ADHD and self-diagnosis - dangerous or empowering?

As social awareness around ADHD increases, so do the number of people who recognise themselves as ADHDers. With increasingly long waiting lists to be assessed under the NHS and for many, prohibitive costs to seek out private assessment, people are turning to ‘self-diagnosis’ as a way to identify as having a particular neuro-type and to advocate for their needs.


It's not all coming from social media either. Compared to where we were only a few decades ago, our systems of education, health and welfare have a far better understanding of ADHD and other neurodivergencies than ever before. More children are being identified and supported with different approaches in education and parenting.

Historically and often sadly even today, many people will think of ADHD and imagine young hyperactive boys. If you were Black, you would more often be considered oppositionally defiant. If you were female, you were a chatterbox or a daydreamer. If you were intelligent and passed all your tests, you were entirely overlooked in terms of additional needs.

Today we are so much better at identifying and supporting the additional needs of ADHD. Of course, there is more to learn, but we are on the right path. As more children get picked up by the system, guess what happens to their parents? They get curious! Neuro-types are often hereditary. Where a child is identified as having ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, Tourette’s, dyscalculia etc. there is an increased likelihood that others in the family are also neurodivergent. So, it is not just a social media phenomenon. This is about a society developing an increased awareness of difference.

So what do we think about self-diagnosis?

The medical system may urge caution with self-diagnosis and often with good reason. There is a risk that without professional evaluation, misdiagnosis may occur and/or other diagnoses may not be picked up and effectively treated. Certainly, there are many people who desperately need support that can only be accessed as a result of receiving a diagnosis such as medication.

It is also likely, however, that there are huge swathes of people who might not need or want the support that comes with diagnosis. People who may get by fairly well day to day but fundamentally see themselves as different. They may have struggled on and off for decades with various aspects of life. They are now adults whose neuro-uniqueness was missed in childhood because hey, society just didn’t know so much about it back then.

Instead, children were mislabelled as naughty, daydreamy, too talkative, scatty, forgetful, clumsy, sensitive and trouble. This sent damaging messages to undiagnosed neurodivergent children that they were not good enough and needed to work hard to change aspects of themselves in order to be acceptable members of society; to be neurotypical. This is referred to as ‘masking’.
These individuals over the years have learned to mask their true selves and as a result, have developed mental health problems, unhealthy behaviours, poor coping strategies, addictions and low self-esteem in order to try and fit into environments that don’t suit them. They are at increased risk of abuse, financial difficulties, eating disorders and substance misuse. Many of these factors increase the likelihood of reduced outcomes in life around careers, finances, health/wellbeing, mental health and relationships.
Current data suggests 10-15% of the UK population may be neurodivergent. I suspect that over the next few years that figure will have increased exponentially.
Self-diagnosis helps individuals to help themselves. Not to lean into an already overwhelmed medical system but to be empowered by their own self-awareness. To recognise yourself within a group of similar neuro-types can be massively normalising and healing. Connecting with others who share similar experiences can lead to positive transformations in esteem, behaviours, self-care and mental/physical health.
I work with many people who self-diagnose and they often describe a huge sense of relief in recognising themselves as being an ADHDer; as if they finally see that they were always good enough as they were, not faulty, not bad, simply different.
For sure the debate will be ongoing around ADHD, diagnosis and self-diagnosis and rightly so. It’s important that we challenge ideas and remain curious about all that we do not yet know. Perhaps those who self-diagnose may prefer to refer to themselves as self-realised or self-identified as a way of advocating for their identity outside of the medical world of pathologisation. People should be free to use the language that feels right for them, without societal judgement. Let’s face it, many people have already faced many years of judgement – let’s learn to be kinder!
The fact remains that if your day-to-day experiences are hindering your mental or physical health, you would be right to speak to a professional such as your GP to ensure your own pathway to good mental and physical health is well considered. Do not rely on social media for a diagnosis – it’s an unregulated pool of both valuable and inaccurate information. But do allow it and other mediums such as books, documentaries, podcasts and ADHD/ND communities to help you be curious about your neuro-identity.

Seek out the support of neuro-informed counselling if you feel this will help. By neuro-informed, I mean a counsellor who has lived experience of neurodivergence. Someone who not only is a trained therapeutic professional but someone who really understands the nuances of ND life and can work to tailor support and strategies that work for your neuro-type.
If you would like support in considering things further, whether you are diagnosed or not, please check out my profile/website and contact me to arrange a no-obligation introductory call. I identify as an ADHDer, have raised an autistic child, exist within a neurodivergent family and offer counselling, CBT and coaching to many people on their own journey of neuro-exploration.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Ferndown, Dorset, BH22
Written by Kathy Wolstenholme, Reg MBACP, Dip Couns, Dip CBT
Ferndown, Dorset, BH22

Kathy Wolstenholme is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor, CBT therapist and Coach working with adults. She is an ADHD/Autism advocate and supports people in working through difficult past experiences whilst developing healthy strategies for managing day to day life in a predominantly Neurotypical society.

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