Neurodiversity Celebration Week 2024

A stylised image of many people of different bright colours, all linked together to represent creating an inclusive workplace culture.

by Rob Hill

This week is Neurodiversity Celebration Week 2024 https://www.neurodiversityweek.com/.

And as you can imagine, we’re all in on it!

The whole point of this week is to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding neurological differences, and transform how neurodivergent people are perceived and supported.

For too long neurodivergent individuals have been judged by what they can’t do or what they find difficult, instead of focusing on the skills that they have.

But challenging this outdated view is no longer enough. We want to get rid of it completely. And the last few years have seen some positive progression in a general, more widespread understanding of neurodiversity.

More and more companies are recognising that accounting for, and properly supporting, neurodivergent employees isn’t just some tick box to satisfy corporate responsibility. It’s essential (who knew, eh? Looking after people is a good thing to do.)

And by making reasonable adjustments, you can support your neurodivergent colleagues. Not sure how you can do that? Don’t worry – just check out our blog post here http://itstime2thrive.co.uk/start-creating-an-inclusive-workplace-culture-today/

Our contribution to celebrating neurodiversity this week is about busting myths. Commonly held preconceptions that are just plain wrong. So let’s take a look at five of the biggest myths surrounding neurodiversity.

Five big myths about neurodiversity

Approximately 1-in-7 people in the UK (about 15% of the population) are neurodivergent. But despite this relatively high figure there are many aspects to neurodiversity which are misunderstood. Tropes and cliches which have built up over time.

Before we list five neurodiversity myths that need debunking, it’s worth remembering a crucial point. Every neurodiversity comes with its own unique set of strengths, challenges, and misconceptions, and no two people’s experiences of a particular neurodiversity will be the same.

1. Neurodivergent people expect special treatment

Not true. Neurodiversities aren’t problems that need fixing, or ‘sorting out’. But making adaptations for neurodivergent individuals is vital, so they have the same opportunities and chances to succeed as everyone else.

As we’ve said, every neurodiversity comes with its own unique set of strengths and challenges. What will help one person won’t necessarily help another. Even two people with the same neurodiversity will have different challenges.

But it doesn’t take a huge shift in our thinking to work out how we can support these differences. Supporting requires a little bit of effort, but that doesn’t equal special treatment.

2. We’re all on the autistic spectrum

Not true. If you look hard enough everyone might have traits that are recognisable as part of an autistic behaviour pattern. But this doesn’t mean that everyone is actually autistic.

In fact, autism diagnosis seems to be acquiring an unexpected level of complexity. A recent article in The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2024/mar/04/uk-increase-autism-diagnoses-neurodiversity) highlighted the increase in autism diagnoses in the UK. In 2021 a study found a 787% rise in the number of diagnoses in the UK between 1998 and 2018 (https://acamh.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcpp.13505).

This isn’t the appropriate place to address all the main talking points from the article, which is thought-provoking and worth a read. Is the increase due to overdiagnosis (thanks to ever-widening assessment boundaries) or has greater awareness led to people recognising their neurodivergence and seeking a diagnosis?

When reading articles like this it’s easy to conclude that well, maybe we are all on the autistic spectrum. And so the myth perpetuates itself.

Time will hopefully clarify what constitutes a clinical diagnosis of autism. But the statistics still reinforce the fact that autism remains a neurodivergence. And that people identifying as autistic or being diagnosed as autistic are most definitely in the minority.

So to repeat – we’re not all on the autistic spectrum.

However, there’s a rather nice quote at the end of the article:

“We are currently very focused on making a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ distinction in terms of diagnoses. But why not say ‘Somebody has these traits. How might that be affecting their life and what can we do to help?’”

3. People with ADHD can’t focus

Not true. Perhaps the clue to the origin of this myth lies in its name. The AD in ADHD? Stands for Attention Deficit. Can’t pay attention properly, can’t focus. Apparently.

People with ADHD have an interest-based neurological system rather than a priority-based one, which makes it much harder to control how focus is applied. This means that if a task isn’t stimulating, or is something that’s been frequently done before, it can be difficult to focus on until a deadline is rapidly approaching. That’s very different to not being able to focus at all.

In fact, most people with ADHD are prone to experiencing ‘hyperfocus’ – becoming utterly absorbed in a task and being able to shut out everything else in order to achieve that task. And whilst periods of hyperfocus can be incredibly productive, they are usually temporary.

The flux between a state of hyperfocus and high achievement, and a period of being unable to focus and complete tasks can be destabilising. It affects not only performance at work, but also self-esteem. The accompanying stress can lead to burnout.

4. Dyslexia is just poor spelling

Not true. Variations on this misguided myth include dyslexia can be outgrown, or that it mostly occurs in boys, or that dyslexic people have a low IQ. Absolute bunkum.

Dyslexia actually involves difficulty with processing and remembering information, which in turn affects the acquisition and learning of literary skills. Dyslexic people can indeed have trouble with spelling or reading. But like all neurodiversities, it can present in different ways. For example having a poor working memory, or expressing thoughts more coherently when given proper time and space to do so.

Dyslexic individuals can also get distracted easily and struggle to concentrate. It’s no surprise to learn that a busy office environment with lots of interruptions, phones ringing, and general noisy bustle can easily lead to mental overload.

Dyslexic individuals have excellent problem-solving skills and will often think about a problem in a different way. They often have brilliant spatial reasoning and are highly imaginative.

5. ADHD isn’t a real medical condition

Not true. This myth still persists, driven by certain widespread cultural perceptions, especially in America. In the medical community, disputes around ADHD tend to focus on the nuances of diagnosis and treatment. But a wealth of research over the last 40 years points to the conclusion that ADHD is real (https://chadd.org/about-adhd/overview/).

The causes of ADHD are complex and not fully understood (despite all that research!). But it seems that heredity is the biggest factor. Here’s a few factors which are commonly – and incorrectly – blamed for causing ADHD:

  • Too much sugar
  • Watching too much TV
  • Social and environmental factors such as poverty and family chaos

Some of these factors may of course aggravate already existing symptoms of ADHD. But thanks to medical research, we know that they are emphatically not the sole cause. And the fact that symptoms of ADHD usually first arise in childhood has no doubt helped perpetuate these myths