“If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognise the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each human gift will find a fitting place.” – Margaret Mead
Neurodiversity is defined as ‘the diversity of human brains and minds – the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species) http://neurocosmopolitanism.com/neurodiversity-some-basic-terms-definitions/ but as a paradigm, neurodiversity means many things to many people. It supports the concept that neurological conditions, such as Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and dyslexia are normal variations of the human brain and therefore a natural form of human diversity that should be celebrated. The neurodiversity umbrella can be used to describe people with a range of neurological conditions such as (but not limited to): autism, ADHD, dyslexia, epilepsy, obsessive compulsive disorder, mood disorders (such as bipolar or depression), schizophrenia, sociopathy and developmental speech disorders (such as Tourette’s syndrome).
This concept aims to challenge those who believe people who are on the autism spectrum or have bipolar need to be ‘fixed’ or ‘cured’. It is not our place to make people conform to what society has deemed ‘normal’ or ‘right’ but to help them nurture their gifts and gain the self-knowledge to be who they truly are. In ‘Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary’, Thomas Armstrong states that often these disorders attract ‘negative thoughts and attributions from professionals, family and others and those individuals go through life saddled with low expectations’. He encourages the term Neurodiversity as it paints ‘a more positive vision of who they are and who they can become’. It is important to acknowledge the challenges and difficulties that can arise for people who are wired differently, but understand that the condition is a part of who they are, as much as their eye colour, shoe size or taste in films! We can change how we talk about neurological conditions to accommodate and empower neurodivergent (ND) individuals. By using the terms ‘Neurodiversity’ or ‘Neurodiverse’ to describe your friends who have neurological conditions, you are choosing to empower them, to celebrate their talents and unleash their potential.
There have been a plethora of creative geniuses who were likely neurodivergent (Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for example), and lived successful, fulfilling lives and were highly skilled in their field. On harnessing their neurodiversity as a superpower, a young girl once wrote to Richard Branson, Virgin owner, about her dyslexia and this was his reply:
“Being dyslexic can actually be a big advantage, and it has certainly helped me. Don’t let it hold you back – use it in your favor. It can help you focus on the things you do excel at, keep messaging clear and simple, and also fine-tune your delegation skills. Plus, if you do have dyslexia, remember that the likes of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and even Albert Einstein did too. You are in good company!” https://www.dyslexicadvantage.org/richard-bransons-advice-to-dyslexics/
Neurologically diverse people can be vastly intelligent, innovative, passionate and creative. Schools and workplaces are recognising the benefits of neurodiversity when gaining new students or employees and improving their processes to ensure everyone’s abilities are assessed fairly. In western society, we have made huge progress in areas of inclusivity and diversity, but we still have a long way to go. Neurodiverse hiring is now at the forefront for companies such Microsoft, Dell and Virgin. As neurodivergent people can be highly skilled in one area, but struggle within a different skillset (interpersonal skills, organisational skills, literacy or numeracy) Virgin has adapted their interview process and adverts to reflect the inclusive nature of the company. They no longer state that applicants need ‘excellent communication’ or ‘organisational skills’ and they no longer hold up to three rounds of face to face interviews, but judge candidates on computerised skill tests.
Once in the office, neurodivergent individuals can struggle with a number of aspects of a modern workplace: open plan offices, lack of personal space, constant sensory overload or distracting noises. These are challenges employers need to be actively asking employees about, and educating themselves about solutions. Alternative and augmentative communication aids and assistive technologies can help in personalising workplace needs and providing comfort and security, as can creating a quiet or silent work zone. https://www.virgin.com/entrepreneur/how-workplace-benefits-neurodiversity
Neurotypical (NT) individuals can adopt changes into their lives to make sure everyone is being respected, listened to and included:
- Use inclusive language: Avoid using irony, sarcasm, figurative language, rhetorical questions or if you do use them be clear about what you’re really saying.
- Keep questions short and direct
- If you do need to refer to someone’s disability, ask them if they prefer identify-first language, such as referring to someone as ‘an Autistic person’ or individual-first language – ‘person with autism.’ (For more information check out this Bustle article)
- Ask people what they are feeling if they look distressed (If you ask someone how they feeling or doing, almost everyone responds with ‘I’m fine’ or ‘It’s ok.’ ‘What’ tends to get a more descriptive or honest answer which gives you the opportunity to talk or offer support)
- Always ask permission to touch someone, don’t assume you can touch them, even lightly
- Speak softly, clearly and kindly
- Educate yourself online by reading blogs or articles
- Ensure there are ramps and chairs available
- Invite people to a range of social activities: in groups, one to one, go for a walk in a park instead of coffee in a noisy/busy location, different times of the day etc (this will give someone with sensory processing, auditory processing, anxiety etc the opportunity to join in socially in an environment where they feel more comfortable)
- Ask if the person would like you to keep inviting them to social activities (some people prefer less social time and others may have social anxiety and want to come but may need many opportunities to attend before they feel comfortable giving it a go)
- Try to minimise multiple sounds within an environment
- Have a quiet or silent zone where your friend can be alone or you can join them
It is important to respect people’s individual feelings, opinions and their right to free speech. Not all people with neurological conditions believe in the neurodiversity paradigm and some believe that a cure for conditions such as autism should be sought.
We believe we should live in a world that teaches everyone that they are loved for exactly who they are. Let’s celebrate differences, treat one another with kindness and inclusivity, change environments to benefit all and unleash our potential! #allgreatmindsthinkdifferently
Author: Charlotte Seymour