by Poppy Kirwan, Northside Psychology Staff writer.
1 in 15 people are neurodivergent, which means that their brains process thoughts, learning, and other “wiring” of the brain differently to majority of the population, who are considered neurotypical. It refers to a variety of processing and learning differences — such as Autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia and dyspraxia.
In schools, neurodivergent children and teenagers are more likely than other neurotypical students to have negative memories of the experience, often experiencing bullying, harassment, discouragement, humiliation, stigma, misconceptions, and a lack of understanding by teachers and peers. In the UK in 2017, 75% of Autistic students and 70% of students with learning differences reported that they had been bullied at school. Often, classmates and other students will hurt neurodivergent kids by inferring that they aren’t intelligent or capable. A lot of this is due to the stigma and lack of understanding surrounding neurodiversity and learning disabilities, which makes Neurodiversity Celebration Week all the more important.
Neurodiversity Celebration Week is an event held in several countries aimed at increasing awareness and creating a better educational setting for neurodiverse students. It runs from 15th – 21st of March in 2021, with 830 schools across the world participating. This week is an opportunity for schools to hold assemblies themed around neurodiversity, put up posters about neurodiversity, invite local neurodivergent members in as guest speakers, teach their students about neurodivergence and erase the stigma and misconceptions surrounding it. Schools can share fact sheets, or get students to make papers or posters about important neurodivergent figures. They can support educators to make their neurodivergent students feel more welcome, and make their neurotypical students more aware of neurodiversity and misconceptions. There are also activity suggestions on the Neurodiversity Celebration Week website for how to build empathy and understanding amongst students for our differences.
By schools and students participating in these activities, Australia has a real opportunity to make a change! Currently, Australia only has 21 participating schools. It would be amazing to see Neurodiversity Celebration Week thrown in even more educational settings across the country, paving the way for more empathetic students and a more inclusive community. As the Neurodiversity Celebration Week website states: “In order empower [Special Educational Needs] students to flourish, schools need to stop focusing only on what we cannot do and should begin to recognise, nurture and celebrate the many strengths and talents of being neurodiverse”! Celebrating the neurodiversity of students will not only normalize it amongst other peers, but also encourage them in the long-run!
Neurodiverse people can be, and often are, brilliant, empathetic, creative, strong, innovative, perceptive, resilient, and tend to have unique insights that “think outside of the box”. Neurodiversity occurs across the IQ range: many gifted and celebrated individuals lived with ASD and ADHD. Sadly, this potential can be thwarted by stigma and misinformation. Some misconceptions spread about autistic and other neurodiverse people are harmful, derogatory, and condescending. Individuals’ capabilities and strengths should be celebrated and put in the spotlight, rather than highlighting their struggles. This is what Neurodiversity Celebration Weeks hopes to achieve. If you’d like to host Neurodiversity Celebration Week at your school as an educator, be sure to do so! If you are a student, speak to your teachers about the week and the possibility of it being organised at your school.
There are a number of fun and exciting activities that can be organised during this week for schools or workplaces. The week’s official website has a selection of free resources for people to use such as posters, comics, PowerPoints, videos and fact sheets. Some of these show famous and influential neurodivergent individuals — such as Emma Watson, Greta Thunberg, Satoshi Tajiri (the creator of Pokémon), Jaime Oliver, Billie Eilish, Daniel Radcliffe, and many others. Others explain in detail how neurodiverse conditions affect people and why they should be celebrated, not ostracised.
If we all work together, we can make schools, workplaces, and society a more accepting, celebrating and accommodating place for neurodiverse individuals! For more information about the Neurodiversity Celebration week, visit their official website. For information on cognitive, educational, developmental and neuropsychological assessments, assistance and support, visit Northside Psychology.