Aluna Behaviour Consultancy
Newsletter Number 8, November 2022
Diversity Within Diversity
When I was about 7 years old I heard the word "unique"for the first time. I was told by a significant adult in my life that I was 'special and unique' and though I didn't know what it meant, I knew I liked it!! It's one of those gifts in life I call a "golden nugget"; something you can draw upon to remind you how awesome you are when you're unsure, doubting yourself or just need a shot in the arm of confidence. A golden nugget prompts you to remember how important your contribution is to the world and does wonders for your self-esteem.
So many times we are judged, characterised and typecast. As a 4 foot 8 Black female I'm well aware that my physical appearance is unique, but I challenge being called different. We all have idiosyncrasies and we tend to have at least one thing in common with others. Therefore, we're all unique - and I refuse to be labelled as anything else!!
Where then, do we stand on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?
Over the years I've spoken with many children, adults and professionals about Neurodiversity in general and Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) in particular. It's an area I feel I know fairly well, though every day I continue to learn.
Since that time I've found many, many ways to highlight and celebrate my uniqueness. Even as a teenager, when everyone else was trying to find their identity by looking the same, I'd find a twist on how to modify my school uniform or create a bespoke look in my Harrington jacket. Therefore, though I certainly didn't model myself on the identity of a 1960s Rocker I wasn't strictly a 1980s Mod either!!
On 19th October it was great to join a webinar presentation 'Understanding & Supporting ADHD Traits in Young Children" by Kerry Murphy who has ADHD. Kerry was diagnosed as an adult; she was told that a diagnosis for girls wasn't possible. She has an excellent style of delivery and I described this event as "the best 90 minutes for £5.00 that I've ever spent!"
On 25th October I was fortunate enough to join a webinar presentation by Clare Truman, entitled "Supporting Children with Pathological Demand Avoidance." Clare is a very experienced practitioner and has an autistic brother. She gave very practical advice about how to provide opportunities for learning that are progress-driven, rather than process-driven.
On 31st October I listened to the presentation by Chloe Farahar during the "Other Than Myself Diversity Conference" where she spoke about her lived experiences. Chloe has strong views about the perception of her condition, preferring to be called autistic rather than a person with autism. She believes the term to be an abstract concept which carries a stigma along with it.
On 1st November I attended a webinar entitled "Early Years: A Neurodivergent Perspective" led by Dean Beadle who is autistic and supports Early Years settings where there are children with autism on roll. Dean believes that, while autism is considered to be a condition relating to males, 50% of those with autism are female. His earliest memories of his own education are shockingly incongruent with equity and current inclusive good practice.
I have many more webinars booked on the subjects of SEND, diversity, equity and inclusion. I anticipate that the experience will continue to educate me for the better. From these recent learning opportunities, it would be impossible to précis the very comprehensive content delivered by these four remarkable speakers - so I won't attempt to. Suffice to say that I will take away an extraordinary insight into ASC, ADHD and PDA from Kerry, Clare, Chloe and Dean. They dispelled many of the myths of neurodiversity that have been held for years; mainly generated by psychologists with little experience of these conditions and certainly no lived experiences of their own.
Further information about the excellent work they do includes:
Kerry Murphy: https://www.instagram.com/eyfs4me/
Clare Truman: https://spectrumspace.co.uk/
Chloe Farahar: https://aucademy.co.uk/
Dean Beadle: https://www.instagram.com/deanbeadlespeaker/
With regard to the matter of 'diversity within diversity' it is clear that for each of these speakers their experience of neurodivergence is unique. I was struck by Dean's opening comment: "I'm just one autistic person, not the voice of the autistic community." It's important to challenge stereotypes and to embrace the richness that people who are autistic, ADHDers and those with PDA bring to our lives. We need to listen rather than echo obsolete terminology that is now offensive. We should be asking questions, gaining consent to engage and using vocabulary that doesn't make others feel shamed, uncomfortable or excluded from society.
Kipling D. Williams, a professor of Social Sciences believes: "When a person is ostracised, the brain's dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which registers physical pain also feels this social injury. The process of ostracism includes three stages: the initial acts of being ignored or excluded, coping and resignation." We are growing more familiar with interoception, the internal sensory system in which the physical and emotional states of the person are consciously or unconsciously noticed, recognised and responded to. Bodily sensations and emotional pain; the theory of double empathy are often felt by autistic.
No-one would choose to walk around all day with a large pebble in their shoe and endure the pain and distraction it would cause. Likewise, we should appreciate that some of the norms and expectations of society when it comes to addressing diversity - including any conscious bias towards others - elicit physical pain. Many autistic adults will be able to communicate this in some way, but children and those who are non-verbal may not. When we make assumptions about what behaviours represent and label them as being exclusively 'autistic behaviour' we compound the issues around miscommunication and the aspects of peoples' characters that simply make them ... them. We all have foibles and eccentricities; that's just who we are.
If we take this into account when working with both neurodivergent children and adults we will remember that there are recognisable traits of ASC, ADHD and PDA that are assessed as 'symptoms' for the benefit of a diagnosis. However, just as every neurotypical or neuro-normative person has characteristics that identify them as individuals, every neurodivergent person is just as unique.