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Is OCD neurodivergent?

Is OCD a mental health condition that is associated with neurodivergence?

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September 19, 2022
4 min read

You may know a little about OCD, but it's an incredibly diverse and nuanced area of mental health— is OCD neurodivergent? What's the difference between OCD and OCPD? Can one disorder become the other, or are they different all together? Read on to find out everything you need to know about OCD and neurodivergence.

Article breakdown

So, what is OCD?

OCD is a mental health condition commonly characterised by distressing, intrusive thoughts (obsessions), repetitive behaviors (compulsions) and avoidance of situations that trigger obsessions or compulsions. Obsessions relate to intrusive thoughts or images that cause significant anxiety and distress, and compulsions are repetitive rituals that allow the person to lessen their anxiety temporarily.

If you've been diagnosed with OCD, it's important to know that you're not alone. It's estimated that 1 in 50 people have OCD—that means there are quite a few people out there who experience some of the same symptoms as you do.

What does OCD look like?

People with OCD may engage in repetitive behaviours or thoughts (like washing hands), avoid situations that trigger their obsessions (like cracks in the pavement), and/or experience significant distress over these symptoms. People with OCD often feel like they are being controlled by something outside themselves.

What is neurodivergence?

Neurodivergence is a blanket term used to describe people with neurological differences, such as autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia and dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and other cognitive differences.

The term “neurodivergent” was coined by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) in 2009, and it can be used to refer to people with any neurological difference. The term is not intended as a synonym for disability or illness—rather, it is meant to emphasise that there are many different ways of being human.

Is OCD considered neurodivergent?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition that results from a chemical imbalance in the brain, one that affects the neurotransmitters responsible for regulating thought processes and behaviour—but is OCD neurodivergent?

When these chemicals are not properly regulated, an individual may begin to experience unwanted thoughts or behaviours that are difficult to control. As OCD alters the way your brain functions when compared to a neurotypical brain, by definition, OCD must be considered a form of neurodivergence.

What's the difference between neurodivergent and neurotypical?

Speaking of difference, the word "divergent" is a synonym for "different," and when it comes to neurodivergence, that means your brain is wired differently from the majority of people. The word "typical" refers to the way most people's brains are wired—so neurotypical loosely means 'normal' or 'usual', while neurodivergent means 'different'.

How is OCD different from OCPD?

Simply put, OCD is a mental illness, whereas OCPD is a personality disorder. OCD is classified as a “mood disorder,” which means that it can cause changes in mood and affect someone’s ability to function. OCD can be treated with medication and therapy, but the symptoms can come back if left untreated. OCPD, on the other hand, does not typically go away once diagnosed. It is also not related to mood or emotions—instead, people with OCPD have difficulty controlling their behaviours or impulses because they are rigid in their thinking patterns.

Can OCD become OCPD?

Yes, it is possible for OCD to become OCPD. When a person has OCD, they are typically concerned with the perceived “right” way of doing things, which can lead to repetitive behaviours or thoughts to keep them on track. If left untreated, this can cause someone’s patterns of behaviour to become more rigid over time—which is what defines [the difference between OCD and OCPD.

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What is an example of OCPD?

A common signifier for OCPD is when someone has an obsession with the idea that they are “doing it wrong” and therefore feels the need to keep doing things over and over again until they get it right, such as organising their home or spending an obsessive amount of time on their work. They may also have fears of making mistakes and being embarrassed by them, which leads them to become extremely meticulous.

While there is currently no official medical definition for neurodivergence, it's clear that the term can be used to describe a wide range of conditions, including OCD. Should people with OCD outnumber those without OCD in the future, it'd become neurotypical.

There's no shame or stigma attached to neurodivergence, as it's simply a natural, biological state of being—we're all wired differently, and the more we shed light on our differences, we can start to break down prejudices and barriers still standing for neurodivergent people.

You can find out more about neurodivergence, or find charities, organisations and services for neurodivergent people, head to Neurodiversity Works.

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