Neurodiversity – What does it mean to us all?

23 March 2023

During this year’s Neurodiversity week (13 – 19 March) I had the privilege of attending a number of fascinating webinars. As I waited for the first of my 5 chosen sessions to begin I felt fairly confident of my knowledge of what being neurodiverse (ND) meant – 10 minutes later I began to realise how little I did in fact know and understand.

Starting with a mathematical sum we were asked how we would calculate 45 + 67. The 1500 plus strong audience from all corners of the world (now that statement alone would confuse someone with Autism … corners on a sphere …??) came to the same answer but using a variety of methods. We all got to the same correct answer, we just did it differently. Who is right handed now but started out as a leftie. Why? Who decided that left handed was wrong and why? If the words can be written down and read does it matter?

I understood that Autism is a neurodiverse condition. As a parent of an autistic son I am well read on Autism and like many parents of a disabled child I have attended the courses and peer support networks to help me to help him. What I hadn’t appreciated beforehand was how complex neurodiversity is and how far reaching it is in terms of the associated conditions.

Autism (2% of population), ADHD (4%), Dyslexia (10%), Dyspraxia (6%), Dyscalculia (5%), Tourette Syndrome (1%) – ALL fall under the umbrella term of neurodiverse. Dig deeper and the spokes of this umbrella also include Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, Acquired Brain Injury and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Some people have diagnoses of 2,3 or even in some cases 4 of these conditions. All impacting on an individual’s ability to engage with others.

1 in 5 people are Neurodiverse. Think of your family, your friendship groups, your work colleagues, members of your community. If 1 in 5 have one or more of the above conditions how do you think this would impact on you as their friend, family member, colleague or community ally?

Of course not everyone wants to be labelled. ND can be a hidden disability- one of the protected characteristics. Schools tend to label a pupil by what they can’t do as opposed to what they can. We all use labels in some form or another – unconscious bias when we see someone who is pretty, or talk to a rich person or someone displaying weakness in a situation where you feel strong. We often can’t help but judge. We wouldn’t openly label that person yet we do with someone with dyslexia. They are often defined by their condition instead of as the individual that they are. We all need to look beyond the label and be person centred in our approach to living or working with them.

What I’ve taken away from the 5 sessions is that we all need to be kind and understanding. Ask what someone needs – how can we help? What language would they like us to use? Talking about ND aids acceptance across the board, we need to remove stigma and negative language. We should all try to look at each persons unique strengths over their weaknesses. What are they good at? How can we harness that knowledge and those skills?

We need to work on creating fully inclusive work spaces – not just for someone with a disability but for all of the workforce, we could all do with a quiet space or noise cancelling headphones from time to time. Struggle is unnecessary if everyone works together. Ask yourself this – if you wear glasses could you perform your job if you left them at home? It’s about enabling everyone to succeed, because the greatest asset to a community or an organisation are its people.

Vicki Sharp – Volunteer Coordinators Network Lead

To find out more about Neurodiversity, join our Volunteer Co-ordinators Network meeting on 15 June.

If you need support with how to make your organisation more neurodiverse friendly, please contact our Community Support North Yorkshire team.