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Let's talk about neurodiversity - an introduction

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

With being an Inclusion and Belonging consultant and an Accredited Executive Coach, I get to combine these skills very often to support my clients in their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion journey, and it is freaking fabulous if I say so myself.

Two weeks ago, I hosted a safe space with one of my clients on the topic of neurodiversity. A safe space is a virtual or face to face space where I facilitate a conversation between people who have a lived-in experience of a marginalised experience and people who just want to learn + understand something new. I really believe that such conversations are so powerful because it is often described as 'cathartic' or just 'simply amazing' and it is always very humbling to me.

We are all multifaceted and as people, we are at the intersection of so many diverse characteristics and learning more about these via others, ultimately enable us to learn more about ourselves.

In this safe space, we discussed neurodiversity among a group of employees from different backgrounds and experiences.

Someone's experience, that really stood out to me, is the story of of a White man who got diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) as an adult. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has a very useful resource that will help you to discover more about ADHD. But just for the flow of this article, I will quote some symptoms, which vary from one individual to another - first written by Priory:

  • Struggling with organisation and managing responsibilities

  • Difficulties in prioritising tasks

  • Procrastinating and finding it difficult to finish tasks and keep to deadlines

  • Struggling to focus, in busy or noisy environments or for a long time

  • Being forgetful and struggling with your short-term memory

  • Losing keys, wallet, work papers and forgetting appointments

  • Being restless and finding it difficult to relax

  • Having difficulties listening, and speaking out of turn in conversations

  • Experiencing mood swings, irritability and extreme impatience

  • Struggling to cope with stress

  • Taking risks and having a reduced sense of danger

The man shared that it was a bit of a shock to him and that he didn't really know how to deal with the diagnosis and also what support he needed, especially in the workplace. That actually broke my heart because there is plenty for managers and HR teams to do. Check this resource that particularly explains how to support an employee in your team.

I love this resource so much and shares it with clients when needed because it helps us to focus on the strengths of an employee, who has ADHD:

  • Ability to ‘hyperfocus’ on things they are interested in

  • Willingness to take risks

  • Spontaneous and flexible

  • Good in a crisis

  • Creative ideas – thinking outside the box

  • Relentless energy

  • Often optimistic

  • Being motivated by short-term deadlines – working in sprints rather than marathons

  • Often an eye for detail

ADHD is an important subject, and last month was ADHD awareness month. I know, I didn't cover it in my D&I dates because I chose to focus on Black History Month UK. Yet, this doesn't mean that it is not important. Also, I do believe that awareness days + months are fabulous and should really be celebrated all year long, so I guess this is why I am only speaking ADHD now. Yet, this article is about starting with the basics of the basics: let's talk about neurodiversity, so we can all build a better understanding and then focus on a singular condition.

So what is neurodiversity?

It is the diversity of human brains/minds, the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning, i.e. the way that our brains/minds process information and learn. Neurological diversity or neurodiversity is a biological fact.

Neurodiversity highlights that it is natural and acceptable for people to have brains that function differently from one another.

Rather than thinking there is something wrong or problematic when some people don't operate similarly to others, neurodiversity embraces all differences.

The concept of neurodiversity recognises that both brain function and behavioural traits are simply indicators of how diverse the human population is.

Neurodivergence is the term for when someone's brain processes, learns, and/or behaves differently from what is considered “typical (= neurotypicality: when someone’s brain functions and processes information in the way society expects).

Types of neurodivergence:

  • Autism

  • Dyscalculia

  • Dyslexia

  • Dyspraxia

  • ADHD

  • Tourette’s syndrome

  • And many more

What it is not?

It’s not a perspective, an illness, an approach, a belief, a political position, or a paradigm. There is a neurodiversity paradigm, but that is not neurodiversity itself.

Neurodiversity is not a political or social activist movement. That’s the Neurodiversity Movement, not neurodiversity itself.

Now, the jury is out regarding whether neurodivergence should be seen as a disability or just a difference. What is clear is that neurodivergents are different and need neurotypical people to learn about their experiences and perspectives more.

Did you know that?

Roughly, 1 in 7 people in the UK, nearly 15%, are estimated to be neurodiverse. And actually, 50% of these people don’t even know they are neurodiverse.

What we need to start doing

- stop stereotyping people

- learn more about neurodiversity. According to a survey by Adecco Group, 53.6% of employees had never heard of the term neurodiversity and only 65% would feel comfortable telling their employers they are neurodivergent. On top of that, only 63% would feel comfortable asking for reasonable adjustments.

- stop being scared of saying the wrong thing and possibly offending someone

- focus on belonging and connecting with neurodivergents more by asking them questions about their experiences and their needs

- understand that the neurodivergent population is a fantastic talent pool and that we need to do everything we can to make their experience in the workplace is as inclusive as possible for them and also for everyone

- start celebrating that we are all different, and that is what will make us be stronger and find new ways of creating a more fabulous society for all

Everything I do and believe is that making our society a better place for all, is the responsibility of all of us, so let's do the work and keep learning! 💜

Thank you for reading! Vanessa ⭐️


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