Is OCD Neurodivergent? (and What Does That Mean?)

Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

Neurodivergent, neurodiverse, neurotypical are all terms that are just about 30 years old—relatively new to the world of psychology. It seems like even in just the last five years or so those terms have begun popping up more and more.

 OCD, however, isn’t a new term or a new diagnosis. 

What is OCD?

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an often misunderstood anxiety disorder consisting of intense obsessions and compulsions. Someone with OCD has persistent, uncontrollable, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive, ritualistic behavior (compulsions) as a response to those obsessive thoughts. Their obsessions cause anxiety which can only be relieved through compulsions.

refrigerator magnets that spell "OCD"

Obsessions generally fall into five categories:

  • Contamination—fearing germs and a lack of cleanliness 
  • Symmetry and Ordering—needing order or symmetry in actions or physical objects
  • Checking—fearing that they missed or forgot something important such as locking the doors or turning off the oven
  • Hoarding—believing someone’s well-being is attached to an object
  • Pure O—obsessions with no obvious compulsion or “cure” for the anxiety it causes

These thoughts lead to compulsive behaviors as a solution to quelling the anxiety they cause. OCD compulsions could look like:

  • Contamination—obsessive cleaning or avoidance of possible germs
  • Symmetry and Ordering—maintaining desired order or stringent routines
  • Checking—rechecking things that cause anxiety a specific number of times or until it feels “right”
  • Hoarding—keeping objects despite it’s usefulness or practicality 
  • Pure O—obsessions might be hidden to the naked eye, but can include internal counting, or replaying certain sayings in your head

Only when they complete their compulsions do they feel reprieve from their obsessions. 

What Does it Mean to Be Neurodivergent?

Neurodivergent simply means someone’s brain processes information differently than “normal.” This is not a bad thing, it simply means a person’s brain thinks, learns, or functions differently than a typical person’s brain does. 

If someone has a mental health disorder, they are considered neurodivergent. But being neurodivergent does not necessarily mean a person has a mental health disorder.


Neurodiversity describes how there are many ways a person can be neurodivergent. 

The term “neurodivergent” covers a variety of different diagnoses. Someone with a mental health disorder would be considered neurodivergent, but so would someone with a behavioral disorder. Anxiety and ADHD are very different disorders, but fall under the neurodivergent umbrella. A person doesn’t even have to have any kind of disorder to be considered neurodivergent.

a woman in a red sweater standing against a wall. The text describes the definition of "neurodivergent"

It’s Not a Medical Diagnosis

Neurodivergent is not a medical term but rather a way to describe a person’s cognitive abilities. It is an overarching idea that cognition and brain function among humans is diverse. These variations could be considered a gift, a disability, or simply make you stand out in a crowd. 

The term was first used by Dr Judy Singer in the 90s to break away from the terms “normal” and “abnormal” as she, her mother, and her daughter could all be considered neurodivergent individuals. 

Common Neurodivergent Disorders 

Neurodivergent people often are born with or have a biological disposition to varying disorders. Common neurodivergent diagnoses include:

  • ADHD
  • Autism
  • Dyslexia 
  • Down syndrome
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Tourrett’s syndrome
  • Synesthesia 

Generally, neurodivergent conditions are able to be identified in childhood. They often present themselves early on as learning disabilities and differences, and developmental disorders. 

So, Are Individuals With OCD Neurodivergent?

Because OCD falls into the category of “operating differently than the norm,” it falls under the umbrella of neurodivergence.

How OCD Individuals Differ From Neurotypical Individuals

What pushes OCD into neurodiversity is the reactions to the intrusive thoughts that it causes. Neurotypical people get intrusive thoughts. But they generally disappear quickly without much trouble. People with OCD however, cannot ignore those intrusive thoughts.

Neurotypical people have behaviors that they think bring luck, such as wearing a certain shirt when their favorite football team plays. Many people perform their morning routine the same way for years. However, if they don’t wear that shirt or finish their routine, they are still able to go about their day. 

People with OCD have rituals that must be done or, as they believe, something bad will happen. If a compulsion is not completed, they believe a loved one, another person, or themselves will be harmed. A person with OCD cannot proceed with their day unless they are satisfied with their ritual. 

a man sitting at a table with his head in his hand having an intrusive thought

I May Be Neurodivergent–What Now?

Once again, being neurodivergent isn’t a “bad” thing” What you do depends on whether you feel being neurodivergent negatively affects your life.

Neurodiversity covers a wide range of cognitive differences. Even if you don’t have a formal diagnosis, you might feel like you need to seek medical treatment or learn ways to cope with your thoughts and behaviors. 

If it’s not something you need treatment for, then do whatever makes you happy. Remember, being neurodivergent doesn’t mean there's something wrong, it means you deviate from what is “expected.” Many people who are neurodivergent get by in life without really even knowing that they have something that makes them different. 

What if Someone I Know is Neuodivergent?

Many people you know probably are! Neurotypical people often don’t have any concept of what neurodivergent people are thinking and feeling or why. Even those with a different type of neurodivergence probably can’t wrap their head around it. 

When talking to someone with OCD, it’s important to be understanding and take them at their word. Even if you don’t understand it yourself, you need to respect that this is their reality. 

For example, just because you’ve never been depressed doesn’t mean that a person who is can just “snap out of it.” Be kind and patient with those who think or function differently than yourself.

a man lying on a couch, discussing his OCD with a counselor

OCD Treatment with Inner Balance

OCD can be debilitating at worst and inconvenient at best. If you’d like to start controlling your symptoms of OCD, talk to Inner Balance Counseling. Our team can help you learn to manage your symptoms effectively so obsessions and compulsions don’t rule your life.

Reach out. Show up. Feel better.

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

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