What is neurodiversity?
We asked Charlie Eckton, a Business Psychologist who specialises in diversity and inclusion, to tell us all about it!
Neurodiversity is a word coined by Australian sociologist Judy Singer. It refers to the considerable variance in cognition across the human population, much in the same way that biodiversity refers to variability of life on the planet. We all fit under the banner of neurodiversity.
Across the human population there are many different cognitive or thinking styles. Some people have similar abilities within their own cognitive profiles and can be thought of as generalist thinkers. Some of us have more apparent strengths and weaknesses and can be thought of as specialist thinkers -we excel in some areas and have challenges with others.
These differences have been selected for -we have evolved to have this high level of variance in our population; it is beneficial for our species. Several thousand years ago, in the neolithic period, we were living tribally and creating settlements. We needed different skill sets to get the work done.
For example, we needed some people to have the ability to fight and defend, potentially sleep in different patterns to keep the fire lit at night and check the boundary. We needed others to have a strong visual spatial ability (work in the 3D) to help erect stone structures, build settlements and problem solve. We needed some to work on very skilled yet repetitive tasks such as creating axe heads and blades. These skill sets complimented each other.
These genetic differences were passed down through families. In medieval times this showed in skilled trades, such as blacksmiths and fletchers, with fathers passing knowledge and skills down to their sons, who were predisposed to have strengths in these areas.
A couple of hundred years ago we started making people sit in school classrooms all day, limited their physical movement and expected them to problem-solve in 2D (reading and writing). This was manageable for most of our generalist thinkers but our specialist thinkers really struggled. Furthermore, we told them there was something wrong with them!
Our visual spatial thinkers jumbled up letters and word; we told them they were dyslexic. Our dopamine seeking, physically active thinkers were told they were disordered in the way they could switch attention and needed to move around to work. We forced people into socialising in a new way that did not suit out autists. This continues today, with our specialist thinkers consistently underachieving due to being disabled by their school and work environments.
In business psychology we help people understand their strengths and make recommendations to help them with their challenges. These adjustments are often cheap and easy to implement. In work there is government funding to help with the cost of equipment through Access to Work. We also advise organisations on how to make their processes accessible so adjustments no longer need to be made at individual level. This is called universal design. We aim to help everyone excel and reach their potential. Our work will be done when we no longer need to talk about it!
Neurodiversity: Discovering the extraordinary gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia and other brain differences. Thomas Armstrong.
The book provides a deconstruction of neurodiversity from a social perspective. It helps to reframe what is happening and provides a basis for exploring the positive sides of neurodiversity.
The Dyslexic Advantage. Drs B. Eide and F. Eide. Wiley.
This book provides a detailed description of how dyslexia can create benefits and intelligent thinking.
Dyslexia: How to Survive and Succeed at Work. Sylvia Moody.
This is a practical self-help manual for dyslexic and dyspraxic workers and guidance for employers. It is full of practical advice and tips for how to make things easier and better at work.