Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Is Bipolar Neurodivergent? Intersection of Autism and Bipolar Disorder

Individual brain structures are unique, mirroring the vast array of our physical looks and personal histories. This wide range of cognitive variances is termed as “neurodivergence”.

One prevalent condition debated is bipolar disorder, marked by profound mood swings. This article explores the fascinating overlap between bipolar disorder and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and answers the question, “Is bipolar neurodivergent“?

Key Takeaways

  • Neurodivergence represents a diversity in cognitive functions affecting human interactions.
  • Bipolar disorder, typified by dramatic mood oscillations, shares characteristics with autism and ADHD.
  • Bipolar disorder exhibits an increased prevalence among individuals with autism spectrum disorder.
  • Acknowledging bipolar as neurodivergent promotes a better understanding, tailored treatment approaches, and collaborative research.

Embracing Neurodiversity: Understanding Neurodivergence

An abstract painting of colors.

It signifies a spectrum of cerebral-functional diversity where individuals possess atypical neurological traits impacting their interactions with the surrounding world.

This ideology challenges the ‘normal’ brain norm, accentuating the diverse modes through which people with varying neurotypes experience and interpret the world. Autism, ADHD, and dyslexia exemplify neurodivergent conditions, showcasing the inherent diversity of cognitive functioning.

Defining Neurodivergence

It implies a variant brain functioning compared to the so-called “normal.” It accommodates brains that think, learn, or react differently, celebrating these differences as unique rather than aberrant.

Within the scope of neurodiversity, individuals are classified as neurodivergent when their neurological traits fall outside the conventional neurotypical spectrum. It encompasses a range of conditions, such as Autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, illustrating the diverse ways in which neurodivergent people experience and interact with the world around them. 

This paradigm shift challenges the traditional notion of a “normal” brain, advocating for inclusion and acknowledging the value of diverse cognitive styles and perspectives. Disorders like epilepsy, OCD, and bipolar disorder are part of this neurodiverse landscape, each affecting a person’s nervous system in unique ways. Judy Singer coined the term “neurodiversity,” advocating for the acceptance and understanding of neurodivergent individuals. 

This form isn’t limited to one specific demographic; it can manifest at any age of onset and is more common among individuals than previously thought. Recent studies have linked it to various medical conditions and established connections between neurodiversity and the human genome.

Neurodivergent Types: Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia

  • Autism: Individuals often struggle with social situations. They may pursue repetitive actions and face communication difficulties. Approximately 2.3% of kids are diagnosed with autism.
  • ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder): It’s tough for people with ADHD to focus. Likely to act impulsively or frequently face restlessness, about 9.4% of children have ADHD.
  • Dyslexia: Reading, writing, and articulation become challenging. People with dyslexia might mix up words or struggle with following instructions, affecting nearly 20% of all people.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for People with Bipolar

A split image of a woman showing two different persona.

Bipolar disorder, a condition often associated with people with bipolar tendencies, brings about significant emotional state and energy shifts. People with bipolar disorder experience mania, or heightened energy states, as well as depressive phases characterized by low energy and sadness.

Unlike regular mood swings, bipolar disorder stems from the brain’s workings and structure, which might trigger creativity in some individuals. During bipolar episodes, not just emotional state but sleep, thinking speed, and speech rate can all alter.

In contrast, people with bipolar disorder might feel normal between these intense periods. Diagnosing bipolar II disorder requires a thorough emotional state assessment, considering bipolar symptoms.

Explore Common Nervous Habits to Understand Signs of Anxiety within Yourself.

Is Bipolar Neurodivergent?

A man walking in the middle of the city road.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by intense mood changes, including elevated emotional state and energy (mania) and low energy and moods (depression). It represents brain function divergence, but its classification as neurodivergent is still debatable.

Overlapping Traits: Bipolar, Autism, and ADHD Disorder

Remarkably, bipolar disorder shares traits with autism and ADHD. Strikingly, about 40% of individuals with bipolar display signs typical of autism. Conversely, approximately 7% of autistic persons have bipolar disorder.

Both conditions present common traits – mood changes, impulsivity, and irritability. These overlapping characteristics might make clinical judgment challenging, requiring individual case analysis before settling on a definitive clinical judgment.

Autism and Bipolar Disorder Intersection

A boy with colored cracks on the side of his face.

Bipolar disorder and autism sharing overlapping traits enthuse a connection between these neurodivergent conditions.

Despite their distinctiveness, research indicates a higher bipolar disorder prevalence among individuals with autism. Recognizing the co-occurrence is crucial for a better understanding their relationship and subsequent clinical judgment and treatment strategies.

Bipolar Disorder vs Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Despite their differences, bipolar disorder and ASD share traits and have even been identified as having genetic connections.

Here’s a detailed comparison:

Bipolar DisorderASD
ClassificationBipolar disorder is classified as a psychiatric illness.Neurodevelopmental disability.
Onset AgeOnset, typically around 25, can occur at any age.Traits generally emerge before the age of 3.
SymptomsMood-related issues like mania and depression.Unrelated to emotional state, autism affects social interaction and communication, frequently involving repetitive behaviors.
Population Prevalence40% diagnosed with bipolar also exhibit ASD traits.Approximately 7% of autistic individuals have a bipolar clinical judgment, almost three times higher than the general population.
Genetic ConnectionsNumerous studies have identified genetic links between bipolar and other mental illnesses, including ASD.The genetic precursors of autism have been associated with other conditions, including bipolar disorder.

Genetic Connections Numerous studies have identified genetic links between bipolar and other mental illnesses, including ASD. The genetic precursors of autism have been associated with other conditions, including bipolar disorder.  

Causes and Diagnosis

The exact cause of bipolar disorder remains elusive. However, research suggests potential functional and structural brain differences in individuals. These variations might contribute to bipolar development. Bipolar individuals carry a heightened propensity to develop other neurodivergent or mental health conditions.

A clinical judgment involves evaluating symptoms, medical history, and family history and ruling out potential mood swings. Correct clinical judgment is critical and challenging due to the potential for misdiagnosis.

A thorough assessment by qualified, knowledgeable professionals is essential to differentiate between related symptoms indicative of bipolar disorder or conditions like borderline personality disorder or psychosis.

How Does Autism Impact the Social Skills of Individuals with Bipolar Disorder?

Individuals with bipolar disorder often struggle with social skills, but when combined with autism, it can magnify these challenges. Autism can significantly impact communication and social interactions, making it difficult for individuals to engage with others. However, there are various strategies aimed at improving social interactions, such as social skills training and therapy. These interventions can provide individuals with the necessary tools to navigate social situations, fostering better connections with others despite the dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and autism.

The Impact of Recognizing Bipolar as Neurodivergent

Recognizing bipolar disorder as neurodivergent confers several benefits. Besides enhancing understanding and minimizing stigma, acknowledging its divergence fosters empathy and support for bipolar individuals. Society, thus, becomes more inclusive and accepting. Moreover, it facilitates more suitable treatment options.

Focusing on the individual’s unique functioning, instead of merely managing symptoms, paves the way for personalized interventions catering to specific needs, enhancing treatment effectiveness and life quality for those with bipolar disorder.

Lastly, the recognition encourages investigative collaboration across varied fields, such as psychiatry, psychology, neuroscience, and genetics. This collaboration can help us better understand the underlying mechanisms and develop innovative treatment strategies for conditions like autism, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.


With unique cognitive and structural differences, bipolar disorder fits within the neurodivergence spectrum. Sharing genetic links with autism spectrum disorder it often co-exists with autism.

Recognizing bipolar as neurodivergent fosters better understanding and acceptance for those affected. Continued research into the intersecting nature of autism and bipolar disorder holds the promise of better understanding and enhancing support systems.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does neurodivergent mean?

It refers to the condition where an individual’s brain functioning deviates from the norm. Conditions like autism and bipolar disorder fall under neurodivergence.

Is bipolar disorder neurodivergent?

Bipolar, like autism, ADHD, and other neurological disorders, is considered neurodivergent.

Can Autism and Bipolar Disorder co-occur?

Although distinct conditions, individuals can be found with both autism and bipolar disorder.

What are the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder? 

Symptoms include mood changes, manic episodes, sleep disturbances, high-risk behavior, and more.

Do individuals with Autism or Bipolar Disorder face stigma?

Unfortunately, the neurodivergent population, including those with autism or bipolar disorder, often faces societal stigma due to their unique way of interacting with the world.

How is Bipolar Disorder treated?

Treatments often involve psychotherapy, lifestyle modifications, such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and other interventions aiming at overall mental health improvement.

Identity and Neurodiversity – International Bipolar Foundation
The argument behind such a conception of individual differences as part of one’s identity makes experiencing neurodiverse conditions more like an alternative …

Emily Johnson
Emily Johnson
Emily Johnson serves as our Community Manager and is a strong advocate for work-life balance. She has a background in Human Resources and specializes in topics like wellness in the workplace and work flexibility. With over three years of experience in community engagement and content curation, Emily ensures that the information we provide resonates well with our audience's needs for a balanced professional life.

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