My introduction to Nuerodiversity
Last year, I was informally diagnosed as autistic with a likely side-helping of ADHD.
At the time, I thought, “get out of here. I don’t have the traits. I’m just a bit different.” Biased by the stereotypes of either being Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang theory. “This doesn’t fit.”
My response, was to then obsess over every detail about autism, adhd and neurodivergent behaviours, in both an effort to prove that it wasn’t me and to find out what was weird about me. I went down a hyper-focussed tunnel of research*1.
The NHS and various other medical outlets, define Autism so badly, especially considering the target audience is likely autistic. They talk about the extremeties of things autistic people may find it hard to do and the negatives but absolutely none of the strengths. They talk about how they “may even go on to lead perfectly normal lives.”
This is just awful. Imagine finding out you may have a neurological condition, only to then be told all the possible negatives when there is in fact, a barrage of positives that may come with it.*3
Autistic people may:
- find it hard to communicate and interact with other people
- find it hard to understand how other people think or feel
- find things like bright lights or loud noises overwhelming, stressful or uncomfortable
- get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events
- take longer to understand information
- do or think the same things over and over
Source: NHS – What is Autism
None of the above is incorrect but I’d argue it can be misleading.
As I did, many will take these so literally*4 that they will say, “well no. I don’t find those hard.”
I don’t instinctively know how other people feel but put so much care into trying, that I normally do. I do over-analyse things, have some anxiety around social events but I have systems for these things, it’s fine*5. I don’t like super bright lights but nobody does, right? Also, everyone has a comfort zone, I actually enjoy the thrill of expanding mine. Yeah, that’s not me.
*1 – Someone commented that I’m autistic, so I spent a week disproving the theory by hyperfocussing and learning everything about it.
*2 – In re-writing the above, multiple times, to make sure I communicate it accurately and unambiguously, I somehow forgot about the number 2.
*3 – My response was not just to put the research down but to be disgusted that autistic people must go through a horrible time reading this, I need to do something about it and help them.
*4 – I took the bullet point list of things we may do, as literal and black and white. Nah, I don’t struggle, I have mechanisms that work for them.
In trying to make sure I explain this as well as I can, I’ve added 4 snippets of extra information, within the first few paragraphs of this blogpost. It is 100%… me 😀
Neurodivergent people are those whose neurological development and processing differ from the neurotypical population, including conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and others. While neurodivergent individuals may face challenges in certain areas, they also can possess unique strengths that can be advantageous in certain industries, including technology.
Not better, not worse.
Imagine modern computers, virtually everyone uses Windows with a minority using linux / Macs. Macs are great for some areas like software engineering or design but less so for gaming. Well I’m a Mac.
If you hold Ctrl+C on a Mac expecting it to copy something to the clipboard like a Windows device would, you’ll be disappointed. Expecting an autistic person to behave exactly like a neurotypical person will yield the same result.
As part of my research, I then found incredible communities of neurodivergent people, including doctors, lawyers, actual real life rocket scientists, social workers, teachers, carers, journalists, entrepreneurs, volunteers, homemakers, athletes, actors. Ok, so it’s not just the Sheldon stereotype that is portrayed by the media? At this point, I re-visited the NHS stats, without the stigma and just accepted it. I’d been biased by the extreme tropes and was probably a little defensive.
I started to embrace the challenges, accept when I found things hard that it wasn’t because I was shit or weak. This helped my mental health immensely. I also leaned into learning about the strengths and how I could leverage them to further my happiness and hopefully success but also with a view to share this with others.
At this point in my journey, I read a great article, 12 neurodiversity strengths that come from thinking differently and hoped to add to it. Very good read, highly recommended.
In the same way the NHS points don’t apply in full to all autistic people, these don’t. However, many nuerodivergent people also exhibit various levels of the following:
Attention to detail
One of the hallmarks of many neurodivergent conditions is a heightened ability to focus on specific details. This can be a major asset in technology, where attention to detail is critical for ensuring the accuracy and functionality of software programs and applications. Neurodivergent individuals may excel in areas such as software testing and quality assurance, where a keen eye for detail is essential.
As a software architect, with a focus on decoupling large software systems into multiple smaller services, with security, efficiency and cost in mind, this attribute is invaluable for me.
Many neurodivergent individuals have an exceptional ability to identify patterns and connections in complex data sets. This can be a significant advantage in technology, where pattern recognition is critical for data analysis, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Neurodivergent individuals may excel in roles such as data analysis, data science, and machine learning engineering.
I’m fascinated by AI technologies, in fact parts of this blog post have in fact been generated by AI but then enhanced/reviewed by me personally.
Neurodivergent individuals often possess a unique way of thinking that allows them to approach problems from a different perspective. This can be a major asset in technology, where innovation and creative problem-solving are highly valued. Neurodivergent individuals may excel in roles such as software development, where they can leverage their innovative thinking to create unique and effective solutions.
This CAN comes across as being challenging, tough, over-critical and I’ve been known to annoy people. However, in doing so, most neurodivergent people only ever want whats best for the teams they work with and when their colleagues know this, I hope they see the value ND colleagues can bring.
Many neurodivergent individuals experience a state of hyperfocus, where they become deeply engrossed in a particular task or topic. This can be a significant asset in technology, where the ability to focus for extended periods of time can be critical for completing complex projects. Neurodivergent individuals may excel in roles such as software engineering or programming, where the ability to sustain focus is essential.
Neurodivergent individuals often possess a deep passion for their area of interest. This can be a major asset in technology, where enthusiasm and dedication can be essential for success. Neurodivergent individuals may excel in roles such as software development or computer engineering, where their passion and dedication can drive them to achieve exceptional results.
For me, this can also be a threat. I’m so passionate, sometimes people mis-read my intentions. I work on this a lot but when it’s channelled in the right way, it can have great impacts.
Many neurodivergent people are strongly focused on social justice. What some consider rigid hyperfocus on rules can be better understood as a natural tendency to intensely believe in the import of fairness and justice. This focus on fairness, combined with deep empathy, leads to individuals who will fight passionately to protect the welfare of the disenfranchised and the environment.
The belief that neurodivergent individuals are not empathetic is stunningly inaccurate for many. In fact, the opposite is often true – they may become so distressed by the violations of someone’s rights, or by seeing someone in distress, that they simply shut down and can’t react in a way that neurotypical people interpret as empathetic.Cady M. Stanton, Facilitate Joy! via 12 Neurodiversity strengths that come from thinking differently
Neurodivergent individuals possess a unique set of strengths that can be advantageous in the technology industry. From attention to detail and pattern recognition to innovation and hyperfocus, these individuals have much to offer in terms of creativity, problem-solving, and dedication.
By embracing neurodiversity in the workplace, companies can tap into the full potential of their employees and foster a culture of innovation and inclusion.
By embracing having a neurodivergent brain, my life is immeasurably happier and I can move forwards with a better understanding and more tools at my disposal.