The Sensitive Man — What is Neurodivergence? Are HSPs in this category?

A term has surfaced recently into my consciousness: neurodivergent. What does this mean? There is a movement afoot to expand the view of what we consider normal brain functioning that would now include many developmental disorders that would be seen as dysfunctional in the past. The thought is to expand what we now consider a wider spectrum of mental diversity The idea behind this diversity is to demonstrate that although to the general population, these “specializations” might seem aberrant, in fact, they may be considered strengths, areas of specialized focus.

The argument for encasing the idea of normal divergence of human mental functioning expressed by these variations would consider them to be adaptations, which provide strengths and diversity to the human genome. . For HSPs, this should sound familiar.

Normality

This seems to beg the question, what is normal? This would suggest that at some point, most of us suffer from some type of dysfunction, whether temporary or permanent. However, how much dysfunction is needed to be then termed abnormal? If we take into account the enormous diversity of the human genome then certainly defining normal becomes more problematic.

Does normality imply that one is free from dysfunction, or can we now agree that as we all share the human experience, we are prone to divergent functioning, which must be accounted for as part and parcel of what it means to be human? Could then this be implied that our “dys-perfection” be the fruit of our human existence and a key contributor to overall human adaptation and survivability?

Neurodiversity attempts to cover a wide range of developmental disorders, principally: Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Dyslexia, and Dyspraxia. . . . In addition, some dyspraxic individuals may experience Sensory Integration Dysfunction, which creates oversensitivity or under sensitivity to physical stimuli. Dyspraxic individuals may also experience what is considered a type of sensory overload, which causes panic attacks.

If seen in the light of neurodiversity, are all of these behaviors adaptations? . Yet, complex human behaviors are rarely just products of the environment but a complicated interplay between genetics and environment. Even in their seeming dysfunction, these disorders can show the amazing adaptability of humans. .

In his book, , . The idea that adaptive characteristics from a different, older cultural milieu did not translate well into a society that had moved on from nomadic life to a more stationary life. The genetic traits once useful in hunting animals, i.e. hyperfocus, were no longer as important and useful in raising animals and crops. Yet, the trait survived to bring us individuals with ADHD.

Again, the point is, what is normal?

Ways in which HSPs may be considered to be non-normal.

Studies have pointed out that often highly sensitive people may be confused with having a variety of disorders including autism, schizophrenia, social anxiety disorder, and are prone to episodes of depression and moodiness. Thank God for Dr. Elaine Aron giving it a much more positive framing.

Nevertheless, we are a minority population within humans, which makes us a little non-standard. Many HSPs report, along with other people that are not highly sensitive, that the trait is problematic at times, making life complicated and challenging. When overwhelm kicks in, SPS can be considered debilitating to some HSPs if they do not know how to handle the overstimulation we often experience.

In addition, there is a certain amplification of life’s experiences, which may lead to depression, anxiety, and fear-based limitations. Then there’s the social isolation that often accompanies our introvert dominant personalities, and for the extraverted HSPs, the dealing with the need for downtime.

Yet, taken as a whole, can we say the trait is a dysfunction? I think not. I still hold true the explanation of Dr. Aron, that the trait is an evolutionary adaptation necessary within our species. It continues to proliferate through time and does have a purpose. As Dr. Tracy Cooper often says, we are a fine-tuned instrument. Fussy at times, but necessarily so, to bring about the sensory detecting purposes of our nature. To be able to detect the subtle, the nuanced, and the environmental nuggets others miss.

Is our trait (SPS) a form of specialization?

Yes, most definitely. When you consider the HSP’s ability to think deeply, deeply consider, and deeply feel, that alone makes the trait a specialization — an adaptation, if you will. And that is on the backend of the processing; if you add the ability to consider and sense the subtleties in the environment to feed that backend, you add a depth and dimension that adds value to observation and deduction. To then tie it all together, you add empathy — the social emotion, which gives HSPs relatability and the ability to sense others, aid others, feel others, gives us a potent arsenal of capabilities, that despite our challenges, make us specialists amongst humans. We are the canary in the coal mine, the early warning system, and to use a crude metaphor, the pebble in the shoe, warning our fellow humans of impending trouble. We may be a pain in the ass to some, but we are necessary. If that is dysfunctional, then why hasn’t nature selected us out?

Every day and it seems more so now than ever before; we expand the terms to being human. Neurodivergence attempts to continue this trend. Why not move beyond developmental disorders and include rare personality traits or minority personality characteristics such as SPS? Doesn’t that add to the complex stew of human personality traits? So, what if we are neurodivergent? Should we be? We are just what we are and what nature intended for us — all of us. What if we called it “neuroinclusive?”

Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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William Allen

William Allen

William Allen, the author of Confessions of a Sensitive Man, An Unconventional Defense of Sensitive Men , writes on male sensitivity at .