People with neurodiverse conditions are more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than the general population. This is especially true for people on the autism spectrum, who experience PTSD at three times the rate of non-autistic adults. Reducing the risk of developing PTSD after experiencing trauma is challenging for everyone, but it can be especially difficult for those with neurodiverse conditions. Neurodivergent people may experience additional difficulties as a result of being cognitively or neurologically different from most other people. This article explores some of the challenges that people on the autism spectrum and with other types of the neurodivergence face when it comes to preventing and managing PTSD. It also looks at how these factors impact their risk of developing this disorder and what they can do to address those risks.
Is PTSD Neurodivergent?
PTSD is a very neurodivergent illness that affects the brain in different ways than neurotypical brains do. Anyone who is mentally ill experiences this phenomenon, but the way it manifests itself in those diagnosed with PTSD is unique to the disorder. There are certain symptoms that are directly related to this phenomenon and are common among those who have PTSD such as:
Why Is Ptsd Neurodivergent?
1. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autism is a neurodivergent condition that affects a person’s ability to interact with the world around them. It is often associated with severe anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. People with ASD experience the world around them in a very different way from neurotypicals. They process information differently and respond to stimuli in unique ways. In some cases, this can lead to great difficulty in social situations which can contribute to their high rates of anxiety and depression. These symptoms can also impact their ability to understand and cope with trauma as well as manage PTSD symptoms.
2. Trauma Incongruity Theory
Trauma Incongruity Theory states that people who have experienced trauma tend not to have an accurate perception of reality because they are unable to integrate thoughts and feelings into the same stream of consciousness (for example they may feel like they are trapped inside their own body). This theory is supported by research conducted by Dr. Judith Herman, a professor, and clinician who specializes in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. She states that people with PTSD are often able to process and understand their trauma, but are unable to integrate the experience into their normal stream of consciousness. In other words, they have difficulty integrating the trauma into their reality. This can cause them to have an unrealistically negative view of life and lead them to develop PTSD symptoms.
3. Cognitive Dissonance Theory
Cognitive Dissonance Theory is based on the idea that when people are faced with a new or different idea than what they believe in (for example something traumatic has happened) they will often feel as though there is something wrong with themselves because they cannot reconcile this new idea with their existing beliefs. This theory helps explain why some people with PTSD experience dissociation and why they may not be able to accurately understand what is happening to them when they are exposed to trauma reminders such as smells or sounds associated with the event(s) of trauma.
4. Cognitive Model of Trauma
The cognitive model of trauma is a cognitive-behavioral model that explains the development and maintenance of PTSD symptoms. This model states that many people with PTSD experience symptoms because they have a negative or unrealistic view of themselves and the world around them, which leads to negative thoughts and emotions. These negative thoughts and emotions cause them to have difficulty coping with their trauma, which leads to their avoidance behavior. The more they avoid stimuli associated with their trauma, the more they will experience the symptoms of PTSD (such as hyperarousal). This cycle can continue indefinitely until they reach a point where they are able to deal with their trauma in a healthy manner (such as through exposure therapy).
5. Emotional Memory Theory
Emotional Memory Theory is based on the idea that traumatic experiences are stored in our brains as emotional memories instead of physical memories. According to this theory, our brains will often try to protect us from experiencing these traumatic events by making us feel as though these events did not happen. This is often done through the use of numbing and avoidance behaviors, which are used to protect us from experiencing the traumatic event again.
6. Hyperarousal Theory
Hyperarousal theory is based on the idea that many people with PTSD experience hyperarousal symptoms because they are unable to regulate their arousal levels. Hyperarousal symptoms, according to this theory, include all of the physiological reactions that occur after a person experiences a traumatic event, such as increased heart rate and sweating. These reactions are caused by the fight-or-flight response in our body, which is triggered when we experience fear or danger. Hyperarousal can occur in response to any type of trauma exposure (such as smells or sounds associated with trauma) and can lead to PTSD symptoms if it is not regulated properly.
Core Symptoms Of PTSD
Hyperarousal symptoms are caused by the fight-or-flight response in our body, which is triggered when we experience fear or danger. This can be seen as a result of hyperarousal theory, where hyperarousal symptoms can occur in response to any type of trauma exposure and can lead to PTSD symptoms if it is not regulated properly. Hyperarousal symptoms include:
2. Avoidance Behavior
Avoidance behavior is a psychological defense mechanism used by people with PTSD that involves avoiding reminders or situations that cause them to relive the traumatic event. This leads to avoidance behaviors such as:
3. Negative Cognitions About Self and World Around You
Negative or unrealistic self-beliefs are common in people with PTSD, according to emotional memory theory, which causes them to have negative thoughts and emotions that lead to avoidance behavior. Negative self-beliefs can include:
4. Negative Emotions and Feelings
Negative or unrealistic emotions and feelings are common in people with PTSD, according to emotional memory theory, which causes them to have negative thoughts and emotions that lead to avoidance behavior. Negative emotions and feelings can include:
5. Reliving the Traumatic Event(s)
Reliving a traumatic event is one of the most common symptoms of PTSD, according to mental health professionals. This can be caused by hyperarousal, which leads people with PTSD to re-experience the trauma through intrusive memories or through nightmares. It also can be caused by avoidance behavior, which leads people with PTSD to avoid situations that they feel might remind them of the trauma. According to mental health professionals, it is important for people with PTSD to continue living their normal lives in order for them not to relive their traumatic experiences. However, this can be difficult because they may feel like they are going crazy because they are constantly reliving the trauma in their minds. Mental health professionals often recommend cognitive behavioral therapy to help with PTSD symptoms.
6. Mood Disorders
People with PTSD often experience mood disorders, according to mental health professionals. This can be caused by hyperarousal, which leads people with PTSD to get stressed or depressed when they experience reminders of the trauma in their minds or avoid situations that remind them of the trauma. It can also be caused by avoidance behavior, which leads people with PTSD to avoid situations that they feel might remind them of the trauma. It is important for people with PTSD to continue living their normal lives in order for them not to relive their traumatic experiences, but this can be difficult because they may feel like they are going crazy because they are constantly reliving the trauma in their minds. Mental health professionals often recommend cognitive behavioral therapy to help with mood disorders associated with PTSD and hyperarousal symptoms.
The research on PTSD among people with neurodivergence is spotty at best. This means we do not have as much information about how this condition affects people with ASD compared to other groups. That said, there are some indications that people with ASD are at a significantly higher risk of developing PTSD after experiencing trauma. The core symptoms of PTSD may manifest in people with ASD differently, but they are no less real. The strategies for reducing your risk of developing PTSD are the same regardless of your neurodivergence.