Neurodiversity Celebration Week (NCW) got underway just as venues started to respond in earnest to the global coronavirus threat, so instead of holding our event at MediaCom, we were among the first wave of organisations taking live events online.
Undeterred by the change of format, NCW founder, Siena Castellon joined 20 amazing speakers, all set to inspire the next generation of NDs.
We were kindly co-hosted by Prof Amanda Kirby who lent her webinar software and supported FND Founder Lucy Hobbs in the celebrations.
NCW was founded by Siena in 2018 to encourage schools and colleges to flip the narrative by focusing on the strengths and talents of their ND students, instead of focusing on their challenges and drawbacks. This year its focus expanded into the workplace, with a look at the positive role of neurodiversity in our careers.
Reflecting on the event we spotted some common themes.
1.Finding your Edge
Employers are starting to wake up to the benefits of hiring people who think differently, and several speakers talked about finding their unique or unusual edge, and how this gave them an advantage.
Ben Bleet Content Lead and Associate Director at MediaCom, for example, talked about some highly valuable abilities that come with his dyslexia:
“It helps me spot future trends, patterns, and connections at a macro and micro level. In my previous career I work in A&R at EMI Records a job based on spotting next years trend”
Abi Silvester, a freelance copywriter, and editor who has ADHD, spoke about the role of ‘focus’ in her working life, and how an attention span that never sits still can be harnessed to nurture a diverse and highly valuable skill set.
Priti Depala, a graphic designer from London explained how her neurodiversity allows her to use design to communicate with a wide range of people in a unique way.
“I have found that design allows me to express my ideas and thoughts in a way that people can understand and enjoy at the same time.”
2. Being Yourself
Fitting in is something which many autistic people find a challenge, and pressure to conform can be amplified in the work environment. Tyla Grant, Founder of Adulting Autistic explained that she overcame this challenge by being true to herself. If you try to be someone else and fail then it is very easy to end up blaming yourself.
By being yourself, as Tyla explains;
“if they don’t like you they are not your people”
Abi Silvester spoke about the importance of being yourself and allowing your true aptitudes and interests to guide you: “if I could speak to my 20-something self I’d tell her to give up on the quest for that one true calling and to just pursue the things that really interest her, even if they don’t seem to be going anywhere. Opportunities only come when you’re being true to yourself.”
3. Embracing Failure
Failure can be an important part of finding yourself and identifying where to focus your energy. Ben Bleet talked about his challenges in his role at Mediacom and how they ultimately helped him to find his niche:
“I recognised something was awry when I started a new role in Mediacom, that required writing succinct presentations for clients! I did the online test then saw an educational psychologist, who helped me understand my type”
Take online tests that help you understand what and who you are – beyond ND but also personality to understand the environments you can prosper in.”
4. Sticking to Your Strengths
Another important theme that many speakers talked about was sticking to your strengths.
Lucy Hobbs, founder of The Future is ND, echoed this by sharing her thoughts
“Embrace your differences, because your differences are your strengths, and what sets you apart from the status quo”
Maxine Frances Roper, a freelance writer, and owner of Genuine Copy also highlighted how her analytical skills and ability to focus lets her come up with unique perspectives.
“I can make what to me is a mundane observation and it seems to blow someone’s mind. I’m very analytical, which might be classed as “overthinking” and seen as unhelpful or annoying, but when it’s applied to work that requires creative solutions is very helpful.”
5. Adjustments help everyone
Towards the end of the event we reflected on the sudden change to remote working that had been put in place because of COVID19.
Neurodivergent communities, as well as those with disabilities, have long felt that wider adoption of remote working practices would be beneficial to all, and many of our speakers have been campaigning for similar adjustments since even before the pandemic. We remarked on how quickly the workplace has embraced these changes, but only now that able-bodied and neurotypical people’s lives are being put at risk.
Amy Walker echoed this sentiment and shared an important conclusion.
“It just goes to show how socially constructed disability is – the adjustments have always been available, but they’re only reached for when the able majority needs them.”
Speakers at our Neurodiversity Celebration Week event included:
Professor Amanda Kirby – Do-IT Solutions • Lucy Hobbs – Founder The Future is ND • Dr Helen Taylor – Researcher, Affiliated with the University of Cambridge • Ben Bleet – Content Lead and Associate Director at MediaCom • Chrissy Levett – Creative Director Founder/CEO Creative Conscience • Nathaniel Hawley – Leader at Exceptional Individuals • Dr Nancy Doyle – CEO of Genius Within • Helen Needham – Consultant Programme Manager, Capco • Tumi Sotire – Founder The Black Dyspraxic and research assistance at Newcastle University • Amy Walker – Inclusion and Diversity Coordinator at GroupM UK • Sara Rankin – Professor at Imperial College and Director of 2eMPOwerUK • Maxine Frances Roper – Freelance Copywriter • Tyla Grant – Founder of Adulting Autistic • Jim Rokos – Industrial designer & Dyslexic Design Co-founder • Abi Silvester – Copy, Content and Community Management • Priti Depala – Graphic Designer, based in London • Lennie Varvarides – Creative Producer at DYSPLA • Zeinab Ali – Digital Marketing and Membership Administrator
You can find out more about Neurodiversity Celebration week here
Words by Maxwell Dean