Everyone’s brain works differently. Each one is uniquely configured, like a fingerprint or snowflake. The vast surface area of our brains hosts trillions of possible neural connections. With so much potential for variance, it’s no wonder we all respond to emotions, sounds, smells, weather, colours – you name it – in an individual way.  

This special wiring explains why some people can ride a bike with ease, but their best friend will take months to get the hang of it. Or why Todd feels cold in summer but Beth wears shorts in a snowstorm. Their brains are simply responding differently to the same stimuli.  

Perhaps, like Spock in Star Trek, you can send a message to your hand, commanding your fingers to split into a Vulcan Salute. Perhaps you can’t. Frankly, who cares? It’s simply a symptom of your neurodiversity. There’s no right or wrong, good or bad, gifted or slow. Nor any discernible benefit (outside of a Star Trek convention).   

While we recognise different personalities, levels of intelligence, gender, race, religion, sexuality; why is neurodiversity so often viewed as a disorder, abnormality or disability? Labels such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia are typically perceived as a problem that needs managed rather than an advantage that can flourish with the right adjustments. When it comes to neurodiversity, society’s glass is still half empty.  

In the ‘bad old days’, neurodiverse children were dismissed as troublemakers, attention seekers, hyperactive, lazy, rude, clumsy or unwilling to learn. With just a little more support, these children could have prospered in the classroom, instead of wishing away their school years. Many went on to ‘surprise’ their teachers by finding success in later life.  

Seeing the world differently  

Evidence shows that people with ADHD can bring an energetic, novel approach to a problem, showing exceptional calm under pressure. Those on the autism spectrum, such as Greta Thunberg (who also has ADHD), can become successful mathematicians, researchers, campaigners, artists and architects, especially when others see the world from their perspective.  

For example, I teach several students on the spectrum and they feel distressed if their desk is by a wall in the classroom. So, I make sure they can sit in the middle of the room. It doesn’t bother me or anyone else. An old-school teacher, with no understanding or empathy, might insist on making them sit by the wall to ‘learn a lesson’ or ‘pull themselves together’.  

It’s devastating to think how many children with dyslexia were categorised as ‘thick’ before diagnosis became more widespread. In reality, many can process information at a high level, yet they may take longer to read, spell or write words. That’s not a ‘weakness’ or ‘their fault’. It’s simply the way that their brain is wired. Therefore, it makes absolute sense to give them more time or promote the use of digital word processing or spellcheck.  

Icons of business such as Bill Gates and Tommy Hilfiger have lived and worked with dyslexia. The esteemed space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pock takes longer to process written information, but her vast IQ means she can do so at a far-higher level than most people without dyslexia.  

Dyspraxia, which affects 6% of the population, was previously dismissed as clumsiness or ‘must try harder’. If you have ever experienced the frustration of struggling to tie your shoelaces, thread a needle or do up a tiny button; then that’s how it can feel. People with dyspraxia can find it hard to stay tidy and their paperwork often descends into chaos.  

Yet, these issues are fairly easy to overcome. Give kids shoes without laces. Let them do hobbies that don’t require fine motor skills. You don’t need to play football to be a brilliant scientist. It’s vital that any solutions are developed in partnership with people with dyspraxia themselves. They understand the condition better than anyone else. Again, this neurodiversity need not hold people back. Daniel Radcliffe has enjoyed a magical acting career, despite a lifelong battle with organisation and clutter.  

Look beyond the labels 

Tourette’s Syndrome shows in sudden movements, physical ticks or verbal outbursts, typically exacerbated by stress. Teachers often scolded a student for being rude or attention seeking, when really the child wanted the ground to swallow them up. Ironically, people with Tourette’s can grow up to be especially empathetic to others’ emotional states. The singer/songwriter Billie Eilish has become a global superstar, despite long periods of her early life when adults thought she was being ‘difficult’.   

So many people are neurodiverse – just as they always have been. Today, we have more labels. These can be a release for some, as they understand why they have acted this way for years. For others, labels can prove more disabling than the condition itself, especially if it is used as a platform for cruelty or exclusion.  

How much better if society simply welcomed neurodiversity as a quality rather than challenge? If we worked to people’s strengths, rather than pigeonholing and highlighting weakness. Businesses that embrace neurodiversity find different ways of solving problems. And when you think of the world’s problems, heaven knows we could do with some novel solutions!  

Job descriptions will demand that the applicant has a B in GCSE English, be a good team player and demonstrate sound organisational skills. People with dyslexia, high-functioning autism and dyspraxia probably won’t apply, even though they may be well suited – or even better suited – for the role.  

The truth is that none of us is normal. We all have our different strengths and weaknesses. It’s just that certain differences fit more easily within the parameters set by education and society. And it’s those parameters that need to flex – because we can’t change neurodiversity.  

 

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About the author

Kay Field

Digital Marketing Officer

Kay is the Digital Marketing Officer at the SPƵվ.