Self-diagnosis can be a first step for people who think they’re neurodivergent. But it’s far from the only step.
We live in a world where it takes only seconds to access information and content that seemingly answers all of our questions: How do I register to vote? How many ounces in a cup? Best TV shows to binge? But over the course of the pandemic, as we’ve spent more “alone” time with ourselves and gleaned more insight into how we think, learn, and work, many of our questions looked more like: Are my attention problems related to the pandemic or ADHD? Does my child have a learning and thinking difference or are they just behind academically? How do I know if I have dyslexia?
When someone does an online search for questions like these, they’re bombarded with TikToks and tweets with billions of views that share tips, stories, and personal experiences about learning and thinking differences. In fact, news outlets like Vox are even pinning social media as “the WebMD for mental health.” These conversations have certainly helped pull back the curtain around neurodiversity — increasing awareness, reducing stigma, and creating a sense of normalcy and community. But relying on clickbait content to inform one’s own journey is not the answer. Not even close.
“Social media has been an incredibly powerful tool in building awareness around neurodiversity. But if it’s the only tool people are using when they have or think they have a learning difference, it can also unintentionally circulate misinformation, perpetuate harmful stereotypes, and prevent people from taking further action to get the supports they need,” said Michelle Lassiter, an Understood.org expert. “When you begin to explore the signs and symptoms you or your child may be experiencing, be sure to focus on finding resources from legitimate organizations, like Understood.org. And even still, remember that gathering information online is the first — not the only — step in your journey.”
The only way to truly know if someone has a learning or thinking difference is through a proper evaluation through the school, neuropsychologists, or clinical psychologists. A legitimate evaluation and diagnosis unlocks a multitude of opportunities: better understanding one’s learning challenges and strengths, learning what strategies work best for different ways of thinking, and receiving helpful accommodations in the classroom or workplace to create the most supportive and productive environments possible. While beginning the evaluation process may seem daunting or scary, it will ultimately yield the most accurate and empowering result.
“As someone who wasn’t diagnosed until later in my life, I can honestly say that receiving an ADHD diagnosis was one of the most important moments of my life,” Lassiter said. “Even though I’d experienced symptoms since I was a child, a formal diagnosis allowed me to understand things about myself — why I struggled with making change at the grocery store or why it was challenging for me to remember to pay bills on time — that I didn’t understand before. I felt I was finally able to accept myself and know that nothing was wrong with me. My brain was just wired differently. A diagnosis allowed me to be intentional about identifying my strengths.”
Using social media and the internet to self-diagnose may seem easy, engaging, and straightforward. But it’s not “one size fits all.” It’s still on the individual or parent to do the work — tracking behaviors, talking to a health care provider about symptoms and the process for a formal evaluation, and identifying the tools or resources in school or at work to get the supports they need.
And when you do seek out neurodiversity information online or on social media, try to find credible sources. On Understood’s TikTok, we make learning about neurodiversity fun and relevant to today’s world — and all of our tips, mythbusters, and other content are backed by our experts in learning and thinking differences.
For more information on how to navigate learning and thinking differences and the evaluation process, visit:
Take N.O.T.E.: Created in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics, this step-by-step tool helps you spot signs of learning and thinking differences in your child.
Read U.org articles to learn more about signs of learning and thinking differences in adults and how evaluations work.
Understood Facebook groups: Find community with others on similar journeys with learning and thinking differences.