Flipping the narrative on neuro-diversity

I have had several attempts at writing this blog. Each time I have just looked at what I’ve wrote and deleted it, dissatisfied with the content within it. 

The thing is, what I type one day can be entirely different to what I may type the next. I appreciate we’re all like that to an extent with certain variables affecting our mood and frame of mind. However, I am very inconsistent in mood and impulsivity. You could get a blog where I’m melancholic. You could get the really happy, playful version of me. Or you could get the version of me who wants to be taken seriously and be informative. 

You see, I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. Despite its misleading title with a deficit of attention, I actually have challenges regulating my attention and emotions. This leads to mood swings, poor prioritisation (if any) of tasks, forgetfulness, disorganisation, fidgeting and utterly reckless impulsiveness. This is mainly due to a deficiency of dopamine in the brain. 

So what’s all of this got to do with teaching and education?

Well, it is estimated that 15% of the UK population is neuro-divergent, so the chances that you know neuro-diverse people is high[1]. If you’re a teacher or lecturer in higher education then that could be about 3 or 4 in your class on average. There will also, of course, be plenty of teachers and lecturers who are neuro-diverse. They will have shown remarkable resilience and determination to get into that position because we can struggle to blossom in mainstream education. Many fall out of education because it is really difficult to learn in an education system that was fundamentally designed for neuro-typical ways of operating. We are also more likely to have experienced bullying at schools and to have had an overall negative educational experience. 

The chances are that if you’re a neuro-diverse adult, you won’t mention it in a job interview or on the application form. If you’re a student you’re less likely to divulge this to your peers. Why? Well, with each aspect of neurodiversity there are negative connotations associated with it. These are formed from a lack of understanding and prejudice. The constant rhetoric is how these ‘impairments’ can be treated like we are somehow something that is required to be fixed.

If I say ‘dyslexia’ – for example – then impairments with reading and writing will probably spring to mind. With Autism and Asperger’s, we start thinking about the challenges with social interactions. People with Dyscalculia are understood as unable to do maths and known to have a limited sense of direction. People with Tourette’s are remembered for swearing at inappropriate moments, and if you think of ADHD, you’re likely to associate it with misbehaving school kids. 

But what happens if we flip this narrative?

For instance, those with dyslexia are brilliant at spotting complex patterns in images, spatial awareness and thinking in pictures so they can visualise 3D shapes in their mind and manipulate them. They tend to think holistically and make natural entrepreneurs. 

People with ADHD are superb at divergent thinking. We do it all the time. I’ve carved out a successful 19 year comedy career with it. We’re very creative, full of energy and whilst very distractible, we can actually hyperfocus on things we are passionate about better than anyone. 

People with autism and Asperger’s have been the rocket fuel behind the technological evolution of the human species. I’m typing this on a computer that was invented by someone who was autistic (Alan Turing). 

People with dyscalculia are superb at problem solving and thinking outside the box. People with Tourette’s have great self-control and visual timing. 

I could rattle on and on and to be honest, I haven’t done each aspect of neurodiversity enough justice but hopefully I’ve still made my point. 

If this is not clear then my point is that neurodiversity is not only wonderful but utterly essential to our society. It was arguably the industrial revolution and the subsequent education system with its need to spawn a ready-made workforce that played a part in marginalising many of us. Yet, we’ve been around since the dawn of time providing alternative ways of thinking. We are visionaries. We are intuitive, creative, ambitious, adaptive, problem solvers. We are resourceful, artistic, and we create connections that most can’t see. 

There is no better time to say this than during ADHD awareness month. We need to recognise that the way neuro-diverse people process information will always be seen as impaired if it is continued to be viewed through a neuro-typical lens. Neurodiversity is not an evolutionary blip or some neurological defect. It is an intentional design. The 85% may have built and sailed this human ship, but the other 15% probably designed the engine and navigation systems for it. Without each other, we wouldn’t get far. 

Thank you for reading.

Dave Twentyman

About the author: Dave Twentyman is a comedian who also speaks and writes about his experiences of having ADHD. Dave is contactable at dave.twentyman@yahoo.co.uk, and writes his own blog about ADHD which available to view at memyselfandadhd95321545.wordpress.com


[1] Based on statistics taken from the following sources:

https://www.local.gov.uk/lga-libdem-group/our-press-releases/neurodiversity  
https://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/dyslexia 

https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/what-is-autism/the-history-of-autism
https://aadduk.org/symptoms-diagnosis-treatment/

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