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Exploring Neurodiversity - We Are All Wired Differently


Authored by Jenn Calland and Guests

What is Neurodiversity?

Just like everyone has differences in obvious ways such as skin colour, hair colour and texture, eye colour, height and build; everyone has differences in how their brains are wired too. Neurodiversity describes the natural range of differences in brain function and behavioural traits in individuals.

In years past, individuals diagnosed with Dyslexia, Autism, or ADHD have been identified with many medical terms describing a “Learning Difficulty” or as having a “Developmental Delay”. All of these are often labelled as “deficits” to what is otherwise considered a “human norm”, yet no one has a great grasp in definition on what the “human norm” is actually meant to be.

Neurodiversity on the other hand recognises that people think and act differently, while challenging the idea that these are deficits rather than just variations. Some of these differences are in the way that individuals perceive and interact with the world that we all share, as well as how they take in information, process it, and respond to it.

The notion of Neurodiversity also pushes forward the idea that there is opportunity in recognising and supporting the different ways that people perceive, process and react to our shared reality. Indeed, history is filled to the brim with examples of Neurodivergent luminaries who have moulded humanity’s future in spite of the difficulties they faced. Whether they were clashing with social norms, having to break the rules, or being sanctioned or punished severely for thinking differently, they nonetheless paved the way towards innovation that we all have benefitted from.

The notion of Neurodiversity also infers that perhaps we should all simply treat each other decently, like normal human beings.

In this blog, I would like to present some examples of what Neurodiversity looks like and encourage readers to not only learn and accept, but also to accommodate, support and even champion their colleagues who perceive and react differently.


Demonstration & Explanation: Medical Model vs Social Model of Disability

There are many videos available that describe the Medical Model of Disability versus the Social Model of Disability, including the UK's own Scope video. These go further in describing the Model better than I could relay within this blog.

However, for the purposes of this blog, I ask everyone everyone to go view a video from PWDAustralia. While offering roughly the same information as the Scope video does, it also leverages an inclusive presentation style for visually impaired watchers. With this, it is my hope that readers gain a new experience first hand.

Before playing the video, pay careful attention to your perception and response. When given only audio description, what did you next anticipate? Could you anticipate anything? Was your anticipation ‘right’ or ‘wrong’?

Watch the video now, and consider your answers to these questions.

I think this perspective offers a reasonable illustration of how Neurodiverse people may need more time for perception, processing and response but nonetheless come back with novel solutions.

Perceive, Process and Respond

Many Neurodiverse people relate to our shared world differently, largely based on how it is perceived, how that information is processed, and then on how to respond.

For Neurodiverse folks, there could be one step in the system where something is different in either perceiving, processing, or responding. Or it could be where two or all of these basic systems are different from what everyone else experiences and interacts with.

There are a number of different approaches on how to ‘normalise’ these experiences for Neurodiverse people. But also, from an ethics standpoint, is that the right thing to do? After all, Neurodiversity is still largely misunderstood and studied only in silos (ie. ONLY ‘Perceive’, ‘Process’ or ‘Respond’) whereas a Neurodiverse person experiences any differences near instantly and simultaneously.

Birds of a Feather: the Double Empathy Problem

When talking about Neurodiversity, I find it equally important to talk about the ‘Double Empathy Problem’. There are many scholarly articles published when Googling this term which largely talks about how Neurotypical people and Neurodiverse people get along with each other in their own tribes, but where work needs to be done to bridge those gaps between these groups.

Take this definition from the National Autistic Society

Simply put, the theory of the double empathy problem suggests that when people with very different experiences of the world interact with one another, they will struggle to empathise with each other. This is likely to be exacerbated through differences in language use and comprehension. 

I felt it was worth mentioning here, given that this blog is meant to help Neurotypical folks better understand Neurodiverse folks. Everyone knows of instances of really smart people who “couldn’t keep it together”. They "could have done better”. They “never fit in”. Maybe they are “superfluous” and “over the top”. Maybe they’re “dogged” or “rigid”.

Notice all of the ‘othering’ in that language. While there was something a bit ‘off’, it wasn’t malign… but just different. In that case, you as a Neurotypical person likely came across a Neurodivergent person. Reflect on your thoughts and experiences there, where someone non-malign was just a bit different and where that person ‘flocked’ to safety. Also consider how vulnerable Neurodivergent people can be to manipulation and malintent. 

Also just Google “Double Empathy Problem” and consider your role in that.

What Difference Can You Make? Perspectives from Neurodiverse People


Presented by Jonni Wainwright Allen, who is a Family and Tax Law Graduate from Washburn University, a former Professor at Missouri Western State University, and an award winning author.


We can gain knowledge from reading.

It does not mean we are cognitively slow in any other regard. 

The letters do not look “scrambled”. We don’t believe our brains didn’t read the word correctly. 

How Can Recruiters Help?

I would never put it on my resume or professional profile, because rarely is there a reading test in the hiring process. Dyslexics do far better on verbal communication.

How Can Managers & Colleagues / Teammates Help?

Managers and teammates can help by understanding when we reread we are desperate for our brain to be more “on” that day than other days. If they could train us verbally v. reading the manual we’ll do far better. Also, I use my finger to trace my words to focus and be accurate. Sometimes I want to read aloud to hear if it makes sense. 

A Personal Reflection

A few months ago I was in Dollar Tree with my son, 7. We’re at the checkout and he wanders over to the vending machines and asks loudly “Mom, can I get this”. I look up and see “Slime Gumball”. I say loudly back “Slime gumball, honey that sounds so gross. Why would you want that?” Then he looks at the machine, looks at me, then back at the machine with this questioning confused look. I realize I’m innocently in the wrong, and look again. It read “Smile gumball”. Immediately I force myself to laugh, and loudly proclaim to the cashier and people behind that being dyslexic is such a gift because you never know when you’ll misread something and have a good laugh.


Presented by Elsa Ryan, a Software Engineer in training through #TechUp Skills Bootcamp in Software Development.


ADHD isn’t just little boys who have lots of energy and can’t sit still. ADHD affects people of all ages and all genders. It manifests itself in so many ways, and everyone with ADHD will experience, and live, with ADHD differently. ADHD is generally broken down into three types: hyperactive, inattentive, and combined. The inattentive type is occasionally referred to as ADD.

ADHD isn’t a bad thing; our brains are just wired slightly differently to that of the average person. People with ADHD tend to be creative and offer unique perspectives to problem-solving which can be hugely beneficial in the world of work. This creativity can be harnessed into lots of different ways, and many successful people such as entrepreneur Richard Branson, musician Dave Grohl, actress Emma Watson and Olympic gymnast Simone Biles have ADHD.

Eating certain food groups and eliminating others cannot relieve ADHD symptoms. This mindset can be harmful to people who have ADHD. A bar of chocolate is not going to suddenly make someone’s symptoms worse, much like a carrot will not alleviate symptoms. This said, maintaining a balanced diet is important as it is for everyone.

How Can Recruiters Help?

Advocate for candidates! There are so many ways you can support someone with ADHD through the hiring process. For example, if a test is timed, reach out to the employer to ensure adjustments are available as standard. 

How Can Managers Help?

Primarily managers should check with the person with ADHD as to what works best for them. Some people like short and sharp deadlines, and like to be accountable to someone, others find this approach suffocating and akin to micro-managing. Some people really enjoy tasks where they can focus on that one task for a prolonged time, while others prefer a range of shorter tasks. They can help by setting clear goals and providing flexible timeframes. Empathy goes a long way too.

How Can Colleagues / Teammates Help?

Colleagues can support someone with ADHD by always following up verbal conversations with written points of action. This (in my case at least) prevents me from forgetting something key. This is especially important for meetings which are long (and have no breaks) or fast-paced. Also, just being supportive can go a long way.


Presented by Jenn Calland, a CTS Group work colleague who is #ActuallyAutistic, plus further contributions from team members.


Autism affects men more than it affects women? This is false. Technically, genetically and environmentally, where Autism falls, it should be within the same range that gender falls. However, because young girls with Autism quickly clue into social constructs, young girls find it easier to pass as ‘normal’ using mimicry and ‘Masking’ by comparison to their male counterparts. That is clearly reflected in studies around gender and Autism.

Light it up Blue! Actually… don’t Light it up Blue, please! Around February of each year, there are often international campaigns around “Light it up Blue!” or with logos aligned with looking like a ‘puzzle piece’. These campaigns are well funded by groups seeking a ‘cure’ for Autism, but without seeking the views of Autistic people themselves. Many Autistic people don’t want a cure for Autism. Rather, we want understanding, acceptance, and support. 

Where in many other disabled communities, many folks may prefer person first language when describing them, such as “person with sight impairment”. However, overwhelmingly, self advocates within the Autism community prefer identity first language, such as “Autistic person” rather than “person with Autism”. That is largely because Autistic self advocates cannot imagine separating themselves from their Autism, as it's a life-long vital component to self-identification. You cannot separate my Autism from me because it's in the whole of who I am.

Language around ‘Aspergers’ is out-dated, as is ‘High Functioning’ and ‘Low Functioning’ Autism. ‘Aspergers’ is no longer a part of DSM-IV Diagnostic Criteria for Autism Spectrum Condition.

PS -- “Autism Spectrum Disorder” should also be considered out-dated language as well, since many Autistic people do not see themselves as ‘Disordered’. Rather, simply misunderstood while trying to grapple with a world that’s not designed for them.

When considering what is ‘High Functioning’ versus what is ‘Low Functioning’ Autism, I invite folks to consider Stephen Hawking. While to the best of my knowledge, Stephen Hawking is not at all Autistic, when considering if he deserves a ‘High Functioning’ or a ‘Low Functioning’ label, I’ll leave that to you to consider and explore in your own time while considering Autism and how Autistic people can communicate.

How Can Recruiters Help?

Standardize the practice of sending interview questions prior to the interview and provide information on what an applicant can expect during that interview. Make this available to everyone who applies.

For Autistic people who co-join many complex pieces of information in their minds in so many different ways, it is difficult to focus on exactly what is being asked. Almost all interview preparation courses and workshops only exasperate this experience for Autistic folks. Allowing applicants to understand what the interview will ‘look and feel like’ reduces anxiety and allows Autistic people to speak freely from a creative standpoint. This better demonstrates what Autistics have to offer, rather than working from a scrutinised standpoint, where Autistic people struggle to process and respond.

A good, well trained and knowledgeable recruiter will be able to discern qualified candidates, rather than off-loading that knowledge gap onto applicants.

How Can Managers & Colleagues / Teammates Help?

Listen closely to the people that you manage, whether or not they have had the courage to disclose their Neurodiversity. Some key points to look for may include:

Often in business, things change and most often when things change without much explanation, some colleagues might have difficulty understanding the what’s and why’s. Being transparent in the what’s and why’s are very helpful overall, but triply helpful for Autistic people.

Keep that open door open and respond as quickly as you can. Most Autistic people are socialised towards not asking for help and for figuring everything out in the limited time and resources available, and often if no response comes, it furthers any difference and isolation already felt by being different. Be sensitive to that. It’s a good practice anyways to listen carefully and see how to best help work colleagues.

Accept the stims, the information dumps, all that. Anyone who’s worked with me for a while knows, I pick up a big wad of blue-tack to play with in my hands while listening to things while I’m on video calls. Or I over-communicate on Jira tickets and in communication with my colleagues. Those aren’t ‘bad’ things, but they’re not the ‘norm’. And I do have empathy for anyone who meets any of my ‘walls of text’ where I’m trying to articulate myself. For many Autistic people, that’s part of the process for processing and working through complex social situations and information. Face-to-face, it might be off-putting. Though what comes from it is likely very detailed and insightful. Autistic people tend to be very principle driven and tend to be very process driven. Let us do our processes, and then listen during and after to those insights… and act on those.

Have patience. You might be re-hearing some of the same struggles everyday, but once again, it's a part of that processing for Autistic people. It might sound like a broken record, but that’s how we cycle and get to sorting it.


Neurodiversity in General

EvenBreak - Career advice for Neurodiverse job seekers

Mental Health At Work - Support for Mental Health at work


The British Dyslexia Association - Information, advice, and services around Dyslexia

Learning Ally - a not-for-profit organisation that supports people with literacy issues


ADDitude Magazine - Information resource for folks with ADHD, family, carers and professionals includes articles, informational webinars, and newsletters


Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism - Information resource for Autistic people, family members, carers and professionals

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Understanding Autism Level 2 Certification - offered by many colleges throughout the UK as a free distance learning course. Check the website for your local college’s distance learning offer to find out more.

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