Neurodiversity Celebration Week
This week is Neurodiversity Celebration Week (13-19 March). NCH&C has been speaking to colleagues about neurodiversity and what is has brought to their lives and their roles in the NHS.
Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist, coined the term “Neurodiversity” to promote equality and inclusion of “neurological minorities.” While it is primarily a social justice movement, neurodiversity research and education are increasingly important in how clinicians view and address certain disabilities and neurological conditions.
NCH&C has been speaking to colleagues about their neurodiversities and how these help bring different skills and thinking to our trust.
Examples of Neurodiversity:
- Dyslexia (difficulty with reading and writing)
- ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Dyspraxia (difficulty with coordination).
- Dyscalculia (difficulty with numbers)
- Downs syndrome
- Tourettes syndrome
“Basically, our brain works differently and this is not necessarily a bad thing. People who are neurodiverse are often more creative and great problem solvers” says Cat Alexander, Co-chair of the NCH&C Diverse Abilities Staff Network. “Depending on the Neurodiversity people will find certain difficulties navigating the world, but with the right environment they can really thrive and bring things to the workplace that others can’t. I’m dyslexic and didn’t know until about a year ago that this falls under Neurodiversity, as well as being a learning difficulty.”
Lauren Pereira is a Trainee Nursing Associate at NCH&C. She received a diagnosis of ADHD and Dyslexia at age 39. She said: “Receiving my diagnosis helped me understand why I am the way that I am; I grew up giving myself a very hard time as I always felt that my issues were due to lack of intelligence, but I managed to complete the course with a grade that I am proud of, thanks to the support of my Clinical Lead and Clinical Educator as well as UEA.”
“My busy brain is often an advantage as I can think about lots of things at once, but this can also mean I can feel overwhelmed and anxious at times, but my Clinical Lead always ensures she is on hand to answer questions as well as provide further support and reassurance. Having extra time for reading and clear verbal instructions which are backed up in writing is also very helpful.”
“There are so many ways that having Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is beneficial to my role in healthcare” says Carly Harman, Community Assistant Practitioner. “Firstly, I am such an abstract thinker and always find obscure ways to problem solve or to adjust the task to make it more accessible for patients – which is great for helping patients be more independent or achieve their goals! I also have a very good memory and am very precise and detail orientated. It also means I am very thorough and don’t miss anything, because my mind works in a very particular order when carrying out tasks. I am also exceptionally open and honest – I have definitely had to work on having a ‘filter’!! But in general, this is beneficial as it encourages others to be open and honest too. I am also innately non-judgemental and empathetic.”
“In terms of difficulties – as opposed to pre-conception of autism, I can struggle with time management, and I am always late to things! Work makes this easy to manage though as I rarely have to be at a certain place at a certain time, my role is very flexible, I manage my own workload and before, between and after my visits, I can work from home if I want to. I am also able to avoid the sensory overload I have experienced when working in busy wards. It also helps that I work in the best team and my manager is amazing and always prioritises staff mental health and wellbeing.”
Jo Carnaby, Community Assistant Practitioner, agrees that NCH&C colleagues have been supportive of her neurodiversity: “I have spent my life wondering what was wrong with me, and why I was so ‘different’ and recently received a diagnosis of Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In truth, this has been a game changer for me, I understand myself more than ever and finally have some answers as to why I struggle with certain aspects of life. Work has always been challenging for me for example; being in an office environment can often trigger my anxiety. Likewise changes to my day can throw me into a real panic.”
“After being diagnosed, I decided to book a meeting with my line manager to discuss it. She was so lovely and has been a real support. I have attended online weekly group sessions, with other newly diagnosed adults, and she allowed me the time from my working day to attend these, which I have found very helpful.”
“I was diagnosed with Dyslexia when I was in primary school, I was in year five and I was told by my teachers that it was too late to help me and what support the school had needed to go to the younger children” says Kate Robinson, Governance & Compliance Support and co-chair of the Diverse Abilities Staff Network at NCH&C.
“I’ve been called lazy by many who assumed I wasn’t trying. In my post-graduate year, I was pulled into my tutor’s office and asked a question that had been on an exam paper earlier that month. I answered said question only for my tutor to angrily shout at me ‘why hadn’t I bothered to put that on the paper?’ she couldn’t understand how I could know something but not express it in writing in a high-pressure environment.”
“When I joined the work force people started calling me a liar. This is because many people heard the label of dyslexia and thought it meant stupid. As I was able to ‘pass’ as not stupid I must be lying. In my first job out of university I was labelled as careless and lazy, so I eventually told the truth. I was told that I couldn’t possibly be dyslexic because I had gone to university. My diagnosis wasn’t real.”
“Since joining NCH&C I have learned so much about how my neurodiversity should be seen. It is a part of me, it’s real, it’s not good or bad, it is just what it is. My struggles were valid, and my successes were well earned. The understanding I have encountered here has taught me the value of being seen, of being believed. I am inspired to make sure every single person can feel seen.”
What’s it like working as a clinician with dyslexia? One of our Community Occupational Therapists said: “It’s like wearing two different hats all the time. I must be tight in my thinking and working to comply with time constraints and having to use computer systems to fit into the model of work. This can be soul destroying and even today I question my ability to “fit in” as it can take a long time to adjust my strategies to the frequent changes.”
“On the other side however, when I can afford my patient’s a little more time, I find I am able to be far more creative and think much further outside the box. The same principles apply when looking at service improvements. As an educator with dyslexia, I have been able to recognise and provide reassurance and appropriate support to students with a neurodiversity. It is important that they feel comfortable and able to disclose their diagnosis to those with whom they wish to share. They are more likely to remain in education and complete their training with the appropriate support in the workplace.”
“We must remember some of our patients may also have a neurodiversity. We work in a ‘one size fits all’ and if the patient does not comply, they can be considered as ‘difficult’ or ‘non-compliant’.
“Reasonable adjustments like asking ‘How do you like to receive information’? Or ‘What is your learning style?’, means they are more likely to engage with Therapy. This not only improves relationships but can reduce the amount of time spent with a patient, thus acknowledging the financial burden on the trust. I would love to see additional training to increase staff awareness of how in particular dyslexia impacts on everyone in day to day working.”
How can I learn more?
- Click here for an interactive programme of events for Neurodiversity Week
- Click here to read about supporting Neurodivergent colleagues in the NHS
- Click here to watch some puppetry videos from Heidi Buckell, the Disability Champion at West Hertfordshire Hospital, that help to explain Cerebral Palsy.
- Click here to see several resources to help you support Neurodiversity at work
Become a member of the Diverse Abilities We Care Staff Network
When NCH&C staff sign up to a staff network, they receive a badge to proudly show their support. Wearing any of the We Care badges is a responsibility – basic education and access to resources can be provided to staff, but we encourage staff to do their own research and broaden their horizons. When an individual signs up to wear a badge, they acknowledge why the staff network is needed, and what their individual responsibility entails.
As a member, you’ll have the opportunity to contribute to a quarterly EDI newsletter, as well as events and cultural awareness activities and communications. Help us to get creative in your area of the trust!
What’s in it for me?
- Improve your wellbeing
- A place to share stories
- A space in which to work together to create inclusive policies
- An opportunity to create diverse conversation
- Mentoring opportunities
- The ability to champion the development of career progression
- Peer to peer learning and development
- A space to network and make lasting friendships
- A safe space to raise any issues you may be facing, to allow your network to help you navigate them
- A space to share ideas of external groups/clubs etc within your community
- An opportunity to support culture change
How can I join?
NCH&C staff can email email@example.com to join the staff network or click here to download the NCH&C staff network pledge form and become an ally for the Diverse Abilities community. Don’t forget you can also join the Diverse Heritage and the LGBTQ+ staff networks.