Recently, I went to a day-long neurodiversity seminar. Here are 3 things that particularly stuck in my mind…
1. What does it say on the label?
Neurodiversity is a term that has gained wider usage since its beginnings in the late 1990s. Neurodivergence is typically experienced on a spectrum; forms include ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and Tourette’s.
It is useful to remember that people are more likely to have two or more neurodivergent ‘labels’, rather than one. If someone has dyspraxia, it is probable that they will also have dyslexia. So, it is really important to be aware of this when thinking about someone’s likely skill-set and strengths or in respect to workplace adjustments.
2. ‘Students with disabilities’? or is it ‘Disabled students’?
In universities, I’ve noticed that many people are becoming more careful and thoughtful about the disability-related language they use. This is a good thing. But person-first language vs identity-first language usage isn’t a battle between good and bad. It is commonplace for those working in the field of neurodiversity to use terms like ‘autistics’ and ‘dyslexic people’. This is because neurodivergence is viewed as intrinsic to who someone is as a person and isn’t something to be tagged on the end – ‘a student with autism’ – so identity-first language tends to be used.
The crucial thing that I have found is to make the point (during workshops with disabled students or even in 1-2-1 settings) that expressions used like ‘disabled students’ aren’t intended as a ‘label’ and to acknowledge that everyone experiences disability differently; for some people disability can be very personal.
Focussing on the quality of – and thought behind – the information, advice & support given to disabled students is as important as getting the language and tone right.
3. Can you manage?
I was looking back at my notes from an excellent Autism Awareness session I attended some years ago. I learned that one of the three signs of autism (as coined by Lorna Wing & Judith Gould, 1979) was thought to be a lack of flexibility in thinking and behaviour (‘imagination’).
Fast forward to the neurodiversity seminar from a couple of weeks ago and there was a discussion around why neurodivergent employees aren’t being promoted to management positions. One of the explanations seems to be a lack of flexibility in thinking and behaviour from some employers. Management positions can be generalist roles meaning a couple of the job duties may be difficult for some neurodivergent people to carry out. However, employers can straightforwardly overcome this by: not assuming someone wouldn’t be able to do those duties, in other cases by making adjustments, or even through a job carve. These approaches would remove the glass ceiling faced by some … it just needs a little imagination.
Edmund Lewis, AGCAS Disability Task Group, University of Westminster