As a teenage neurodivergent student who is autistic, dyslexic and dyspraxic and who also has ADHD, my experience has been that the most challenging environment in which to feel good about yourself is school. School is a place where most of us are relentlessly bullied for being different and where we are often misunderstood, inadequately supported and viewed as drains on resources.
One of the difficulties we face at school is that schools focus on our challenges and deficits at the expense of overlooking our talents and strengths. This can make our school experience very humiliating and demoralising. It can also have a devastating effect on our confidence and sense of self-worth.
I wanted to change this. I wanted to flip the narrative from only focusing on our weaknesses to also celebrating our strengths.
I wanted to change this. I wanted to flip the narrative from only focusing on our weaknesses to also celebrating our strengths. With the right support and encouragement, special educational needs, and disabilities (SEND) students have the potential to have successful careers and to make significant contributions to society. Yet, this is not a message that neurodivergent students ever hear. Neurodivergent students have many strengths, such as creativity, innovative approaches, the ability to think-outside-the-box, resilience and problem-solving skills. These are skills that are rarely recognised and valued in the classroom, but which will be the key to our success as adults.
I believe it’s important to empower and encourage neurodivergent students by recognising their strengths and showing them that despite their challenges, they can still have ambitions and hopes and dreams, just like everyone else.
In November 2018, I launched Neurodiversity Celebration Week (NC Week)
In November 2018, I launched Neurodiversity Celebration Week (NC Week), a campaign that aims to encourage schools to change the way they perceive their SEND students. The first ever NC Week took place in May 2019. It had a huge impact. Over 350 schools and 317,000 students across the UK and abroad took part. NC Week was supported by 24 major charities and organisations, including the ADHD Foundation, Anna Kennedy Online, the British Dyslexia Association and the Dyspraxia Foundation.
NC Week gave schools an opportunity to highlight and showcase the talents of their neurodivergent students and neurodivergent community
NC Week gave schools an opportunity to highlight and showcase the talents of their neurodivergent students and neurodivergent community, many of whom attribute their success to their unique way of seeing and interacting with the world. It was a week during which schools focused on recognising and celebrating the contributions of people who think differently.
Neurodivergent parents were invited to school assemblies to talk about how their learning difference is a “superpower” that helped them to excel in their careers. Positive neurodiversity posters and display boards highlighted the accomplishments of neurodivergent people. It was a transformative week during which neurodivergent children and young people who were struggling to accept their difference felt empowered to reframe the way they perceive themselves. It was also a week in which stereotypes and misconceptions were challenged and the importance of diversity and inclusion was showcased.
In 2020, NC Week will be expanding beyond schools and colleges through collaborations with several businesses and organisations
In 2020, NC Week will be expanding beyond schools and colleges through collaborations with several businesses and organisations, including with The Future is ND, Genius Within, Stanford University’s Neurodiversity Project and the London Assembly. Although most businesses and organisations recognise the benefits and advantages that come from having an inclusive and diverse work environment, many do not have initiatives that focus on recruiting, employing and supporting neurodivergent individuals. By joining forces with businesses and organisations that are working towards creating an inclusive work environment for neurodivergent individuals, we can amplify the importance of harnessing the strengths and talents of people who are often under estimated and overlooked.
My hope is that every school in the United Kingdom will eventually participate in NC Week
The next NC Week will be on March 16 – 20, 2020. There are currently over 450 schools and over 374,000 students who will be taking part in NC Week 2020 from across the UK, USA and Australia. My hope is that every school in the United Kingdom will eventually participate in NC Week. Since almost 20% of the population is neurodiverse, it is time that schools start seeing the potential of their SEND students and that we change the harmful stigma, negative perceptions and stereotypes that are preventing neurodivergent students from reaching their potential. I also hope that NC Week will continue to transform the way that neurodivergent students perceive themselves.
If you are a headteacher, teacher or SENCO, please support inclusion and celebrate your neurodivergent students by registering on www.neurodiversity-celebration-week.com If you are a SEND parent, please encourage your child’s school to take part.
Siena Castellon is a 17-year old neurodiversity advocate and anti-bullying campaigner. Siena has won many national awards for her advocacy, including the 2018 BBC Radio 1 Teen Hero Award, the Diana Award, the British Citizen Youth Award and the European Diversity Award. Siena is also the author of The Spectrum Girl’s Survival Guide: How to Grow Up Awesome and Autistic. You can follow her on Twitter at: @QLMentoring and @NCWeek.