Is OCD A Neurodivergent Condition?

The term "neurodivergent" is a social science term used to describe and celebrate differences in neurological processes between people. OCD is a condition in which people have obsessive thoughts and compulsions that aim to resist these thoughts. So is OCD considered neurodivergent? Read on to find out.
Klara Hatinova

Klara Hatinova

Klara is postgraduate researcher in experimental psychology at the
University of Oxford.

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What does it mean to be Neurodivergent?

The term "neurodivergent" was coined in the 1990s to describe differences in neurological functions from the majority, emphasising the strengths and abilities that this difference brings. Neurodivergence celebrates the differences and emphasises their importance in human neurological function. Neurodivergence was initially linked to autism but now encompasses ADHD, learning disabilities or people with Tourette's syndrome [1].

So, the three principles of the neurodivergent approach are [2]:

  • Everyone is different
  • Being neurodivergent does not imply being better or worse
  • Neurodiversity is something to be accommodated and embraced

Therefore, neurodivergent individuals view their condition as an inseparable component of their identity and personality, which they wish to celebrate and live with [2].

What is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common mental health disorder characterised by obsessive thoughts and compulsions to carry out behaviours [3]. OCD has a lifetime prevalence of 2%-3%, where up to 90% of individuals with OCD also have a co-existing psychiatric condition [4].

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Common symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) include obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive and unwanted thoughts or images that cause distress, while compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts performed to alleviate anxiety or prevent a feared event. Some common obsessions include fears of contamination, aggressive or sexual thoughts, and a need for symmetry. Common compulsions include excessive cleaning, checking, counting, and arranging. These symptoms can significantly impact daily life and require treatment. [1], [2]

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is typically treated or managed through a combination of therapies. The main treatments include:

1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This type of therapy helps individuals identify and change their thought patterns and behaviors related to OCD. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a specific form of CBT commonly used for OCD.

2. Medication: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often prescribed to help reduce OCD symptoms. Clomipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant, may also be used.

3. Other therapies: In some cases, additional therapies such as deep brain stimulation or transcranial magnetic stimulation may be considered for treatment-resistant OCD.

It's important to note that treatment plans may vary depending on the individual and the severity of their symptoms. A combination of therapies may be used, and treatment should be tailored to each person's specific needs. [3], [2], [1]

Is OCD Neurodivergent?

OCD is indeed a form of neurodivergence, as individuals with OCD have different neurological processes compared to the neurotypical population. These neurodivergent neurological processes include obsessive thoughts and urges to carry out compulsive behaviour.

OCD is also frequently linked with neurodevelopmental disorders like autism and Asperger's syndrome, which are considered neurodivergent [5, 6].

On the other hand, some experts argue against the inclusion of OCD in the neurodivergent spectrum. This is because OCD can cause distress and interfere with an individual's daily functioning, where individuals view the condition as distinct from their own identity.

To summarize, OCD can but does not necessarily need to be, neurodivergent. This largely depends on how the individual identifies with their condition. It is important to remember that neurodivergence is not a medical term and will, therefore, not impact your medical treatment and diagnosis.

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Klara Hatinova

Klara Hatinova

Klara is a postgraduate researcher in experimental psychology at the University of Oxford. She has worked across a spectrum of hot topics in neuroscience, including her current project measuring reinforcement learning strategies in Parkinson’s disease. Previously, she studied the efficacy of psilocybin as a therapy for critical mental health conditions and examined molecular circadian rhythms of migraine disorders. She completed her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at the University of Glasgow and participated in a year abroad at the University of California, where she worked on a clinical trial for spinal cord injury.