by Joe Biel, Elly Blue, and Dr. Faith G. Harper (Microcosm Publishing)

Uniquely Human by Barry M. Prizant (Simon & Schuster)

Unmasking Autism by Devon Price (Harmony)

Untypical by Pete Wharmby (Mudlark)

We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia (Mariner Books)


ADHD 2.0 by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey (Ballantine Books)

A Radical Guide for Women with ADHD by Sari Solden and Michelle Frank (New Harbinger Publications)

Order from Chaos by Jaclyn Paul (Summit to Sea)

Self-Care for People with ADHD by Sasha Hamdani (Adams Media)

The Gift of Adult ADHD by Lara Honos-Webb (New Harbinger Publications)


Dyslexia and Me by Onyinye Udokporo (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

The Dyslexic Advantage by Brock L. Eide and Fernette F. Eide (Plume)

The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis and Eldon M. Braun (Perigee Books)


Demystifying Disability by Emily Ladau (Ten Speed Press)

Disability Visibility edited by Alice Wong (Vintage)

For autistic kids and teens

A Is For “All Aboard!” by Paula Kluth and Victoria Kluth (Brookes Publishing)

A Day With No Words by Tiffany Hammond (Wheat Penny Press)

Just Right For You by Melanie Heyworth (Reframing Autism)

The Awesome Autistic Go-To Guide by Yenn Purkis and Tanya Masterman (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

Too Sticky! by Jen Malia (Albert Whitman & Company)

We Move Together by Kelly Fritsch and Anne McGuire (AK Press)

Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap: NT Is OK! by Clay Morton and Gail Morton (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

For educators

Neurodiversity in the Classroom by Thomas Armstrong (ASCD)

For employers

A Hidden Force by Ed Thompson (Fast Company Press)

An Employer’s Guide to Managing Professionals on the Autism Spectrum by Marcia Scheiner (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

Neurodiversity at Work by Theo Smith and Amanda Kirby (Kogan Page)

For lawyers

Great Minds Think Differently: Neurodiversity for Lawyers by Haley Moss (ABA Book Publishing)

For medical professionals

Is This Autism? by Donna Henderson and Sarah Wayland with Jamell White (Routledge)

The Neurodivergent Friendly Workbook of DBT Skills by Sonny Jane Wise (Independently published)

For neurodivergent adults

Divergent Mind by Jenara Nerenberg (HarperOne)

The Autism and Neurodiversity Self-Advocacy Handbook by Barb Cook and Yenn Purkis (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

The Young Autistic Adult’s Independence Handbook by Haley Moss (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

Welcome to the Autistic Community by ASAN (Autistic Press)

For parents

Coloring Outside Autism’s Lines by Susan Walton (Sourcebooks)

Managing Meltdowns by Deborah Lipsky and Will Richards (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

Sincerely, Your Autistic Child by AWN (Beacon Press)

Start Here: A Guide for Parents of Autistic Kids by ASAN (Autistic Press)

The Autistic Spectrum: A Parent’s Guide by Lorna Wing (Ulysses Press)

What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew by AWN (DragonBee Press)

For everyone

For more information about neurodiversity, explore Neurodiversity For Dummies.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

John Marble is a workforce policy, innovation, and neurodiversity strategist. He is the founder of Pivot Neurodiversity. Khushboo Chabria is a neurodiversity specialist, career coach, and speaker on a mission to advocate for disability rights. Ranga Jayaraman is director of Neurodiversity Pathways and a leader in digital transformation.

John Marble is a workforce policy, innovation, and neurodiversity strategist. He is the founder of Pivot Neurodiversity. Khushboo Chabria is a neurodiversity specialist, career coach, and speaker on a mission to advocate for disability rights. Ranga Jayaraman is director of Neurodiversity Pathways and a leader in digital transformation.

John Marble is a workforce policy, innovation, and neurodiversity strategist. He is the founder of Pivot Neurodiversity. Khushboo Chabria is a neurodiversity specialist, career coach, and speaker on a mission to advocate for disability rights. Ranga Jayaraman is director of Neurodiversity Pathways and a leader in digital transformation.

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