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The Importance of understanding how to work with the Neurodivergent Client by Rachel Walsh


Recognising ND in clients who also have ED is really important as it changes how we work. It allows us to attune ourselves into our client’s world accurately and gives us a greater understanding of the challenges they face. This is especially important for this client group as they may have felt misunderstood all their lives, or different to others. Clients have said “I knew I couldn’t do what others did, I was different”. For example an ADHD client may not understand why they can’t focus for long periods of time while their friends can. They may have been described as unfocused, a day dreamer, not paying attention and appear rude or lazy. However this couldn’t be further from the truth. The paradox of ADHD is that clients may find it difficult to focus on something they are not interested in, and yet can hyper focus on something they are interested in. This may lead to the client forgetting to eat as they got lost in an activity for the last 6 hours. ND clients are not just “fussy eaters or awkward”, their sensory sensitivities may prevent them from eating a) certain textures, b) tastes or c) temperature of food. It makes perfect sense not to eat something if it feels like you are eating something from a “bush tucker trial”! They may not be able to eat in a busy canteen the noise may be too loud. If we don’t know they are ND we can’t help them find a solution that works for them.

By bringing any ND processing difficulties into the client’s awareness, it often provides a sense of relief to the client. They may feel that finally there is an explanation for why they have found certain aspects of life so difficult, when everyone else seemed to find these things so easy. Different solutions need to be found to help the sensory sensitive client “eat normally” when they may always find it difficult to eat a certain textured food or eat in a noisy canteen. It’s not that they can’t eat normally it’s more that their” normal” is different to someone who isn’t ND. And they shouldn’t be made feel “different” or “weird” because of it. As therapists, we must recognise any ND so we can work with the clients “normal” and not try “fit” them into society’s “normal”.


Written by Rachel Walsh (MIACP Accred Psychotherapist & a specialist in Eating Disorders)

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