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March 2024 - Neurodiversity Celebration Week / Road to World Autism Acceptance Week

Have you ever heard someone say, "You don't look/seem [insert blank here]" to your face? Depending on the context, it can seem rather condescending and dismissive, as we covered last month when talking about mental health.

Now replace that blank with "autistic". As the writer, I have had this said a few times, and my response is a very blank look followed by an awkward smile, regardless of whether I am diagnosed with a disorder or not. Pardon my interjection, but how can you react to someone saying you look like a brain chemical?

That is one such scenario that World Autism Acceptance Week has aimed to raise awareness of when it originally started as Autism Awareness Week in 2007. This event was initially held in conjunction with the first World Autism Acceptance Day on the 2nd of April and has continued to follow that tradition ever since, intending to challenge stereotypes and celebrate how there are, in fact, hidden benefits behind being different!

This year, World Autism Acceptance Week starts on the 2nd of April and ends on the 8th. So why are we tackling something in March's Hot Topic? Well, that is because there is a link to be made with Neurodiversity Celebration Week, which takes place on the 18th - 24th of March.

A description about what Neurodiversity Celebration Week is all about
Here is what Neurodiversity Celebration Week is all about!

We have explained what neurodiversity means previously back in 2022 when talking about Dyslexia Week back in October of 2022. To recap, here is what we said:

Dyslexia is covered under the term "neurodiversity" as a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD) which can overlap with Dyslexia, such as anxiety, visual difficulties, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) and Dyspraxia.

To summarise, neurodiversity is about recognising and celebrating how our brains work. We all do so differently in how we think, move, and phrase information, down to the verbal and nonverbal means we communicate.

As such, some of these unique behaviours are often labelled to make diagnosis easier.

Before we start delving into this month, here is an interesting fact about Dyslexia and apprenticeships: Did you know that the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has stated that apprentices are "three to four times more likely to be dyslexic compared to the national average", and the reason is that those with Dyslexia can spot things quicker that appear out of place?

Interesting. We want to highlight some of the challenges neurodiverse people face. Individuals share many challenges, and they can have multiple diagnoses.

To celebrate, let us dispel some common myths and stereotypes associated with a few of these disorders in order of most talked about to least talked about (but are just as essential), starting with autism.

Autism Awareness

Before 2013, autism was diagnosed under three different names. These are:

  • Autistic disorder

  • Asperger’s syndrome

  • Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)

Since then, changes in terminology now mean that those three categories of autism are officially diagnosed as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as studies in neuroscience and psychology evolved. However, individuals diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome before the 2013 revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are still classified under this diagnosis.

When people first hear of the autism spectrum, they think of an oversimplified linear scale, where individuals are placed somewhere along a continuum from "low functioning" to "high functioning" autism traits. In reality, it is much better to conceptualise it like a colour wheel that shows how different characteristics of autism relate to one another.

An artist painting in their studio
Artists do not limit themselves to just primary colours; they use different shades and techniques in their masterpiece.

Myth 1 - Autism is an illness or disease.

Myth 2 - Vaccines cause autism.

Myth 3 - Autism is becoming an "epidemic".

Myth 4 - Every person with autism has some "sleeper skill" they are good at, and they are savants.

Myth 5 - Autism means you cannot feel emotions and are not interested in social interaction.

Myth 6 - People with autism have an intellectual disability & can’t speak.

Myth 7 - You can "grow out of it."


The A-Z of ADHD

Short for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD is a behavioural condition. Those diagnosed can seem restless, have trouble concentrating on longer tasks and may act sporadically. Similar to autism, the exact causes of ADHD are still unclear; it is present in both children and adults, plus it also has its fair share of myths and stereotypes.

Person walking through a park on their phone
Its can be hard to focus on one thing when nothing, or everything, happens all at once.

Myth 1 - ADHD is not authentic or valid as a diagnosis.

Myth 2 - If you can focus on a task, you cannot have ADHD.

Myth 4 - Everyone has a "little bit of" ADHD.

Myth 5 - Only boys can have ADHD.


Debunking DLD

Short for Developmental Language Disorder, this affects how a language is acquired and learned. Typically spotted in children, it is characterised by difficulties with understanding or speaking that impact daily life. Not much is known about DLD in adults, but just like ADHD and autism, it stays with you.

Similar to how high-functioning autism was classed as Aspergers Syndrome, DLD was also previously known as Specific Language Impairment (SLI).

It is estimated that 1 in 14 people are estimated to have DLD, but since it is hard to spot, it is commonly interpreted as an individual being "lazy" or "antisocial".

The reality is that these individuals are just trying to make sense or focus on what is being said and taking time to plan a response that would make sense, just as if you were speaking to someone else.

Scrabble tiles
Reading, spelling and finding the right words can be frustrating, especially when under pressure.

Myth 1 - Being bilingual causes DLD or makes challenges worse.

Myth 2 - Those with DLD cannot speak "proper" English.


Discussion Points for Equality and Diversity

  • Are there any other neurodevelopmental disorders with prominent myths that you know about?

  • Can becoming neurodiverse help everyone? How so?

  • Why do we often focus on the challenges rather than the positives of neurodiversity?

  • Why can some people be put off by seeking an official diagnosis?

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