Embracing Neurodiversity

The journey to being understood

Understood is a Young Enterprise Company, as part of the Chiltern YE Program. Starting our journey was a difficult process; we knew we wanted to address an issue or make a positive impact in some way. We bounced around ideas like environmental problems, student difficulties and more, but we found it hard to really engage with a topic or think of a solution or idea.

The idea for Understood came when I, Aidan (CIO), was looking through my wallet one morning. I am an autistic person, so for this along with the usual spare change and credit card, my wallet sports a few different cards relating to my neurodivergence, such as offering discounts at shops. However, there was nothing there that I could use to communicate what I personally found difficult in the often wonderful world of being neurodivergent; communicating when I need help, and what that help entails, is something I’ve always found hard to do as an autistic person. I often don’tknow how to communicate my needs when I’m distressed. This was the beginning of our journey to create an innovative communication method, to empower people with Unseen Disabilities to take the opportunities they previously could not, based on the worry of not being understood when struggling.

Our journey since then has come a plethora of opportunities to learn more about Neurodivergence, such as contacting the wonderful Dr Camilla Pang, and organisations like ADD-Vance, for advice and feedback. As much as our knowledge of the highs and lows of neurodivergence has grown massively, we do not hold all the answers. What really makes us work as a project is hearing from those who are neurodivergent, to truly reflect the ideas of those who are, for example, autistic or have ADHD or OCD. We embrace opportunities to listen to neurodivergent people; this helps us make sure we always strive towards goals that help people with Unseen Disabilities. As much as our knowledge of the highs and lows of neurodivergence has grown massively, we do not hold all the answers. What really makes us work as a project is hearing from those who are neurodivergent, to truly reflect the ideas of those who are, for example, autistic or have ADHD or OCD.

Certain aspects of life can be harder for neurodivergent people, than for those around them who are neurotypical. These include understanding social norms, or environments that can lead to sensory overload, such as a crowded train or bustling shopping centre. This, combined with a distinct lack of awareness in the public about neurodivergent conditions, leads to people with undiagnosed Unseen Disabilities often being labelled as “difficult”, “lazy”, or “naughty”.

At Understood, we recognise that Unseen Disabilities are in no way inherently ‘wrong’ or ‘damaging’. They do not need to be cured, or corrected, or changed. The best and most empathetic way of improving the lives of those with an Unseen Disability is to create a more inclusive, educated and accommodating society to the needs of all. As a Young Enterprise Student Company, we want to try to change the way society sees neurodiversity and empower those with neurodivergent conditions.

Our strive for accessibility and empowerment is manifested in our free Understood Cards, which we hope to distribute to as many neurodivergent people as possible. The personalised cards explain in detail how a neurodivergent person would like to be helped in situations of distress. Not being able to communicate how to be assisted is something that I, thought about when creating the concept of the Understood Card:

Autism is definitely more of a blessing than a curse, but one of the most difficult issues faced by neurodiverse people, in my opinion, is the lack of awareness – the public are often unsure how to help me when I’m struggling – and how I am also often unable to communicate my own thoughts and feelings when distressed

Aidan, CIO

As a result of our passionate belief that we as an enterprise should be as accessible as possible, we wanted to make our cards free of charge. However, in order to make this possible, we had to find a way of funding them. We combined this with our desire to raise awareness and break down barriers between the public and those with Unseen Disabilities, we designed sustainable wristbands. They are a useful tool to spread our message, and the funds from them go towards keeping our cards free.

We also wanted to create an online presence in which we educate about Unseen Disabilities and promote our cause and our products, something particularly important during the Covid-19 Pandemic, as a lot of our contact and operations have to take place online. We created a stylish, informative, and useful website which serves as a hub for our project, raising awareness for unseen disabilities and facilitating sales of our wristbands and orders of our free cards.

If after reading about us as an enterprise and as a project, you feel you would like to get involved, this would be immensely appreciated. Buying an Understood Wristband is the most active way to contribute to our cause, and helps us keep our cards accessible and free, so we can spread awareness as far as possible and provide as many cards as we can. You can find the sustainable wristbands on our website below.

And if you think you would benefit from one of our free Understood Cards, to empower your neurodivergence and unlock new opportunities, you can order one from our website.

Thank you for taking the time to read about Understood, and if you have any advice or feedback for us, we’d love to hear it – our journey is only just beginning and we’re always happy to listen!

Aidan Hannan, Understood CIO


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