Neurodiversity celebration week – Supporting the mental health of people with neurodivergence

Neurodiversity celebration week is a global initiative that seeks to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding neurological differences. The campaign aims to transform the perception and support of neurodivergent individuals by providing educational institutions and organisations with the chance to acknowledge the numerous talents and advantages that come with being neurodivergent. By encouraging inclusive and equitable cultures that celebrate differences, the movement empowers every individual to thrive.

In this post, we highlight two key areas that society needs to address when supporting neurodivergent people – young people, and adults in the workplace. We also look at the importance of embracing neurodiversity to support the mental health needs of individuals, recognising the strengths it brings, and creating a more inclusive world for all.

What do we mean by neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a relatively recent term used to describe individuals who exhibit variations in brain function compared to what is considered “typical.” It encompasses a range of conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dyscalculia. In the past, neurodiversity was often labelled as a “disorder”, however, there has been a shift in perspective, placing greater emphasis on appreciating the unique skills and aptitudes that neurodiverse individuals possess. For instance, those with dyscalculia, sometimes referred to as “maths dyslexia,” often excel in areas such as reading, writing, and spelling, while finding concepts of numbers more challenging. Neurodiverse individuals bring valuable qualities to the table, including heightened concentration, attention to detail, reliability, persistence, and remarkable creativity, all stemming from their distinct perspective on the world around them. For more about this topic and how ACT can support neurodivergent individuals, visit our neurodiversity knowledge hub articles.

Mental health of children and young people

Writing in CBT today1, Anjali Mehta Chandar suggests that mental health problems in our young population are increasing, with 1 in 3 experiencing some form of issue. This rate doubles for those who are neurodiverse to 1 in 2, so many practitioners will already be working in this particular area plus the percentage is likely to be even bigger. While the population of neurodiverse people in the UK is estimated at 15%2, there may be many more people who are unaware that they fall into the neurodiverse category.

By investing in young people’s mental health and offering appropriate resources and coping mechanisms, we empower them to overcome challenges, contribute meaningfully to society, and become active participants in shaping a more compassionate and equitable future for all. In many cases, these individuals may possess unique perspectives, talents, and abilities that can enrich the fabric of our society. Through inclusion of their diversity, we create a more accepting and tolerant community. Additionally, providing support early on can significantly improve their longer term well-being, enabling them to lead fulfilling lives and reach their full potential.  Ultimately, supporting these young individuals not only benefits them personally but creates a stronger, more empathetic society for generations to come.

Neurodiversity in the workplace

Neurodiversity within workplaces is another area that needs attention. Both employers and employees regularly acknowledge and appreciate the unique strengths that neurodivergent individuals bring to the table, often identifying creativity, innovative thinking, exceptional attention to detail, and unwavering focus as key benefits. However neurodivergent employees reveal alarmingly low levels of well-being, scoring as low as 2.02 on a 5-point scale3. Factors such as career advancement and psychological safety emerge as crucial issues with conventional corporate career paths often imposing what can be referred to as a “neurodivergent glass ceiling,”. As they are primarily designed to cater to generalists rather than specialists, this often inadvertently hinders the growth and success of neurodivergent individuals in the workplace.3

By removing barriers and providing necessary accommodations, workplaces can foster a culture of inclusivity and equity, valuing the unique perspectives and talents that neurodivergent individuals bring to the table. This not only benefits the individuals but creating an environment that celebrates diversity allows a broader range of skills, creativity, and innovative thinking. Harnessing the untapped potential of neurodivergent individuals could also lead to increased productivity and improved team dynamics but most importantly should results in improvements to that low well-being score!

ACT – Celebrating differences

The core principles of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can be enormously beneficial for neurodivergent people to help in managing and celebrating their differences. It creates appreciation that because lives are messy we have to learn to adapt the way we approach new challenges in a positive and embracing way. ACT endeavours to assist them in neurodiversity-affirming manners, placing emphasis on well-being, self-acceptance, and practical techniques for cultivating psychological flexibility and handling distress.

Although it’s easy to generalise rather than approach each person in need as a unique individual, there are good evidence-based practices within ACT that mean therapists and councillors can work better to help people who are neurodiverse. Changing the environment, perspectives and the way we approach therapy itself can support many neurodivergent people to reach their full potential and take an active and fulfilling part in society.

For more helpful resources about ACT and neurodivergence, visit our resource hub and browse the useful articles, metaphors and reading lists we have collated.

Visit the neurodiversity celebration week website to join in.

References

  1. CBT Today, December 22 edition
  2. Shah, R., Absoud, M. (2021). The failure of provision for neurodiverse children during the covid-19 pandemic. BMJ, 375, n2711. doi:10.1136/bmj.n2711.
  3. McDowall, A., Doyle, N., & Kiseleva, M. (2023). Neurodiversity at Work: Demand, Supply and a Gap Analysis.

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