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Paul Anderson-Walsh

ENOLLA Consulting


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Neurodiversity Celebration Week: Celebrating different minds

To mark Neurodiversity Celebration Week (18-24 March 2024), Paul Anderson-Walsh explores what neurodiversity is, the dangers of stereotyping and how to be an ally to neurodiverse individuals.
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While diversity is ostensibly valued within organisations, there exists an unspoken expectation that those who are perceived as different will, over time, assimilate to become more like the prevailing norm.

James Baldwin, with his characteristic insight, once remarked, “The American ideal, after all, is that everyone should be as much alike as possible.”

The fear of reinforcing stereotypes has led many of us to engage in what might be termed ‘same-ification’. This is an assiduous effort to fit in by downplaying the aspects of our identities we perceive to be stigmatised, rather than stand out and potentially confirm negative stereotypes associated with our social identity groups. 

A growing recognition of cognitive diversity 

The advent of the knowledge economy has precipitated a heightened interest in cognitive diversity as a critical element of problem-solving. Albert Einstein famously stated, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

In light of this, individuals who offer different styles of problem-solving and unique perspectives due to their distinct cognitive processes are now considered invaluable assets to organisations.

Employers are now increasingly motivated to celebrate cognitive diversity and are learning to be comfortable with difference – this includes neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity Celebration Week 

It is of no surprise, then, that this year’s theme for Neurodiversity Celebration Week is ‘Celebrating different minds’ – and it would be hard to think of a more apt focus.

The week aims to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences. It aims to transform how neurodivergent individuals are perceived and supported. And it aims to provide schools, universities, and organisations with the opportunity to recognise the many talents of neurodivergence while creating more inclusive cultures that celebrate differences.

We need to think ‘wide spectrum’ not just ‘on the spectrum’. 

What is neurodiversity?

Judy Singer, coined the term “neurodiversity,” advocating for the recognition that everyone’s brain develops in a unique way.  

Neurodiversity is a non-medical term that simply refers to the multitude of ways in which people’s brains process information. It signals a spectrum of strengths and challenges as compared to the neurotypical population.

There are many misconceptions about neurodiversity, such as the erroneous beliefs that neurodivergent individuals cannot function in society or that neurodiversity is a disorder or a disease that needs to be cured. 

It is also a common misconception that neurodiversity is synonymous with autism. It is estimated that approximately 15% of the population displays traits of neurodiversity, necessitating a broader perspective than the autism spectrum alone.

We need to think ‘wide spectrum’ not just ‘on the spectrum’. 

Avoid stereotyping

A word of caution for the neurotypical reader, be careful to avoid the stereotyping of neurodiverse individuals; a common yet erroneous assumption is that all neurodivergent individuals are alike.

Stanton House’s enlightening publication Neurodiversity at Work draws upon the wisdom of Dr Stephen Shore, who stated, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

Common neurodiverse conditions 

Among the conditions commonly identified within the neurodivergent community are dyslexia, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with dyslexia being notably prevalent among adults.

Better Up estimate that 70 percent of all neurodevelopmental disorder diagnoses are concentrated on three main conditions: dyslexia is the most common type of neurodivergent condition among adults with approximately 10% of adults diagnosed with the learning difficulty. Around 4-5% of the population has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A further 1-2% of people has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Neurodiversity is going to be a critical part of any inclusion fluency programming. 

Other conditions sitting under the neurodiverse umbrella include: Tourette Syndrome, Dyspraxia, Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and Dyscalculia.

There is some interesting discussion as to whether people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are neurodivergent. BPD has some important similarities with neurodivergent diagnoses. However, because the definition of neurodivergence is still evolving, it is not yet certain whether BPD falls into this category. See The Lancet.

Five ways to be allies of neurodivergent individuals

To create and sustain environments where everyone can thrive, neurodiversity is going to be a critical part of any inclusion fluency programming.  So how can we be allies and advocates for neurodivergent people? 

  1. Educate ourselves and others: Strive to understand the wide array of neurodivergent conditions and their respective impacts on individuals.
  1. Challenge and dispel stereotypes: Actively share accurate information and experiences to combat prevalent misconceptions about neurodiversity.
  1. Promote and implement inclusive practices: Advocate for and implement policies and practices that provide accommodations and support for diverse needs.
  1. Foster openness to listening and learning: Remain open and receptive to learning from the experiences and perspectives of neurodivergent individuals.
  1. Support and encourage representation: Ensure that neurodivergent voices are included and valued in decision-making processes and discussions about inclusion.

Embracing these practices will enable organisations to move towards a genuinely inclusive culture, where the unique contributions and potential of every individual, including those who are neurodivergent, are recognised and valued.

Interested in this topic? Read Holding space for ADHD in the workplace and celebrating neurodiversity

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Paul Anderson-Walsh


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