Autism, Embracing Neurodiversity

Speaking on the TEDx stage about my desire to change the world - and bring about neurodiversity inclusion

In March I stepped onto the TEDx stage and spoke about my desire to live in a world where the neurodivergent are valued and included. It was an amazing experience, not just on the day but also in the months leading up to it. It was also one of the most challenging experiences I have been through.

I had decided to apply to TEDx after a friend suggested I give it a go. I didn't have many expectations as I filled in the application form, and was surprised when I made it through to the interview round. When I found out I had made it to the final speaker line up, I was over the moon. Then the reality hit me. I realised that I needed to work out what I was going to say.

I wanted the talk to be about more than my own story. At a time when the world is changing and we need different thinking, I wanted people to understand how embracing neurodiversity today can help companies compete in the new world tomorrow. More than this, I wanted to enlist their help to bring this about.

After 2 months of struggling with trying to distill everything that I wanted to say into 15 minutes, I knew that I needed help. After his invaluable guidance, when I spoke at the Game Changers Event hosted in the House of Commons, I enlisted the support of Robin Bayley from Ginger Public Speaking. Robin challenged me with two simple questions "What do you want people to take away from your talk, and what do you want them to do".

Two simple questions, which turned me inside out and upside down. This was going to be a lot harder than I thought. Was raising awareness of Neurodiversity, something which many people may not have stopped to consider before, enough?Was it an idea worth sharing? For ages I wrestled with the idea that I wanted to share.

So much of the neurodiversity inclusion conversation revolves around changes which are needed at an organisational level, but not everyone is in a position to bring about changes to recruitment, working environments and HR practices. What is the simple action that everyone can take to bring the changes needed for Neurodiversity?

Then I remembered the many people who have shared with me how their perceptions have changed after learning about neurodiversity, and how they have gone on to talk about it with friends, colleagues and family. People who in turn have gone on to talk about it with others. What we need are more conversations about Neurodiversity. Something that everyone can help with.

So often we think of bringing about change as a mammoth task, that is bigger than each of us. Yet there is so much that we can achieve, just by starting a conversation.

This was my idea worth sharing. That each of us can help to bring about neurodiversity inclusion, by having a conversation.

I believe a world where neurodiversity is embraced is possible. It starts with a conversation, it starts with you.

Talk openly about neurodiversity - share what you have heard, and be open to learning from others. The more that you talk, the more that you create safe spaces for the neurodivergent to open up and share their unique perspective. This perspective will help you start to see what needs to change.

Ask the neurodivergent what they need - how they prefer to work, environmental factors that can be challenging, strategies that work, things that don’t work for them. There is no one size fits all, but if you start to focus on outcomes and are open to different ways of working then you can help to bring about change. For the neurodivergent, a small change can make a world of difference.

Keep calling for change - Keep the conversation going, and highlight the benefits of embracing neurodiversity until people are ready to embrace the change. People are often resistant to change, especially when it involves something new. Don't give up.

Me bringing Neurodiversity to the TEDx stage

It is now a few months since my TEDx experience, and I have had a lot of time to reflect on it all. The response on the day, and afterwards was more than I could have hoped for. My husband commented that you know you are making a difference when people come up to excitedly tell you that they are Neurodivergent. Looking ahead I have more speaking engagements coming up, where I will be looking to build upon and share my ideas about embracing neurodiversity.

I have realised that stepping onto that stage was more than just making a speech, it was the development of an idea and putting it out into the world. My attempt to start a conversation. Something that I plan to continue in my quest to live in a world where the Neurodivergent are understood and included.

We are always looking for people to share their experiences or thoughts on topics related to Neurodiversity. If you have something that you would like to share, then please get in touch.

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About Helen Needham

Helen is the originator and founder of Me.Decoded. A passionate advocate for Neurodiversity, - diagnosed as autistic in her 40's after a lifetime of feeling like she was on the outside looking in.
  • England