In May there was the first ever Neurodiversity Celebration Week, with over 300 schools and colleges having pledged to help change perceptions of what it means to be Neurodivergent. It was the brainchild of 16 year old Siena Castellon who was juggling exams in between driving a national campaign, and who happens to be Neurodivergent herself. A true example that being Neurodivergent does not mean that you need to be limited in your dreams, ambition, and ability to succeed.
During this time I came across many people who asked "what does it mean to celebrate neurodiversity".
So what does it mean to celebrate Neurodiversity?
Celebrating Neurodiversity is the reason that I decided to launch Me.Decoded in June last year, and I know that there are those who struggle with the concept of celebrating Neurodiversity. Especially if they are Neurodivergent and are struggling without support, or if they have a limited understanding of Neurodiversity and are worried about what impact embracing Neurodiversity will have on themselves and their workload.
Does it mean just being positive about being Neurodivergent? Does it mean ignoring challenging behaviour? Does it mean giving people a free pass, or expecting others to take on more to support the needs of others?
I believe the answer to each of these questions is - No.
So what does it mean?
In searching for insights I decided to look into what others have said more broadly about celebrating diversity. This led me to a great quote on a site promoting a diversity & inclusion event at Appalachian university.
Diversity is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts
This simple statement sums up everything that I believe about Celebrating Neurodiversity.
To me it means acknowledging that we have a range of differently wired brains as a result of neurodevelopmental differences, and that embracing these differences benefits everyone. Recognising that collectively we are more when we choose to embrace neurodivergent differences through common values of inclusion, and that this will ensure that together we are greater than our individual contributions.
Achieving this is isn't easy, but it is not impossible - if we all work together. Which is why I am such a big fan of what Siena is doing with Neurodiversity Celebration week. Bringing everyone together to highlight the need to celebrate our Neurodiversity, each and every day.
Promoting Awareness and Understanding
Neurodiversity is a fact, we have differently wired brains. A quick search of google and you can find brain scans and images of neurons which show these differences. These differences impact how our brains process information, resulting in areas of relative strengths and weaknesses. This is referred to as a spikey profile.
It is neither good, nor bad. It is just different.
Yes there are challenges, but many of these are linked to environmental/ societal contexts. Which is why I think that it is important to find ways to identify and remove these barriers, so that people don’t need to struggle unnecessarily. For some people there are additional challenges with learning difficulties, or their needs are so high that it can feel impossible to find a way to achieve this. I don’t have all the answers, but I believe that we will never find them if we don't take make an effort to ask the questions. What are the barriers and how do we tackle them?
A friend once commented “If diversity is being at a party, inclusion is being asked to dance and equality is being asked to help choose the music”. But there was one this missing in this statement. Equitability. Equitability is making sure that everyone is able to get to the party.
Celebrating Neurodiversity starts with making sure that the Neurodivergent are able to make it to the party, asking them about their playlist, and inviting them to dance.
It is about taking time to identify factors that are preventing inclusion, and asking about preferred ways of studying/ working/ living. It is about putting in effort to find someones strengths, and exploring the strategies that can help them make the most of these strengths. It is taking the time to listen and making an effort to understand life from their perspective, without making assumptions about what they can / can’t do. It is being open to exploring new ways of achieving required outcomes, instead of insisting that everyone approaches things in the same way.
It means acknowledging the value of our collective neurodiversity and the need for neurodivergent thinking. Being prepared to take action, and working towards bringing about a change so that the neurodivergent are supported and included. For the benefit of everyone.
When we start to think in this way, we start to realise that celebrating neurodiversity is about embracing our differences and seeing the value that it can bring.
I believe that Siena has started something special with Neurodiversity Celebration week. When we choose to celebrate and embrace our differences instead of focusing on how our differences set us apart, we are able to achieve so much more. Together.
Before I go, I wanted to leave you with some of the highlights from this year's celebration.