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Mental Health
Is OCD Neurodivergent? Meaning, Causes, and How to Manage
Mental Health

Is OCD Neurodivergent? Meaning, Causes, and How to Manage

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD | Fact checked by Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Last update: March 3, 2023
5 min

OCD comes in different forms. It can be obsessive-compulsive or obsessive thoughts that are repetitive, intrusive, and cause distress to the point of interfering with your daily life. But is OCD neurodivergent? This article covers this and more.

is ocd neurodivergent

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Some individuals can experience both obsessions and compulsions.

As the conversation around OCD grows, so does the terminology. One of the most recent words is neurodivergent. 

Neurodivergent refers to several conditions caused by natural differences in the human brain that affect how people think and react in everyday situations.

Neurodivergence was coined in 1998 by sociologist Judy Singer to alleviate the stigmatization attached to certain mental health issues and to move the attention away from what people suffering from these conditions lack.

Singer suggested that the differences in human brains should be recognized and celebrated. Rather than classifying certain brains as normal and others as abnormal, she said those who think as per the social norm should be referred to as neurotypical, while those who don’t should be referred to as neurodivergent.

This article is a guide on obsessive-compulsive disorder. Read on to learn more about OCD and neurodiversity. We also tell you what causes OCD and tips to manage it.

Is OCD Neurodivergent?

OCD is classified as neurodivergent because an individual has intrusive thoughts, repeated patterns, and actions. They may even have difficulties resisting compulsions or filtering off intrusive thoughts. As a result, individuals process their thoughts and behave differently than what is considered neurotypical.

Researchers revealed that people with OCD have unusual activity levels in specific regions of their brains, as their brains show more activity in thinking, judgment, and motor functions.

The neurodiversity movement aims to change people’s perceptions of OCD. It rejects the notion of OCD as a disorder, instead viewing it as a neurological difference with a distinctive way of thinking and experiencing the world.

OCD sufferers gain much from neurodiversity. It not only promotes greater equality, but it also inhibits the perception of people with OCD as “different” from everyone else.

What Causes OCD?

The specific cause of OCD is unknown to experts. It is theorized that genetics, brain anomalies, and the environment all play a role. It usually begins in early adulthood or adolescence. However, it can also begin in childhood. Men and women are equally affected by OCD. It also appears to be inherited.

Changes in the current lifestyle, such as moving, starting a family or divorce, or starting a new school or career, can also cause OCD.

Other factors include: the death of a loved one or another form of emotional trauma, history of abuse, illness (if you have the flu, for example, you may start a cycle of stressing about germs and washing compulsively), serotonin deficiency, overactivity in certain parts of the brain, issues at work or school, and challenges within a key relationship.

OCD can also be caused by anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

How to Manage OCD? 5 Valuable Tips From a Psychologist

OCD is a complex illness, and finding the best treatment might take time. However, there are certain things you can do to begin addressing your OCD symptoms. Here are some helpful techniques to do when your intrusive thoughts start to surface, as well as some ways to help relieve any signs of anxiety disorder.

#1 Try to identify triggers

The first step in controlling OCD is identifying the triggers, which are the thoughts or events that cause your obsessions and compulsions. Create a list of your triggers each day and the obsessions they generate. Rate the severity of your fear or anxiety in each event, followed by the compulsions or mental techniques you use to cope.

Keeping a record of your triggers can assist you in anticipating your impulses. And by anticipating your obsessive tendencies before they arise, you can try to reduce them. For example, if you have a compulsive habit of ensuring that doors are locked or appliances are switched off, try locking the door or turning off the appliance with additional care the first time.

#2 Engage in regular exercise

Exercise is a natural and powerful anti-anxiety treatment that aids in the management of OCD by retraining your mind when obsessive thoughts and compulsions develop.

Aerobic exercise has been shown to improve mood and reduce anxiety in people with OCD. Get 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise each day for maximum benefit. 10 minutes several times daily is as helpful as a longer period, especially if you pay attention to the movement process.

#3 Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is the ability to examine your thoughts without judgment. According to the study, mindfulness-based cognitive techniques may aid in the reduction of cognitive distortions in OCD.

Mindfulness exercises help you develop a more objective view of your obsessive thoughts. They might be part of your therapy, but you can also try them independently. You may even use apps to track your progress.

#4 Join a support group

You are not alone in your fight with OCD, and joining a support group might help to remind you of that. OCD support groups allow you to discuss your personal experiences while learning from others dealing with similar issues.

OCD can worsen when you feel helpless and alone. It’s, therefore, important to develop a solid support network. The more you are connected to other people, the less vulnerable you will feel. And simply talking to someone who understands your concerns and urges can make them feel less dangerous.

It is also essential to invest in relationships with family and friends. Talking about your fears and urges in front of others can make them seem less genuine and dangerous.

#5 Consider therapy

If you think your OCD symptoms are significantly affecting your quality of life or becoming too much for you to bear, consult a mental health professional.

Talking with someone who has treated OCD before can help you accurately diagnose your symptoms and find a treatment tailored to your needs.

Exposure response prevention (ERP) is one of the newest therapies for OCD. This therapy helps you manage your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors by progressively exposing you to what triggers your OCD.

A Word From a Psychologist

You are considered neurodivergent if you have been diagnosed with mental health conditions such as OCD, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or autism spectrum disorder. However, if you have never been formally diagnosed but strongly identify with the criteria for one or more categories of neurodivergence, you should consult with a professional to be certain.

Remember that neurodivergence is not a medical term, a mental illness, or a diagnosis. However, it can be linked to other mental illnesses and physical issues that can be diagnosed, treated, and possibly cured.

Neurodivergent people may exhibit different signs of neurodivergence. This means that people who are neurodivergent may exhibit symptoms in various ways. The best way to identify if you are neurodivergent is to explore this issue and visit your doctor for a proper diagnosis.

Your doctor will discuss several therapy options, depending on the problem causing your divergence.


Everyone has intrusive thoughts from time to time. While they can be strange or even upsetting, most people don’t dwell on them. However, if you have OCD, these ideas might become obsessive. You may struggle to cope, and they may make it difficult for you to operate in your regular life.

The good news is that several treatment choices exist for various conditions, including therapies, lifestyle changes, medications, support groups, and self-help tools.

For example, a person suffering from OCD may benefit from mindful activities, exercise, and behavioral therapy, like exposure response prevention, acceptance and commitment therapy, and cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT).

Written by
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
The article was checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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