Neurodivergent Women’s Self-Care

By Casey-Lee Flood, RN, HWNC-BC

Since the Neurodivergent community is beautifully diverse, I want to point out that every time I use the word “woman/women'' I am referring to anyone who identifies as a woman, not just cisgendered women. I also mean anyone who was Assigned Female At Birth (AFAB) and no longer identifies as a woman. Essentially, no matter how you identify, you are welcome here.

Over the years, you might have bought a lot of planners, self-help books, and self-care products and downloaded tons of mindfulness apps just to find that nothing sticks or really helps. Me too! I am so glad that we are not alone in this struggle to care for our Neurodivergent brains and bodies. 

These attempts at self-care are not moral failings or any fault of your own. You are not high maintenance, a mess, broken, or a lost cause. A big reason for your struggles is that, like with most things in society, a large portion of women’s self-care tools are made for Neurotypical women. There is a whole other layer to your self-care, one that these tools don’t address: our brains. They also don’t accurately accommodate the unique challenges that arise from being a Neurodivergent woman. 

This self-care blog is specifically for you and your amazingly Neurodivergent brain! We are first going to look at how to care for our brains by focusing on sensory needs and special interests. Then, we’ll look at our bodies and how menses can affect our functioning and potentially exacerbate certain neurodivergent traits. 

Ultimately, every person is unique. Please read this knowing it is just one resource. It might resonate and it might not. The important part is that you are showing up to take care of yourself! Reading this blog is self-care, too. 

Take care of yourself by adjusting your environment to suit your sensory needs.

Sensory Self-Care for Neurodivergent Women

When you think about your senses, what comes to mind? Is it the basic five: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing? Or is it that you think about how you can hear fluorescent lightning? Or smell a person’s perfume from 20 feet away? These are examples of sensory hyperactivity. 

Essentially, sensory hyperactivity is when a certain sense or multiple senses are experienced by someone more intensely than an average person would experience them. Sometimes it is felt so strongly that it can cause physical pain, draining a person’s energy and potentially causing significant barriers in life. 

If this is you, maybe a simple act of self-care would be to have all unscented products in your home, use dim lighting instead of overhead lighting, or put noise-canceling headphones on and listen to music. This can give your brain one thing to focus on while blocking out all the smaller yet very intrusive sounds in your environment. 

The goal here is to decrease the amount of information your brain is processing – how much sensory stimulation you let in – while maybe also seeking out a sensory-soothing activity for yourself. 

On the other hand, some people have sensory hyporeactivity. This causes decreased ability to feel temperature, hunger and thirst cues, pain, scents, and/or flavors. This can directly affect how we care for our brains and physical bodies. If a person doesn’t know they are hungry or thirsty, they might need to eat and drink on a schedule. 

Ensuring your basic need of nutrition and adequate hydration is 100% amazing self-care. Really! It is the essential foundation for all other forms of self-care. It can also be very difficult to maintain this especially if you have a Neurodiverse ADHD-like brain. Keeping that routine can feel like climbing a mountain. To navigate this difficulty, look for apps that make self-care tasks into a game or connect to your special interest in some way. 

Nutrition and adequate hydration is amazing self-care for neurodivergent and Autistic women

Special Interests: An Essential Yet Overlooked Part of Autistic Women’s Lives 

Women are often taught to put others before themselves:

  • I will paint after I finish the laundry. 
  • I will play my game after all my work is done. 
  • My partner doesn’t like my special interest, so I will just take part in what they like. 

There will always be something to do that society might have taught us is “more” important than our special interests. I am here to tell you that your special interest is actually more important than a perfect house or upholding societal expectations that do not resonate with your values. 

In one study, researchers found a direct correlation between Autistic adults who were motivated to participate in their special interest(s) with an increase in subjective wellbeing. The same study also found that more male Autistics had special interests than the female participants. I do not think that part is accurate. I think there are external factors that influence a woman’s ability to focus on her special interest. It isn’t that we don’t have any at all. 

A common barrier is getting stuck in perfectionist mode. It might show up in your thoughts like a nagging relative that diminishes the importance of your interest or says that the 10 minutes you have set aside won’t make a difference – so why bother?

How can we beat these patterns of always putting others first or striving for perfection? We can do this if we stop equating the value of our interests with what they produce and don’t worry if it is good enough for social media or to show close friends and family. Its value is in its ability to help bring us well-being and joy. As a Neurodivergent woman, you might have even forgotten what your special interests were as you put motherhood, career, or physical health before any of your interests. I understand – I forgot mine.

If you forgot yours, don’t beat yourself up or tell yourself you are “bad at being Neurodivergent.” Even if there were such a thing, you are not bad at it. You just live in the modern-day world, and it is very busy, and we are often thrown into survival mode. Be gentle with yourself and have an open mind. Think about moments of joy in your life. What were you doing and wearing, and what people, if any, were around you? Your special interests might be hidden in those moments. 

Remember, special interests can range from bugs to high fashion. There are no right or wrong interests. As long as it doesn’t harm you or anyone else, go for it. You deserve to enjoy your life and the things that bring you joy.  

Estrogen’s Effect on Dopamine & Serotonin: How to Care for Our Cycles

Do you know what is considered day one of your cycle? It is the first day of your period. Did you know that estrogen drops twice during a 28 day cycle? Once after ovulation and once in the mid-luteal phase before your period starts. 

Why do I bring all of this up? Because everyone with a uterus who is Neurodivergent should understand what our cycle can do to our brains and bodies, and that it can trigger sensory overwhelm. 

In a certain area of our brain, serotonin helps modulate emotional functions. Guess what increases the potency or ability of serotonin to affect our emotions: that essential hormone that decreases before our period, estrogen. So, think about that week before your period. As your estrogen drops, your emotions can become harder to regulate. You might have more meltdowns or shutdowns or not be able to process your emotions at all. 

Estrogen also affects our dopamine levels by increasing the creation of dopamine molecules and decreasing the reuptake and breakdown of the molecules. Dopamine inside the brain is essential to your executive functioning, pleasure, motivation, motor control, reinforcing behaviors and rewarding our brain. So, as our estrogen drops, we have less circulating dopamine, which makes all of the above much harder for us to do or experience. 

Think about PMS or PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) and how women can experience low mood, depression, anxiety, brain fog, exhaustion, and decreased functional ability. In the latter, some even have suicidal ideation** and are unable to function at all. 

For those in menopause, a lot of the brain fog, worsened Neurodivergent traits, and emotional instability come from the same mechanism, a drop in estrogen. 

There is limited research to date about menstruation and the Autistic/ Neurodivergent experience. However, at least one study shows a much higher incidence of PMDD and PMS in Autistic women. This increased incidence of painful menstruation added to existing sensory sensitivities and executive dysfunction can make periods especially difficult to deal with for many Autistic women. 

Autistic women may suffer from PMS or PMDD at a higher rate than other women

How to Manage Your Cycle as a Neurodivergent Woman

Now that you and I both know we are not just “hysterical” due to our hormones, that our experience is a biological response, that women like us can experience in more intense ways than our Neurotypical peers – how can we care for ourselves during this time? 

Try tracking your cycle by using one of the many apps out there or simply using pencil and paper. There are plenty of resources that explain how to do this. Having your cycle pattern be as predictable as it can be allows you to schedule the rest of your life accordingly. Maybe don’t put a big life event during what could be the week before your period (if you can!). 

Have a variety of your preferred period products available to you at all times. I have a menstrual disc, two different brands of reusable cups, period underwear, and two specific brands of disposable pads that I use. This is the bare minimum of what I need to accommodate the challenges around my menstruation. What do you need? Don’t worry about having more than you need. Having a variety of products helps manage whatever sensitivities arise during that cycle. 

If managing the hygiene tasks associated with menstruation are difficult for you, use disposable products, including disposable menstrual discs if you want. Can't shower one day? Have vagina-friendly disposable wipes on hand so you can clean yourself that way. There is no right or wrong way to do this. The main goal is your comfort and to make sure you are clean enough to avoid developing infections or issues with your skin. 

Have supplies everywhere: your glove box, your purse, your backpack, in every bathroom you use at home, and even in your bedroom. Let’s face it: our monthly “friend” will eventually catch us by surprise. Especially those of us who are AuDHD or ADHD. Just try to remember where you stash it all. 

If you are part of the queer community and/or struggle with body dysmorphia or don’t want to use “feminine” products, there are reusable menstrual boxer briefs available and other products that might help you feel less emotional distress. Your gynecologist or Planned Parenthood might also have additional resources about gender-affirming care in regards to your period and other aspects of your wellness. 

The goal is to be kind to you, have what you need, and not overcommit during times in your cycle that trigger dysregulation. Our 28-day cycle is made up of many hormonal changes in our body that deeply affect us. Menstruation deserves care and compassion, especially when you are Neurodivergent. 

Womanhood with a Neurospicy Brain 

Just know you are enough. Your unique brain brings spice into your life and to the people who know you. The world around you does not have to be perfect in order for you to spend time on what brings you joy. Nor is there a right way to be a woman or to be Neurodivergent. 

I hope this blog was helpful to you in some way. Take part in your self-care in whatever ways are meaningful to you. Be ready to experiment and adjust your self-care in order to fit your needs and life stages. Self-care takes practice and it will never be perfect, but the beauty is in its imperfection. 


**If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Please call the Suicide & Crisis Hotline at 988 to speak with a volunteer.

Recommended reading:

Nonspeaking Autism - My Point of View

Autistic Burnout

What to Expect in Your First Month Taking Neuralli MP


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