The 21st to 27th March this year has been nominated as “Neurodiversity Celebration Week” in the UK.
How can we celebrate neurodiversity?
First, lets understand what neurodiversity is…
Being ‘neurodiverse’ refers to the concept of accepting that having a brain that works in a different way is simply a natural human variation, like height or hair colour.
The ‘different way’ in which neurodiverse brains function may be due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (more commonly known as ADHD), autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia or other neurological condition.
Around 30% of the population are considered to be ‘neurodiverse’, with the majority made up by those that have a diagnosis of ADHD or an ‘autistic spectrum condition’, although not everyone who is neurodivergent actually has a diagnosis.
Neurodiverse vs neurotypical
Even writing that title gives me pause. Should ADHD, autism and differences in processing information even BE considered as ‘conditions’?
Are they problems to be ‘fixed’?
Should people with differently functioning brains be expected to conform to working or behaving in the same way as ‘normal’ people?
I don’t think so. And neither do Neurodiversity advocates.
They would argue that making workplaces, schools, and hopefully society in general, places where neurodiverse people are able to function at their best, actually improves things for us all.
In the same way, altering our own expectations around how neurodiverse people should be the ones to adapt and fit in to our neurotypical world could well benefit us all.
Having a brain that functions in a slightly different way brings with it a new way of thinking, and I think this is something to be celebrated and valued, in all areas of life.
A different perspective on neurodiversity
My eldest son is neurodiverse, having a diagnosis of both ADHD and being on the autistic spectrum. Getting this diagnosis, in order to force his school to provide adaptations for his differences, was frustrating and stressful. I have every respect for those who choose not to go through that process in order to ‘label’ themselves this way. But, it did bring me into contact with one particular health professional who explained to my son that his neurodivergent brain was something to be proud of.
He encouraged him to see that his ADHD type brain: always alert to changes in his environment, would have allowed his caveman ancestors to be quickly aware of dangers, predators and natural threats, and to be able to act on them. In short, without some of the tribe having those ultra-aware, always-on, extra-alert type of brains, our ancestors would not have survived.
In the same way, the autistic tendencies of his brain ensured that a curious caveman could be focused and analytical enough to solve problems that others had no patience or solutions for.
This empowering way of seeing neurodivergence is the true aim of this week.
If we don’t welcome, encourage, and support neurodiverse people into workplaces and harness their unique ways of thinking, we are losing out on the ability that they have to think creatively, analytically, or simply in ways that differ from neurotypical brains.
Adapting workplaces to make the most of neurodiversity
Being neurodiverse is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act of 2010, which means, happily, that employers are now required to make ‘reasonable provisions’ for their neurodiverse employees.
But what might those ‘provisions’ be?
It’s useful to start with a reminder that not every neurodiverse person, or indeed even those with the same diagnosis, will need the same adaptations.
Below I cover some examples for those with ADHD or people on the autistic spectrum.
How do we adapt for those with ADHD?
The ‘attention deficit’ component of ADHD often means that people with ADHD are easily distracted by competing sensory inputs, like highly patterned decor, bright lights or distracting noises. Or that they can be negatively affected by smells. All of which make working in a large open plan office very challenging.
Examples of how employers could improve the environment for ADHD employees might include:
- Changing harsh overhead fluorescent lighting for desk lights
- Installing acoustic barriers that soften noise
- Using silent computer mice
- Creating quiet workspaces with minimal distractions, away from the main hub of work
- Allowing opportunities to move around more or have a stand up desk.
People with ADHD often struggle with organisational skills and might also benefit from alternative ways of managing their workflow. For instance, using post-it notes and whiteboards could be helpful.
How can we adapt to better include autistic people?
There may be similar considerations around sensory inputs when adapting to make the workplace more comfortable for employees that are on the autistic spectrum, as issues with sensory processing are common. In addition, because being having to move around alot (hot desking, for example) can create stress and so making adaptions around routine and predictability can also be useful.
But it’s not just about lighting and noise
It’s not all about adapting the environment, either. Neurodiverse workers may need their tasks presented differently to allow them to deal effectively with work. A clear written list and obvious deadlines may work best for those with ADHD, while those on the autistic spectrum might prefer to contribute their value to a team in solo manner.
These small adaptive changes can allow neurodiverse workers to function at their best, and crucially, make the workplace more inclusive for everyone.
A useful analogy is that of installing ‘dropped curbs’ and ramps for those in wheelchairs. With adaptations like this, wheelchair users are able to navigate with ease; but so are those with pushchairs, bikes or even wheeled suitcases. Everyone benefits from an intervention designed for a specific group of people. It allows the workforce to be enriched by diversity and fosters inclusivity.
How does hypnotherapy work for neurodiverse people?
As I’ve mentioned, having a brain that functions in a slightly different way brings with it a new way of thinking, and I think this is something to be celebrated and valued.
As a hypnotherapist, and as a parent of a neurodiverse child, I bring this view of celebrating neurodiversity and maximising the differences it brings into my therapy room. I specialise in working with teens and young people, and I see a fair few neurodiverse clients as a result.
They can often feel the pressure to adjust their personality and natural tendencies of behaviour or working to ‘fit in’ to a predominantly neurotypical world, both at school and socially. Constantly having to ‘act like everyone else’ to avoid being different is both hard work and stress-inducing, taking huge amounts of mental energy. This can often results in a difficult school experience, feeling anxious and unhappy, and often under-achieving.
This anxiety and stress is, sadly, what leads many of my junior clients to come to me.
The advantage of solution focused hypnotherapy is that it is evidence-based, centred around developing a thorough understanding of how our brains work, and the mental processes that drive our actions. This matter-of-fact approach that there is nothing inherently ‘wrong’ with their brains, but merely differences in how they are ‘wired’ is often very reassuring.
By focusing on their unique strengths and inner resources, my clients can begin to become more confident in their sense of self, allowing them to spend their mental energy on the things that are genuinely important to them, often schoolwork or building solid friendships and relationships.
Making the most of our differences
In short, a neurodivergent brain isn’t something to be tamed, amended or changed – it’s something to harness to be curious, creative, interested and to fulfil its potential in a way that works for its owner.
Adapting shared environments whether schools, workplaces, or social spaces to account for neurodiversity needs, is likely to bring benefits to everyone who has to use them, and that is surely something to be celebrated!
Happy Neurodiversity Week 🙂
About the Author: Claire Noyelle practices online and from her tranquil garden therapy room at her home in Bearsted, Maidstone East, in the heart of the garden county of Kent. Claire is a member of the Association for Solution Focused Hypnotherapists, National Council for Hypnotherapy and the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council and a member of both the General Pharmaceutical Council and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
If you’d like to find out how solution focused hypnotherapy could help you to reduce anxiety and cope with stress, why not get in touch to book your FREE initial consultation with your local Inspired to Change hypnotherapist? Inspired to Change Hypnotherapists are based across the UK in Bristol, Cambridgeshire, Devon, Essex, Kent, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Norfolk, Somerset and South Gloucestershire.
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