What do Billie Eilish, Solange Knowles, Cher, and Simone Biles have in common? They are all neurodivergent. Neurodiversity is not widely spoken of when discussing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Some believe neurodiversity is the secret ingredient for an innovative business and colorful life.
When neurodivergent humans are given the right tools, they can use their skills to achieve great things. According to Deloitte, “Research suggests that teams with neurodivergent professionals in some roles can be 30% more productive than those without them. Inclusion and integration of neurodivergent professionals can also boost team morale.”
Remember that famous slogan by Apple, “Think Different.” It’s been rumored for years that the late Steve Jobs was also neurodivergent. We are surrounded by amazing talented neurodivergent humans that have inspired and moved us in many ways.
Academy Award winner, actor, and producer Brad Pitt, recently opened up to GQ Magazine about his unofficial self-diagnosis of prosopagnosia. Also known as facial blindness, it is the inability to recognize people’s faces.
Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles has been open about her ADHD on Twitter. Also, U.S. singer, actress and producer Solange Knowles was diagnosed with ADHD twice. Knowles didn’t believe her doctor the first time. “The symptoms seem to apply to everyone around me in the industry. Loss of memory, starting something and not finishing it.”
Salma Hayek, a Mexican-American actress and producer, opened up to Oprah Winfrey about being dyslexic. “I came here and I didn’t speak English, I didn’t have a green card, I didn’t know I had to have an agent, I couldn’t drive, I was dyslexic.”
Unpacking the term ‘neurodiversity’
According to the Smithsonian Science Education Center, no two snowflakes are alike. “Although snowflakes are all the same on an atomic level, it is almost impossible for two snowflakes to form complicated designs in exactly the same way.”
Harvard Health Publishing defines neurodiversity as “the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways. There is no one ‘right’ way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.”
Neurodiversity is respecting all ways of thinking and processing information. Giving humans space to be their best selves without judgment or shame. Building a strong community of snowflakes where we all feel psychologically safe to be our authentic selves.
A snowflake is one of God’s most fragile creations, but look what they can do when they stick together.– Unknown
Unpacking the term ‘neurodivergent’
Dr. Jennifer Farmer breaks down the word neurodivergent in the simplest way: “Neuro is the brain function and brain component. Divergent is that difference in diversity.”
In short, it’s people who are wired differently.
People who identify as neurodivergent typically have one or more of the conditions listed below:
- Autism spectrum disorder (this includes what was once known as Asperger’s syndrome).
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Down syndrome.
- Dyscalculia (difficulty with math)
- Dysgraphia (difficulty with writing)
- Dyslexia (difficulty with reading)
- Dyspraxia (difficulty with coordination)
- Intellectual disabilities
- Mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and more
- Prader-Willi syndrome
- Sensory processing disorders
- Social anxiety (a specific type of anxiety disorder)
- Tourette syndrome
- Williams syndrome
Humanizing the diagnosis and scientific labels
Let’s be honest; using terms like neurodivergent and neurodiversity can add unnecessary weight to a conversation.
Rhapsodi Pierre-Jacques, Founder of Career SWAG Co., helps high-achieving professionals and founders of Black and Latin backgrounds who identify as introverted, highly sensitive, and/or neurodivergent thrive in professional environments that weren’t designed with their minds in mind.
She explained how the pandemic “has precipitated this more human-centric approach to leadership, like, hey, bring your whole self to work.” Unfortunately, for “people who are neurodivergent or intersectionally, I identify as having these intersectional identities, they still have to hide those because it’s seen as it has a lot of negative stereotypes associated with it.”
Being “officially” diagnosed creates negative stereotypes in many cultures and societies. It’s estimated that over 30% of the population is neurodivergent. It’s hard to quote an exact number because so many hide their gift out of shame and are scared to disclose it.
My ADHD story
I am part of that undisclosed percentage. I have ADHD and have never been “officially” diagnosed. Since I was a kid, I’ve always known I was different. My teachers wanted to get me tested, and my parents refused. They did not want ADHD documented on my school record. My parents feared it would hurt me in the future. As a brown girl in a predominantly white community, I already had more obstacles than my classmates. Refusing to add an official diagnosis of any kind was my parents’ way of protecting me.
By the time I was an adult, I had to learn workarounds for my ADHD. Growing up, I didn’t have support or tools to help me figure out how my brain was wired. I learned through trial and error what worked best for me.
Learning how to manage my energy was my biggest and hardest lesson. For example, having a day with back-to-back meetings was very draining. It took a lot of energy to stay focused because my mind would be all over the place. Halfway through the day, I would be wiped and no longer productive. Eventually, I learned how to create boundaries and manage my schedule so my days wouldn’t end in an energetic deficit. It took time, and it was a battle I told no one about because of shame.
Bringing trauma into the fold
Rhapsodi Pierre-Jacques brought up another excellent point in our interview: trauma’s effect on our neurological system. Trauma also affects how we process information. For instance, for someone who is already neurodivergent, this can affect them differently. I’ve yet to meet someone who has not experienced trauma at some point in their life.
If trauma can change our brains neurologically, does that make us all neurodivergent?
Maybe that makes us all human.
Where can you learn more?
There are a lot of great and bad resources out there on Neurodivergent and Neurodiversity. Trust, but verify.
Who is writing it?
What’s the intention of the resource?
What sources are being used to back the information?
Below are vetted resources to help you learn more from various perspectives.
- Chadd Organization
- Introvert, Dear
- ADDitude Magazine
- Stanford Neurodiversity Project
- Yale Center For Dyslexia & Creativity
- Book: Neurodiversity: The Birth of an Idea by Judy Singer
- Book: Inclusive Design for a Digital World: Designing with Accessibility in Mind by Regine M. Gilbert
- Book: The Highly Sensitive Person, By Dr. Elaine Aron
As Dr. Jennifer Farmer beautifully explained 60 years ago, there was a misconception that not everyone was educatable. Today, everyone can be educated. Working is a human right. Education is a civil right. How can we make sure that not only does everyone in society have access to education but to work as well?
Finally, the best way to learn how humans are wired is by talking to other humans and exchanging “I” stories. Because this method humanizes those big scientific terms and makes them relatable. We are all wired perfectly and beautifully built.
In the next 30 days, I challenge you to speak to two humans of your choosing about being neurodivergent and embracing neurodiversity. Check out at least two of the above resources and share the knowledge by passing them on to someone in your community.