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Un-Masking Neurodiversity

The importance of raising awareness of neurodiversity in society

Many aspects of our society and institutional systems function on the assumption that our minds are neurotypical, thinking and behaving in ways that are perceived as normal by the wider society. This assumption ignores the neurodiversity among human-beings which exist in our society, leading to various barriers which neurodivergent individuals (people living with autism, ADHD, dyslexia etc.), must face in our society and systems.

According to the UK’s Institute of Leadership and Management published report, 1 in 7 people are neurodivergent, but only 16% people with neurodiversity are employed in the workforce.

Our educational system fails to provide the right support to neurodivergent people, especially Black, Asian and Roma students. Being diagnosed with dyslexia with tendencies of dyspraxia as a young adult at university, I understand the need to create awareness around neurodiversity. Essentially, it allows us to understand people around us better, ourselves and to create a better world where we all can thrive in.

Neurodiversity is a term which promotes the view that neurological differences are to be recognised and respected. It is a movement which focuses on society and services to accommodate and support the needs of all diverse people within the population. As a dyslexic person with dyspraxia tendencies, I tend to write and read slower, taking longer to comprehend tasks and it is sometimes hard to express myself. I find it challenging to maintain organised and remember important dates when starting new tasks where I can become overwhelmed and thus procrastinate.

Fortunately, companies like Made by Dyslexia charity support neurodiversity and advocate for the right support. In the process, these companies reframe education and employability. Also, I am able to now explore the innate benefits to being dyslexic with dyspraxia tendencies as I am attentive to patterns or trends, highly empathetic and creative. This is to a large extent aided by emerging technologies that aim to address the barriers faced by people living with neurodivergent traits.

Neurodiversity shows that we all have the responsibility to learn, understand and support all forms of disabilities and diversity. This becomes important as society often teaches us at an early age that to be accepted is to be like everyone else. It ingrains in us the notion that we will suffer for what differentiates us from others. In secondary school, I remember learning that being different to the majority was to be bullied or isolated as kids with disabilities in secondary school which were bullied.

This had consequential effects where I began to mask parts of myself which were once labelled weird. The stigmas I encountered as a kid was the labels of being dumb, slow or ditsy which naturally hit my fragile confidence. I would often attempt to imitate neurotypical people as I thought that we should all think the same and to fit into society. This imitation of neurotypical people is called masking and has been found to be used by neurodivergent individuals to avoid negative and social rejection within wider society. However, this is unhealthy as masking only triggers negative mental health effects on neurodivergent individuals.

There are mental health implications for masking like depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. This was a reality that was real for myself, leading to the number one question which I ask employers today: how do you cater for neurodivergent individuals within your company? This becomes significant as I come to accept my dyslexia with dyspraxia tendencies. It is important to unmask myself and make sure that the spaces which I enter are supportive of my neurodiversity. I was twenty-three years which I used masking as a survival technique within wider society mentally difficult and detrimental to my mental health. Therefore, I believe it is important for everyone to be neuro-inclusive and to be aware and supportive of invisible and visible disabilities within our society.

There are various ways in which you can become neuro-inclusive to neurodivergent people

- Research to understand and become aware of the meaning of neurodiversity within society.

- Ask and read on social media about experiences of neurodivergent individuals – be mindful that not everyone is the same

- Accept individuals and become aware of the different stigmas which effect neurodivergent individuals

- Try and advance neurodiversity in workplaces or education - check if your workplace or school has implemented a neurodiversity awareness course or has the right support

- Be supportive and make sure to make inclusive social spaces for neurodivergent people

Ultimately, these are ways to which we can start building a society which is more neuro inclusive. This is important to tackle the issue of masking which some neurodivergent individuals have used as a survival technique. It is important to build a world where all people can feel supported and included so we can all have a rich and fulfilling life. Considering neurodiversity is to take responsibility to learn, understand and support all forms of disabilities and diversity. It is about embracing individuality and building a supportive community for one another.


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