Guest post by Helen Needham
It is hard to succeed when you continually seem to be battling against the tide because of the way your brain is wired, and you process information differently to the people around you. Last year I was diagnosed as autistic, three years after my son was diagnosed at the age of 5.
We have both battled because our brains process information differently, and each of us have been able to find a way to deal with many of the challenges we faced by being true to who we are. This meant embracing our differences, focusing on our positives and putting in place support to help us with the things we struggle with.
Last year I came across the term Neurodiversity, and this perfectly summed up how I felt – we are different, not deficient. I am now looking to spread the word about Neurodiversity, as I believe that a Neurodiverse world is a richer world.
Here are the 10 things I want you to know about Neurodiversity.
Neurodiversity is about viewing Neurodevelopmental differences (autism, ADHD, ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, OCD, bipolar) as a genetic variation, and recognising that there are different types of brains, which is a good thing. These differences can bring positives, as well as challenges, and like other forms of diversity these differences can enrich communities and society.
A Neurodivergent thinker is an individual who is autistic, dyslexic, dyspraxic, ADHD, bipolar, OCD …. They think differently, may require support in education / work / life, and have much to offer the world. It estimated that 1 in 10 people are Neurodivergent, which means there are many of us. In my opinion, they are also amazing and are likely to surprise you when given the chance.
Unfortunately, many of the Neurodivergent thinkers I meet struggle with anxiety and other mental health issues. Why? Because they are not fully supported to be themselves, especially in educational settings and workplaces. Far too many people seem to be growing up thinking they are defective or broken, especially if they are diagnosed later in life.
The goals of Neurodiversity can be different, for different Neurodivergent thinkers.
For some Neurodivergent thinkers it is about being better supported in the workplace, for some it is about being able to find a job and for others it is simply about being accepted for who they are and not being expected to fill a mould that they were never meant to fill.
What I have found is that there is a common desire to understood, acknowledged, accepted, supported and valued. To no longer be discounted, marginalised or written off because they are different and may behave in unexpected ways.
Neurodiversity is more than just embracing people who think differently. It requires bringing about new ways of living, learning and working. These are known as reasonable adjustments, and can differ for each Neurodivergent thinker.
There are some great guides for thinking about what to consider, including the Dept. of Education Guide Teaching for Neurodiversity guide, and the CIPD neurodiversity at work guide.
In most cases the biggest change needed is a change in mindset. In my limited experience this has been one of the greatest barriers to Neurodiversity.
I have heard of numerous instances where teachers and employers are asked to consider reasonable adjustments, only to either be told that “there is no issue” or that it is not possible due to cost/ complexity / being given special treatment.
The biggest differences and changes happen when you are able to find educators / employers who are willing to try what is possible, and are open minded to exploring different adjustments. In many instances, it is small changes which can make the biggest difference.
The second biggest change required is the willingness to collaborate and consult with Neurodivergent thinkers (and their carers, for young people). To be successful any Neurodiversity initiatives need to involve the Neurodivergent, as they have the insider knowledge of what works and more importantly what does not work.
Not everything is going to work from the offset, you need to be willing to learn together. To achieve this open communication, trust and respect is key from both sides.
Embracing Neurodiversity takes time, and it will fail if you embrace it in name only or try to use it as a short-term profit making/ CSR initiative. You need to think about the organisational practices, culture and attitudes before you start hiring. There is no point recruiting Neurodivergent people into your organisation, if they are not supported to succeed once they are in the organisation.
There are proven benefits to Neurodiversity, and I believe that we are just beginning to see what is possible when you fully embrace Neurodiversity. Each of the companies who have embraced Neurodiversity have reported that the benefits far outweigh the costs and time required to achieve it.
Some of the reported benefits includes innovative thinking, increased productivity, creativity, thinking outside the box, and attention to detail.
Other reported benefits include improved communication, management and decreased anxiety / mental health issues within organisations.
Neurodiversity doesn’t just benefit Neurodivergent thinkers and organisations. Focusing on removing barriers for Neurodivergent thinkers will also remove barrier for Neurotypical thinkers (those who are not Neurodivergent). Thus, Neurodiversity is beneficial for all.
In fact, it has been reported that cognitively diverse teams solve problems faster.
Neurodiversity is not just in the hands of the Neurodivergent, educators and organisations. Allies are essential. For Neurodiversity to be embraced, everyone needs to get involved. This means helping to raise awareness, calling for change, and thinking of the ways in which you can bring about changes for Neurodiversity in the world around you.