Neurodiversity Celebration Week

Today brings Neurodiversity Celebration Week to a close – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate and respect neurodiversity at all times. After all neurodiversity describes us all and this week is to celebrate how we each contribute to society in a multitude of ways due our diverse ways of seeing, experiencing and exploring the world. Language around Neurodiversity and Neurodivergence does get used interchangeably when it shouldn’t, so here is a quick guide to the difference via Lived Experience Educator on instagram. Do check out their amazing account for wonderfully visual ways to represent this.

Neurodiversity = Describes the natural diversity of human minds. We are as diverse in our minds as we are in other ways, gender, ethnicity, sexuality etc. (A neurodiverse group – an individual cannot be neurodiverse).

Neurotypical = The predominant neurotype in a society – a mind that functions as “normal” according to a society. (A neurotypical individual).

Neurodivergent = An umbrella term for anyone whose brain or mind differs from what is typical or “normal”. This includes Autism, ADHD, mental health and neurological conditions and much more. It is a term created by Kassiane Asasumasu (a biracial, multiply neurodivergent activist) (A neurodivergent individual).

Hopefully that helps to clear up the confusion – and do read on to hear from a neurodivergent occupational therapist.

On being a neurodivergent occupational therapist by Naomi Hazlett@naomi_hazlett

What being a neurodivergent occupational therapist is like is difficult for me to pull apart. After all, we all think and act in our own way, do we not? Take, for example, discussions about clinical reasoning and therapeutic rapport. And yet, this profession continues to grapple with structural injustice, discrimination, and violence targeted towards neurodivergent clients and therapists (in spite of their relative privilege). So, it is important to break down and build back up what it means to be neurodiverse.

Understanding your own neurodiversity starts with considering how others perceive you and realizing it differs from how you know yourself. This is not a matter of lack of insight or empathy (which we sometimes have much more of, instead of not enough), but rather that, while you think of yourself as a whole person, others see you as broken or lacking. But how?

Perhaps the answer is embedded in occupation. Stacking, organizing, rocking, spinning, flapping, procrastination, self-harm, burying hands and noses into rocks or sand or rice or grass, singing, self-expression, pursuing special interests, and so on…is it the intensity with which we enjoy these simple, non-productive (to the non-divergent) pleasures? They are important to us, yet somehow not called meaningful, and sometimes called deviant.

Perhaps it is what else is on the outside, such as what people wear and how they alter and act in their bodies. Some gender identities and sexual expressions are still in the DSM-5 and considered aberrant elsewhere; and some neurodiverse people are more likely to be Queer. Or, it could be wearing ear plugs at concerts at the bar, jumping at an unexpected touch, or following an atypical work schedule.

There is, of course, the inner world. I think in music and touch and colour. My clinical reasoning combines a logic and evidence (lived and scholarly)-informed scaffold draped with such synesthetic intuitions that I translate into documentation, in the analysis section, and practice, in choosing how to respond. I’m not trying to say I’m special. Instead, I intend to broadly describe a different and useful approach (as described by others—I judge the utility of my work by such feedback and welcome yours), and to suggest a key, among others, to open the black box of therapeutic rapport.

I want occupational therapists who identify as neurotypical to know, foremost, that I find the word unnecessarily restrictive. Who thinks “just like everyone else”? Occupational therapy, among other disciplines and professions, is and should be moving towards the dissolution of binaries and the embracing of spectrums and landscapes. The best way forward is to ask and listen. I wonder what we will call this kind of humility as we learn to practice it?

Occupational therapists who identify as neurodivergent, let’s talk if we can, and express ourselves in other ways if we can’t, to help mend what we didn’t break in the first place.

If you identify as neurodivergent – or have a long term health condition or disability and want a space to talk with other UK based occupational therapists with lived experience (practitioners, students, assistants, educators, researchers all welcome) do come and join our new facebook group or sign up to our zoom support events. Allies are free to subscribe to updates on the blog or attend learning events advertised on this page – and you can also find us on twitter and instagram.

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