A call to celebrate neurodiversity
In 2010 I qualified as a counsellor from Leeds Met Uni, and I remember having a conversation with a peer around what, in the future, we felt we may specialise in. I remember saying I could never work with children as I think it would be too heartbreaking and at that point I didn’t have any clue what neurodiversity was. Fast forward 11 years and my work has predominantly been with children and young people (CYP) and now 80% of my caseload is with neurodiverse people.
My interest in neurodiversity began in schools when referrals were being made for “angry boys” yet when I worked with them I didn’t see anger, I saw bags of energy, bright personalities but high levels of frustrations around not being able to access learning, not knowing why and not feeling like they were understood.
It grew further when cases of anxiety and then children becoming school refusers grew especially in girls and I began to wonder why that was and what else could be going on.
I attended a really good ASC/ADHD training which helped me understand that in girls with ASC (autism spectrum condition) in particular they became very good at masking their traits and difficulties and this led to low self-esteem and high anxiety levels. I also learnt that some CYP who are neurodiverse find attending school so incredibly challenging as it's exhausting to mask, it becomes highly anxiety-provoking and if their sensory concerns i.e. audio issues it becomes overwhelming and the CYP didn’t know how to tell school staff and the staff may not have understood what was happening either.
Gladly times are changing, staff have training and are beginning to see past presenting behaviours and are asking the questions why is that child frustrated, why can’t that child stay still, why does the child appear anxious all the time, why does that child not give me eye contact, why does that child not attend school, why does that child have amazing ideas in discussions but struggles to put them on paper?
School staff are also learning that not every child can access learning in the same way and they also have to be creative. Some children find it hard to look at paragraphs of text and read it so they have audio to listen to as well as reading the text. Some CYP find it hard to learn French/Spanish vocab by the conventional method of reading, covering, writing so schools put that vocab onto an audio file for the child to listen to and repeat it verbally.
But what I really hope moving forward is that schools understand that if a child cannot engage with a subject that they won’t need in life, they can’t access and are likely to fail in, that we become flexible in whether that child does that subject, because are we just setting them up to fail? What does that do to their self-esteem?
Let’s do what neurodiverse people do, let’s think outside the box and help them to find what exactly they're good at. Let's encourage those areas for learning which help them find their confidence, which in turn may help them to feel like they can achieve so that when they do their core lessons like English etc. they don’t automatically think they can’t do them, and what’s the point in doing them as they will only fail.
But going back to my interest in this area, what captured my attention and sparked my passion with these CYP was their “superpowers” and this is what we should be encouraging this group to find within themselves, to focus on and to celebrate!
We need to educate people and identify high profile people with neurodiversity to show what a strength it can be and what people can achieve, whether that be the brightest personality with passion (Greta Thunberg), the ability to make people smile no matter what, the most attentive and caring souls, the brilliant scientific brains (Einstein), the best sports people (Simone Biles), the most amazing musicians (Mozart, Will.i.am, Justin Timberlake and Bieber), the best entrepreneurs (Jo Malone, Richard Branson) or the best actors (Emma Watson and Ryan Gosling). Anything is possible!
As a therapist this is my favourite group of people to work with whether it's CYP or adults, I always come out of sessions feeling energised, inspired and privileged to have a small part in empowering them in overcoming barriers and finding their confidence and voice.
As a mum of a boy with ADHD who has been my inspiration I want him to grow up in an inclusive world, where he can celebrate his superpowers. Yes, living with neurodiversity can be a challenge and yes it can be tough on everyone within a household, but for every tough moment there are so many more amazing moments, more laughs, more spontaneity, more interesting conversations… let’s just say life is never boring.
I want my son and every other neurodiverse person to be proud and see that the world needs neurodiverse people. Some would argue that neurodiversity is a natural evolution because without the capacity to think outside the box or hyper-focus some of the best inventions, cures for diseases, businesses, music etc. would never have happened and we wouldn’t live in the world we do now... surely that’s something we should all be celebrating!