Leone Centre Glossary

Anxiety and Neurodiversity

Anxiety and Neurodiversity

Anxiety is a common experience among neurodiverse individuals, including those with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other neurodivergent conditions. The way anxiety manifests can vary widely depending on the individual’s specific neurodivergent profile. Neurodiversity-affirmative therapy recognises these unique manifestations and seeks to provide individualised support.

Unique challenges

Neurodiverse individuals often face unique challenges related to anxiety, including:

  • Sensory Overload: Many neurodiverse individuals, particularly those with autism, can experience heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, leading to increased anxiety in environments that others may find manageable.
  • Social Anxiety: Difficulties with social communication and interaction can lead to significant anxiety in social situations. This is common in conditions like autism and ADHD, where understanding social cues can be challenging.
  • Executive Functioning Issues: Individuals with ADHD often struggle with executive functioning tasks, such as organisation and time management, which can result in anxiety about meeting deadlines or completing tasks.
  • Perfectionism: Neurodiverse individuals may have a tendency toward perfectionism, feeling anxious about making mistakes or not meeting their own high standards.
  • Misunderstanding and Stigma: Facing misunderstanding or stigma from others about their neurodivergent traits can increase anxiety levels, contributing to feelings of isolation and self-doubt.

Supportive approaches

Neurodiversity-affirmative therapy offers several supportive approaches to address anxiety in neurodivergent individuals, including:

  1. Integrative Therapy (CBT): Adapted CBT and different therapeutic approaches can help neurodiverse individuals identify and challenge anxious thoughts, develop skills for addressing life challenges, and manage anxiety more productively.
  2. Mindfulness and Relaxation Practices: Practices such as mindfulness meditation and deep breathing exercises can be particularly helpful in reducing anxiety and improving emotional regulation.
  3. Sensory Tools: Adapting environments to reduce sensory overload, using tools such as noise-cancelling headphones or fidget devices, can help manage anxiety in neurodiverse individuals.
  4. Social Skills Training: Teaching social skills in a structured and supportive environment can reduce social anxiety and improve confidence in social interactions.
  5. Strength-Based Approaches: Focusing on the individual’s strengths and abilities, rather than deficits, helps build self-esteem and reduce anxiety.

About anxiety and neurodiversity

Anxiety and neurodiversity are interconnected in many ways. Understanding these concepts helps in creating beneficial therapeutic approaches:

  • Anxiety: A mental health condition characterised by feelings of worry, anxiety, or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one’s daily activities.
  • Neurodiversity: The concept that various neurological conditions are normal variations in the human genome.
  • Prevalence: Anxiety is more prevalent among neurodivergent individuals due to various cognitive and sensory processing differences.
  • Neurodiversity-affirmative therapy: A therapeutic approach that respects and values neurological differences, focusing on individual strengths and challenges.

How therapy can help

Neurodiversity-affirmative therapy supports neurodivergent individuals in several ways:

  1. Addresses anxiety within the context of an individual’s unique neurological makeup.
  2. Promotes understanding and acceptance of neurodivergent experiences.
  3. Encourages practices that leverage individual strengths.

How therapy works

The core principles and processes of neurodiversity-affirmative therapy for anxiety include:

  1. Individualised approach: Adapting therapy to fit the unique needs of neurodivergent individuals.
  2. Strength-based focus: Emphasising and utilising the individual’s strengths.
  3. Collaboration: Working together with the individual to develop practical skills.
  4. Respect: Valuing the individual’s experiences and perspectives.
Practical applications and examples may include sensory-friendly environments, flexible communication styles, and personalised skills for managing challenges in life.


What is neurodiversity-affirmative therapy?
Neurodiversity-affirmative therapy is a therapeutic approach that respects and values neurological differences, focusing on the strengths and unique experiences of neurodivergent individuals.
How does anxiety affect neurodivergent individuals?
Anxiety can manifest differently in neurodivergent individuals, often related to sensory processing differences, social challenges, and unique cognitive patterns.
What are the benefits of neurodiversity-affirmative therapy?
This approach promotes understanding, acceptance, and practices that leverage individual strengths, providing support for managing anxiety.


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This glossary provides definitions of various counselling terms and approaches for informational purposes only, without implying endorsement or service provision