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Neurodiversity Celebration Week

Supporting and celebrating a diverse workforce

During Neurodiversity Celebration Week take some time to think about the people you work with, being aware that not everyone is neurotypical, whether they have a diagnosis or not.

 

The BSA’s Debbie Enever has shared her personal experience of the journey to a ASD diagnosis to help demonstrate that it is possible to be neurodiverse and content at work.

This Neurodiversity Celebration week, I’m pleased to share that the BSA has joined GAIN (Group for Autism, Insurance, Investment and Neurodiversity) - an organisation which exists to help financial services businesses to be more inclusive of their neurodiverse staff and customers.

At the same time I’m conscious that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the different conditions, identities, groups and special publicity weeks we seem to have today. It’s easy to get fatigued. I wonder if that’s why a friend of my mum’s responded  “why did she need to do that” when she heard that, in my 40s, with a good job and a near-grown-up family I got tested for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  The message seemed to be; “you’re managing/you’ve got your life together so why does it matter?” 

It was a neurodiversity awareness session with my previous employer that got me thinking. Is this me? It would explain so much that I know about me. Chatting about it afterwards the advice was clear – ‘Don’t get tested – who needs a label after all!’ It made me think. People might judge me prematurely and unhelpfully, it might even impact my career negatively.

So, I kept reading about neurodiversity, and thinking about it, but I didn’t pursue diagnosis further. What changed was coming to a crisis point and getting signed off work with stress and anxiety.  Talking things through with my doctor was really helpful. Caught up in a badly handled restructure at work, already ongoing for months at that point, I had found it ultimately to be overwhelming. It seemed the right time to share my growing suspicion that I was probably neurodiverse too. Maybe I felt I had less to lose when things had got so bad? My main driver was to understand myself better so I could avoid getting to that point again.

Back at work, the diagnosis has helped me to understand myself better, including why I find some things much harder than others. It amazes me that, looking back over my career, both the most positive feedback I’ve had (“she’s brilliant at connecting the dots and solving problems”) and the most negative (“she’s too direct and doesn’t have time for small talk”) is probably linked to my ASD. Understanding why some things seem to be so difficult for me, while they come naturally to my neurotypical peers, has helped me to be kinder to myself and a better colleague to work with. Being open with colleagues has hopefully helped them to understand me better too so we can work more effectively together.

Having said that, it’s still not much of a conversation starter to say you have ASD, and I don’t particularly want to wear a big badge either! I expect many people reading this might be surprised to find this out about me, although I expect others might have suspected. 

So why am I choosing to post about this today? I’m conscious that while neurodiversity can prove to be a ‘superpower’ many people with ASD have found it difficult to stay in employment, especially in an office environment, so I wanted to show that it is possible to be neurodiverse and content at work. I often chuckle to myself that ASD is often seen as a communications problem, and I’ve spent most of my working life in various types of communications roles. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think we often get quite good at the things we have to work hard at.

I’m also conscious that part of the reason I have probably been able to be successful at work is because I’m quite good at “masking” or “camouflaging”. Effectively I have learned how to hide my ASD traits within “normal” behaviour. 

I don’t actually like the terms “masking” or “camouflaging” (or “normal” for that matter!) They suggest to me a deliberate intention to cover something up and be dishonest in some way. I prefer to see it more as a crutch - it’s been how I needed to behave to fit in with most other people. Without it I couldn’t “walk”.

Of course, the problem with crutches is that while they are a helpful innovation to help you to move, they are also pretty tiring to use. Ultimately they can limit you as well as liberate you.  

I’ve leave you to ponder what all this means as we consider how to be more neuro-inclusive this week. Trying to be “normal” takes a lot of effort when your brain works differently - maybe sometimes it’s ok to be different.

To find out more, visit https://gaintogether.org/ and www.neurodiversityweek.com

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