There continues to be a lack of understanding and knowledge around the subject of Autism and ADHD within society. That same ignorance runs through the veins of our 200 year old, rigid education system leaving Autistic-ADHD advocates like me unable to impart our valuable insight that could improve the life experiences of so many. This ignorance contributes to the perpetuation of false and harmful perceptions that then lead to the creation of unnecessary hurdles that Autistic-ADHD people are subjected to on a daily basis. From difficulties obtaining a diagnosis, to a lack of necessary accommodations within schools or workplaces, it can be more difficult for Autistic-ADHD brains to thrive in a world largely shaped by the Predominant Neuro Type brain.
I want to encourage others to reconsider the way they perceive Autism – moving away from the deficit model that sees neurodivergent people as errors to be corrected, but towards creating a society and environment, which is more accessible and accepting of neurological differences.
Social media, especially TikTok with its short and snappy format, has become a valuable tool for Neurodivergent creators, like me, in challenging stereotypical perceptions around neurodiversity, by sharing their insight internationally.
I originally started posting TikTok clips – signing songs that not only gave Deaf users access but helped ‘defragment’ my brain. As I continued posting, I discovered a space to explore more about Autism and ADHD, connect with others and increasingly share my experiences. Since then, I have gained a following of over 33.7k, helping me do my bit towards redefining Autistic and ADHD stereotypes.
I’d love for people to see that being Autistic-ADHD is not inherently negative, and being Autistic-ADHD should not be considered a deficit. I don’t lack social skills, I have great Autistic social skills, my non-autistic social skills are likely better than many non-autistic people’s autistic social skills. The way I experience and react to the world is different – not wrong. Some may see a 6 but I see a 9.
Autistic brains absorb every detail whereas the Predominant Neurotype (PNT) brain takes on only what their filter allows. Autistic brains are left with a trolley full – PNT’s have a hand-held basket. Each one puts their shopping through the till at the same speed, yes the PNT completes first, but they were not quicker.
But Autism does not exist in a vacuum – as Dr. Luke Beardon’s Golden Equation clearly demonstrates: Autism + Environment = Outcome. Forcing Autistic people to conform to ways PNT brains experience the world only leads to unnecessary stress. Autism and neurodivergence is not the problem, but the rigidness of society is.
In fact, one study shows that 47% of Autistic people fall into the category of having severe, debilitating anxiety. Autistic people are also 9 times more likely to end their life than the PNT (Autistica, 2022.).
Anxiety isn’t an inevitable consequence of Autism, it is the result of continual stress from feeling like a square peg being forced through round holes.
Limited understandings are still prevalent – for instance, getting a diagnosis for a child can be an uphill battle, and trying to get one as an adult isn’t any easier. I was one of many adults looking for a diagnosis later in life at the age of 40.
Up until my diagnosis, I thought I was broken, unlovable and a monster – it had always been assumed I wasn’t very clever or likely to achieve. These same assumptions were still being made when I sat at my child’s parents’ evening 35 years on. The problem was never the Autism or ADHD, it was the criteria we were being assessed under – like fish out of water – we were never going to succeed.
At the age of almost 44, I passed my PgDip in Autism with the amazing staff at Sheffield Hallam University – I hope to inspire my children and others to believe in themselves and push beyond the rigid stereotypes.
To get my son’s Autism and ADHD diagnosis I had to fight for years to be assessed because no one believed me because of their outdated knowledge of neurological differences and I feel this to be an issue of epidemic proportions because I am well aware that my story eerily resembles that of other Neurodivergent parents who tirelessly struggle to get their children the correct labels so that the wrong labels don’t get a chance at filling the void that could destroy them as they did me.
And in schools, the one size fits all ways of learning combined with the visual and auditory noise that a busy mainstream classroom presents is likely not suited to Autistic brains, causing undue stress and the ever present feelings of failure and exclusion.
One of my children, then aged 6, expressed that he felt like a failure because his friends could do the school work he couldn’t. The National Curriculum – tailored for a very specific skill set – often leaves neurodivergent brains with no space to grow as nature intended. I don’t believe it is rocket science – if a plant isn’t doing well, we don’t look to change the plant, we look to change its environment.
A key driver of my content is to give access to real-life experiences in the hope that more people gain a true understanding of the everyday challenges that society can bring for Autistic-ADHD people, and create a network of support.
It’s not that society needs to be flipped entirely towards Autistic brains, or that people should change the ways of working that suit them – but that we create a society able to adapt to all brains and give everyone space to succeed and live happily rather than just cope.
I want to show that neurodivergence is something to be celebrated and not pathologised, enabling others to feel a sense of belonging and empowerment.
With special thanks to Dr. Luke Beardon, Shona Murphy, Jenn Layton-Annable, Jodie Smitten, Caroline Lear and Mr. Ste Connolly for their continued support.