A call to celebrate neurodiversity
In 2010, I qualified as a counsellor and I remember having a conversation with a peer about 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”. When I worked with them, I didn’t see anger; I saw bags of energy and bright personalities, but high levels of frustration about not being able to access learning and feeling misunderstood.
My interest grew further when cases of anxiety and school refusers increased in girls. 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 girls with ASC (autism spectrum condition) became very good at masking their traits and difficulties growing up, leading to low self-esteem and high anxiety levels. I also learnt that some neurodiverse young people find attending school so incredibly challenging as it's exhausting to mask. School becomes highly anxiety-provoking and if their sensory concerns become overwhelming, the CYP may not know how to tell the school staff.
Gladly times are changing, staff have the 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 finds it hard to learn French/Spanish vocab by the conventional method of reading, covering, and 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, they don’t automatically think they can’t do them, or think 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 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, and 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, some of the best inventions, cures for diseases, businesses, or music would never have happened. And we wouldn’t live in the world we do now... surely that’s something we should all be celebrating!