Neurodiversity and Aging Well

At Windward Life Care, we provide services for people living with a diverse range of physical and cognitive abilities. That includes working with people who are neurodivergent and helping them age well.

Neurodiversity is a term that acknowledges the wide range of differences in the way people’s brains develop and how they, learn, think, and behave. A large part of the population is “neuro-typical,” meaning they develop and live in broadly similar ways. Many other people are “neuro-atypical,” or “neuro-divergent,” or “ND,” living with conditions such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, and other patterns of thinking and processing information that are outside the norm. People with Down Syndrome can also be considered neurodivergent. The concept of neurodiversity suggests that what we think of as “disorders” could be considered normal variations of the brain, each with their own strengths.

Understanding neurodiversity can help service providers like us understand the needs of their clients and patients, and to value and celebrate individual differences.

Many people living with neurodivergence were never diagnosed as children and/or never received appropriate services. For example, autism was a diagnosis that physicians started giving in the 1980s, and the term “neurodiversity” emerged in the 1990s. Most older adults today grew up never hearing or talking about topics such as ADHD or autism.

Because of the lack of information and research, people who grew up neurodivergent may have been taught that their differences were somehow wrong. With or without a diagnosis, the ways that ND people differ from neuro-typical people can lead to “othering,” intolerance, and isolation. This disconnect with how they are perceived or treated by other people can extend to caregivers.

It’s important for clinicians and family members to understand that ND people can have different ways of being. We worked with a client who had probable autism spectrum disorder, but had never been formally diagnosed. This person moved into an assisted living community and frequently had no one to talk to in the dining room. He wanted to connect with other people, but because he was “different,” no one wanted to sit with him. The community’s staff needed to be educated on how to facilitate interaction and provide extra support for our client to prevent isolation and depression. It was important learning for the staff – including the fact that not all people with autism prefer being alone.

If you are caring for someone who is neurodivergent, we can provide assistance now and help create a plan for when long-term care may be needed. Feel free to get in touch, and we’ll discuss your needs.