Supporting Neurodivergent Muslims

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Published May 22, 2024

By Laura El Alam

Between 10 and 20 percent of the global population is considered neurodivergent, according to research cited on an article on the World Economic Forum website.  Statistically speaking, that means that in every Islamic gathering around the world, up to two out of every ten brothers or sisters in the group could be neurodivergent.

What is neurodiversity?

According to an article for Leaders, “Neurodiversity describes the neurological differences that can occur naturally in the human brain, resulting in conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and others. A person who is neurodivergent has a brain that functions in a way that is different from someone who is considered ‘neurotypical.’”

Neurodiversity isn’t the same thing as disability. However, some people who are neurodivergent are disabled and might need accommodations at work or school, depending on their unique circumstances.

What is autism?

According to an article on Healthline, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or autism, is a neurodevelopmental condition. It affects a person’s ability to learn, communicate, and interact with others. From medical and legal standpoints, autism is a disability. But according to mental health professionals, not everyone with autism identifies as being disabled.”

“Autism is considered to be a disability… because its symptoms can make it difficult for a person to navigate neurotypical norms,” adds Healthline.

No two autistic people are exactly alike, and their outward behavior and appearance do not predict what they can and cannot do or what supports they need. “Every autistic person presents slightly differently,” writes author C.L. Lynch. “That’s because autism isn’t one condition. It is a collection of related neurological conditions that are so intertwined and so impossible to pick apart that professionals have stopped trying.”

What is ADHD?

According to an article on Exceptional Individuals, an organization that provides employment support for neurodivergent individuals, “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects the nervous system, including the brain, during development from childhood to adulthood. People with ADHD can experience impulsivity, hyperactivity, distractedness, and difficulty following instructions and completing tasks.”

People with ADHD might struggle with time management, concentration, staying on topic, and impulsivity. On the other hand, their strengths can include creativity, enthusiasm, innovation, and hyperfocus.

Why do we hear so much about these conditions nowadays?

Today, health professionals are increasing the understanding of, and ability to identify, the differences in human brains and the myriad of ways neurotype affects people’s everyday life. It might seem like all of a sudden there is a huge increase in cases of autism and ADHD; however, these biological conditions existed in the past. They just weren’t understood or recognized.

According to Psychology Today, “One of the key factors contributing to the rise in Autism and ADHD diagnoses is increased awareness and improved diagnostic practices. Thanks to greater access to information, mental health professionals, educators, and parents now better understand the traits associated with these neurotypes. This heightened awareness has led to more accurate and timely identification, allowing individuals to receive appropriate support and accommodations earlier in life.”


Neurodivergence was not well-understood in the past, and partly because of this, many cultures have misconceptions about it and, therefore, stigmatize it. The Muslims I interviewed for this article found that their family and/or community members often have a great deal of misinformation, fear, or ignorance about neurodivergence.

Note: some names below have been changed to protect identities.

“My son’s dad’s family are from –and live in –the Asian subcontinent,” says Louise A., mother of a seven-year-old autistic child with learning disabilities. “They are not unkind towards him, but his dad was worried to tell them that our son had autism at first, and now they know, they often say he will grow out of it. So, there is definitely a lack of understanding.”

Rosena, another sister, relates, “I am a divorcee and it has been leveled at me that maybe my son presents in the way he does – autistic – because he misses his dad.” She continues, “The community holds me responsible for that, despite the reason for my leaving being due to domestic violence and abuse.”

“My daughter,” adds Rosena, “was told by community members she doesn’t have autism. She was spoken to in a derogatory way and advised she was stupid.”

Unwelcoming spaces

In addition to cultural stigmas associated with neurodivergence in the minds of many Muslims, our Islamic centers are often not friendly spaces for neurodivergent individuals.

“There are no accommodations for our children, or other children who are neurodivergent,” says Fatima, the mother of two autistic children.  “For the entire month of Ramadan, we did not take our children to the Islamic center because those times (as blessed as they are) are highly stressful and a stimulation overload.  The noise is too loud, and the small space is very crowded.”

Rosena states, “My daughter feels high levels of rejection sensitivity and notes the Muslim community does not embrace difference,” adding, “She feels different and feels the Muslim community is judgmental. This leads to reluctance to engage in community functions.”

“When my son was younger and he would attend prayers with me in the women’s section, there were remarks that his presence as a seven-year-old child would cause the young women in the congregation to feel uncomfortable,” says Rosena. “He appeared older than his age. He would try to follow the young sisters in salah but would be physically moved out of the way.”

“I would never consider taking my son to communal events because it would be too stressful for him (and me),” says Louise A. “He ends up running around everywhere.”

What now?

It is clear that Muslim individuals and communities need to do more to support our brothers and sisters who are neurodivergent. They deserve, as much as anyone else, to feel comfortable and welcome in Islamic gatherings.

In part two of this series, I will discuss, insha’Allah, how we can become more helpful, understanding, and accommodating for the neurodivergent Muslims in our communities.

Avatar photo Laura El AlamAuthor Laura El Alam is a freelance writer, editor, and author of the award-winning children’s picture book Made From the Same Dough as well as over 120 published articles. You can visit her online at

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