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Student Blog

Neurodiversity: a hidden superpower

Date

Written by
Sophia, Student Life Team

In this blog we explore what neurodiversity is, ways it may present itself, and how, with a supportive environment, neurodivergent people can thrive and become superheroes of society.   

Brain illustration

Neurodiversity: an amalgamation of the words neurological and diversity. First coined by Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist, in the late 1990’s to describe the differences that each of our brains present. Singer suggested that neurodiversity should be respected as a social category in the same way that we recognise, for example, ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic class. (1) In summary, we are all different and, like our fingerprints, our brains are all unique, and this should be celebrated.  

For most of the population, despite being distinctive, our brains are comparable enough that there are no obvious differences in how we function, and we perceive the world in a relatively similar way. We refer to this part of the population as neurotypical.  

There are some people whose brains have fundamental differences in functions such as: social understanding, sensory processing, communication and information processing. We refer to this part of the population as neurodiverse. (2)

Neurodiversity includes, but is not limited to (3): 

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) 
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) 
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) 
  • Bipolar Disorder (BD) 
  • Dyslexia 
  • Dyscalculia 
  • Dyspraxia 
  • Dysgraphia  
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) 
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 
  • Tourrettes syndrome

Neurodiversity is centred around the understanding, inclusion and acceptance of individuals who think differently within society. Take the following imagined examples of how two different individuals, with opposing skillsets, can both thrive in the right environment:

Reggie

Meet Reggie. He has a neurotypical brain. Reggie can see all the visible colours on the spectrum, from red to violet. This is great for his role as a content creator as he produces engaging infographics for his company’s social media platforms that attract a large number of online interactions. 

Kyra

Meet Kyra. She has a neurodiverse brain. Kyra may not be able to see all the colours on the spectrum, such as blue, but she can see infrared and ultraviolet. This is great for her role as a police officer as she is usually on the nightshift and allows her to have enhanced vision in dark places and see things that others are unable to.

Did you know that nearly 1 in every 5 people, or 15-20%, of the global population are believed to be neurodivergent? Within this number, it is estimated that 3-4% of the UK’s population have ADHD and 1% are on the Autistic Spectrum. However, neurodiverse individuals were estimated to be as much as 92% more productive at work than their neurotypical counterparts and have shown to display greater creativity and problem solving abilities. (4) 

“If a person were to say to me (as a neurodiverse person): “wow you are really good at thinking about concepts” for example, the equivalent of that for me would be to say to a (neurotypical) person: “wow you are really good at breathing””. (5)  

The neurodiverse population are the hidden superheroes of our society. With greater innovation, creative strengths, levels of concentration and abilities to detect errors, having a neurodivergent peer in your study group can present a multitude of benefits. (6) Those with a neurodivergent brain have been known to ‘hyper focus’ and remain calm in high-pressure situations with high energy to action which could prove favourable when facing assessments! This competitive advantage (7) of excelling in skills such as absorbing information, drawing connections and ‘thinking outside the box’ means that neurodiversity can prove to be a strength in many aspects of life, including when studying at university. (8)

By understanding this, it becomes clear why famous faces such as Bill Gates (ADHD and dyslexia), Tim Burton (Autism), Billie Eilish (Tourette’s Syndrome), Emma Watson (ADHD), Professor Jason Arday (Autism), Tumi Sotire9 (dyspraxia) and Greta Thunberg (Asperger’s Syndrome and OCD) have all been so successful.

Neurodiversity

However, neurodiversity presents its own challenges. Those living with a neurodivergent brain may be presented with obstacles that a neurotypical person may not experience to the same extent, or, at all. Despite the need for an individualised approach, there are some commonalities across the neurodiverse population that can build the formation of our understanding.

Neurodivergent individuals may experience differences in processing sensory information that becomes distracting or overwhelming, such as in a classroom environment. Unplanned transitions or lack of routine without warning, for example a spontaneous study session or a change in lecture times. can also provide distress or difficulty.(10) These individuals are also 54% more likely than their neurotypical counterparts to have a mental health problem. (11)

So, how can we create a supportive environment at university to ensure that neurodiverse individuals can thrive and succeed in their studies? (12) One of the most powerful tools we have is understanding, so take the time to educate yourself on neurodiversity and don’t be afraid to ask questions. A simple “how can I best support you?” could make a neurodivergent peer feel more comfortable opening up. Another simple method is to ensure you are communicating directly by using clear language and accepting their boundaries. For example, some individuals may be hypersensitive to physical contact, so, by respecting this, you can help the person to feel more at ease. And lastly, by merely staying clear of judgment and being there for them, as you would a neurotypical individual, can make that person feel worthy and valued.

With greater understanding and awareness of neurodiversity, we can ensure our hidden superheroes of society get the support they need to thrive and succeed.

If you are a neurodivergent University of London student, please do read our Inclusive practice and Access arrangements page on our website for further information and support with your studies and assessments.

References 

1: My Spectrum Suite: Meet Judy Singer

2: Differing Minds

3: NHS: What is Neurodiversity? 

4: Neurodiversity Week  

5: YouTube: Neurodiversity, work and me

6: Ask Earn: Neurodiversity in the workplace

7: Harvard Business Review: Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage

8: Text Help: 12 neurodiversity strengths that come from thinking differently  

9: Forbes: The Intersection Of Race And Neurodivergence: “The Black Dyspraxic” Shares On Overcoming Barriers

10: The Education Hub: Key challenges for neurodivergent students in school settings and how to help

11: Mental Health: People with learning disabilities: statistics  

12: Charlie Health: How to Support Someone Who Is Neurodivergent