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Is OCD Considered Neurodivergent?

Reviewed by: Melody Stone
girl sitting across from therapist with her legs crossed in psychotherapy for her OCD

The relationship between Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and the concept of neurodivergence is a topic of ongoing exploration in mental health and neuroscience. While OCD is classically categorized as an anxiety disorder, some of its hallmark behaviors and patterns may resonate with definitions of neurodivergence. 

An estimated 2.3% of adults in the United States have encountered OCD during their lifetime. This statistic underscores the significance of understanding the disorder in the broader context of mental health. To provide clarity, it’s essential to delineate the core characteristics and definitions of neurodivergence and OCD. As the discussion progresses, the complexities of their relationship will become more apparent. Our understanding, descriptions, and classifications will likely undergo refinement and evolution as research advances.

What is Neurodivergence?

Neurodivergence is the idea that our brains function in varied ways. It encompasses social interactions, learning methods, focus levels, and emotional responses. This concept helps us understand that differences in brain function, such as ADHD, Autism, or Dyslexia, aren’t necessarily negative or abnormal. Instead, they represent the diverse ways human brains operate.

For example, people diagnosed with Autism, ADHD, or Dyslexia are often called neurodivergent. Recognizing and appreciating these differences reminds us that every individual’s brain has unique patterns and that these differences enrich our communities and societies.

What is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, commonly called OCD, is a mental health disorder that stands out due to its distinctive characteristics. It centers around two key components: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are persistent, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that can cause significant anxiety or discomfort. These aren’t just everyday worries; they are more intense and often feel uncontrollable.

In an attempt to combat or neutralize these distressing obsessions, individuals with OCD might engage in compulsions. These are repetitive behaviors or mental rituals performed to reduce the unease caused by the habits. While these rituals might offer temporary relief, they often don’t provide a lasting solution. They can become time-consuming, hinder daily routines, and negatively affect an individual’s quality of life.

OCD & Neurodivergence

The intersection of OCD and neurodivergence prompts a thought-provoking debate in mental health and neurodiversity. The central question is at the heart of this debate: Is OCD neurodivergent?

Traditionally, OCD has been viewed through the lens of anxiety disorders due to its hallmark symptoms of persistent, unwanted thoughts and the resultant compulsions. However, the intensity and pattern of these obsessive thoughts and behaviors somewhat resemble the distinctive neural patterns often associated with neurodivergent conditions. As such, there’s an emerging conversation among experts, patients, and advocates about whether OCD might have a place within the broader neurodiversity movement.

It’s important to note that, as of now, OCD is not conventionally classified as a neurodivergent condition. Yet, with continuous research and our expanding knowledge of the intricate nuances of the human brain, it’s conceivable that our understanding and categorization of OCD about neurodivergence might undergo significant shifts in the future.

Causes of OCD

The origins and causes of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are multifaceted, and researchers continue to study and understand this complex disorder. A few key factors have been highlighted as potential contributors:

  • Genetic Factors: There’s evidence that OCD may run in families, suggesting a genetic component. However, a specific “OCD gene” has not been identified, and multiple genes likely play a role.
  • Neurological Aspects: Brain imaging studies have shown differences in the frontal cortex and subcortical structures of those with OCD, pointing to potential neurological causes.
  • Serotonin Imbalance: Serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for mood regulation, is believed to play a role in OCD. Some theories posit that a deficiency or imbalance in serotonin may contribute to the symptoms.
  • Environmental Triggers: Traumatic or stressful life events may act as catalysts in the onset or exacerbation of OCD in some individuals.
  • Infections: Some studies suggest that certain conditions, like pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal diseases (PANDAS), can trigger OCD symptoms in children.


A study linking traumatic events to OCD determined that trauma can exacerbate OCD symptoms. By understanding these potential causes, researchers hope to develop more effective treatments and perhaps preventative measures.

Treatment for OCD

Addressing and managing OCD often requires a tailored approach based on the individual’s specific symptoms and severity. Here are some primary methods of treatment:


  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This psychotherapy form has proven effective in treating OCD. It aids individuals in recognizing the irrationality of their obsessions and finding ways to cope without resorting to compulsions.
  • Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP): A subtype of CBT, ERP involves gradually exposing individuals to their obsessional triggers while teaching them to resist performing the associated compulsion. Over time, the anxiety triggered by the obsession tends to decrease.
  • Medication: Several antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have been approved to treat OCD. They work by influencing serotonin levels in the brain, which can help reduce obsessions and compulsions.
  • Combination Therapy: For many, a combination of therapy and medication proves most effective. By addressing the disorder from multiple angles, individuals often experience a more significant reduction in symptoms.


As with all mental health treatments, working closely with a healthcare professional to determine the best approach for each individual is essential. Integrating medicine is important, especially when symptoms become more severe. Learn more about the factors that can cause OCD to get worse.

How to Tell if I’m Neurodivergent?

Understanding neurodivergence begins with recognizing that everyone’s brain functions uniquely. Some signs might include persistent struggles with traditional learning methods, heightened sensitivities to environmental stimuli, or feeling consistently “out of sync” with societal norms. However, consulting a mental health or neurological specialist is advised to accurately assess and understand one’s neurocognitive functioning.

Treatment for OCD at Acera Health

At Acera Health, we understand the complexities of OCD and the challenges it brings. Our holistic approach aims at understanding each individual’s unique experience with OCD and tailoring a treatment plan best suited to their needs. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists utilize evidence-based treatments, ensuring the best care for our patients. If you or a loved one grapple with OCD, trust Acera Health to guide you toward balance and well-being. Explore our range of services and embark on your healing journey today.


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