This week was Neurodiversity Celebration Week – an opportunity to talk about and acknowledge what neurodiversity means, how we can see differences as strengths and become more mindful of challenges surrounding neurodivergence.
Our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion group spoke to various people in the agency to share their experiences of living with a neurodivergent condition and what this means for their daily life. We hope in reading these stories, we educate each other about what it looks and feels like to think differently.
Thank you to Ife Olonade, Izzie Dabrowska, Natasha Green and Nora Selmeczi for bravely telling their stories. Here, we share some of their experiences in their own words.
When did you discover you were neurodiverse?
Ife: I was about 16/17 years old when my form tutor at college picked up on some of my learning styles. She recommended I do a screening for Dyslexia and sent me a free website to check.
Natasha: I have ADHD, and despite having the “feeling” that I did since I was a teenager, I wasn’t properly diagnosed until last year.
Nora: It was only decades later I was able to put a name to my experiences, on the brink of absolute burnout. Ironically, I always knew there was a thing called Sensory Processing Disorder, but nobody told me it could affect “high-functioning” or seemingly “normal” individuals like me.
Izzie: At college, a tutor noticed I might have synesthesia and at uni I got diagnosed with dyspraxia. It was great to put the way I thought into context. It made me realise that everyone has a different perception of the world – it made me a little more understanding of others.
How does it impact your day-to-day?
Ife: Generally day-to-day, when I’m organised, I’m on top of things, even ad hoc tasks and last minute changes, I can manage so long as there is a process. I thrive on a good process!
Natasha: The list goes on… Because of these things, it makes my anxiety worse. I’m constantly feeling like I haven’t done a good job, I’ve said something wrong, I’m not good at what I do, and there’s so much self-doubt.
Nora: I need to remain mindful of what can cause an overload and plan my daily activities accordingly. New places, new daily schedules, and new people around me may throw me off. I need plenty of time in a controlled environment, and at least half a day in a week spent inside with slow activities, like journaling, reading, cooking, brewing a delicious cup of filter coffee (and another, and another), and not talking to anybody.
What opportunities or superpowers does it give you?
Natasha: If I’m interested in something, I’m able to hyper-focus on it and for example finish the task in one sitting, which perhaps would normally take multiple sittings. I only need to be taught something once, and I understand it, I can remember it forever. I know a ton of random but useful information that I’ve never forgotten! I’m very creative, am able to think outside the box, and can multitask ✨
Nora: The superpower side of mild autism is like the world of Pattern Recognition, where I get to be Cayce Pollard (okay, maybe less inherently cool!). I recognise very small changes and repetitions in my environment, people’s behaviour, and ways of working. It feels like being super intuitive, but it’s just very nuanced systemic thinking.
Then there’s the wealth of information I can retain to examine it and discover connections between things and people and work with these insights. The most fun aspect is having rich sensory dreams, where I can easily read emails, books, scriptures and remember them later, smell things, feel the sun or the wind on my skin, just like in the waking world.
What do you want people to know about your neurodiverse condition?
Ife: Dyslexia doesn’t mean I’m stupid, I just process information differently… and maybe need to proof read more!
Natasha: I wish more women shared their ADHD experiences. It may have helped me know I had it sooner, therefore learning ways to deal with it sooner. Could have saved me years of anxiety, and years of thinking I was going mad!
For everyone who shared with us, coming to terms with their neurodivergence, especially as an adult, was typically a long, frustrating and confusing journey. We hope that hearing personal experiences gives a deeper understanding of these challenges and drives more compassionate conversations in and outside the workplace.