Embrace Equality....... Equity in Neurodiversity
What’s the difference between Equality and Equity?
First up and hands up! I was not fully aware of the difference between Equality and Equity. At first, I just realised I was using the wrong # for the theme of International Women’s Day 2023, which was #embraceequity
Then I started to see a few interesting posts pointing out the difference and how the hashtag of embracing equity was, at best, wishful thinking in this imbalanced world we occupy.
Equity is different to equality. It acknowledges that we’re not all starting from the same place. That giving everyone the same, often doesn’t balance it out.
The visual representation of equity from Bcohco shows that very clearly.
Marginalised groups are never, ever at the same starting place. Right now neurodivergent females are not at the same starting place as neurodivergent males and neurodivergent non binary and people of colour are nowhere near the starting place of White Cis Males. In everything, including neurodiversity the intersectionality of race, culture, class and gender needs to be considered to be clear on what the starting place is and what are the needs of the groups in these points of intersectionality.
For International Women’s Day in 2023, I’ve was invited to give a talk for a progressive gaming company, Creative Assembly, who do some great things for their people to create environments for neurodiversity to thrive.
Being totally honest, as I always am, I’m not a big fan of the various day’s we have to celebrate things that should really be an integral part of our daily lives and very much experienced equally.
I feel this most strongly with Black History Month – Black History should be integral to everything we think about, it should be deeply ingrained in all of our consciousness.
We should know it and understand it and never, ever make the same appalling mistakes again… and yet, we are, we keep treating marginalised groups in the same appalling ways.
I recently learned that a key feature of oppressing marginalised or minority groups is to make them feel there is something defective with them.
I don’t want token days to celebrate equality I want equality… equity, to be integrated into how we live.
And, I accept that there has to be a starting point for all change; first comes awareness then we get to acceptance….. don’t we?!
Why is Neurodiversity is a gender inequity issue?
Neurodiversity being a gender inequality....an inequity issue was first spelled out to me, it first really pierced my consciousness in a post I saw within the Neurodiverse community by Jenny Rossiter.
Jenny is Neurodivergent and works as a Leadership Coach, in the mix she works with women to embrace their neurodiversity as a core strength.
Why is neurodiversity an inequity issue?
Barriers to information and support
Well, let’s start at the very beginning; getting access to information and support within the healthcare system.
It is all too common a story for girls and women when they visit their Dr to explore what might be causing them challenges to their health, be it anxiety, sensory overwhelm, emotional dysregulation, sleep issues, exhaustion, that they are dismissed, for being “over emotional’ “too sensitive”. They are not taken seriously.
If they do their own research and more and more we are, thankfully, exposed to stories from other neurodivergent girls and women, especially on Social Media. If they share their suspicions of how they relate to neurodivergent traits, all too often they are dismissed by the health care profession who has NO legal requirement to have training on neurodiversity and how it can present.
“You can’t be Autistic/ADHD you are (delete as appropriate) in a relationship/employed/a Mother/can make eye contact/female……. It’s very rare for females to be autistic/ADHD”
It can often take huge amounts of courage to make that first step and confide in a healthcare professional about your struggles and belief of what is causing it.
To then be dismissed, told you are incorrect and not listened to or believed, well it’s truly crushing – further isolating you, forcing you to keep your struggles to yourself and knocking your own self belief in those struggles.
What’s research got to do with it?
As infuriating as it is that frontline health care workers are lacking in understanding and knowledge of neurodiversity, it is understandable. Given that there has been no large scale formal medical research into how Autism and ADHD presents in girls and women.
Neither has there been any wide scale research carried out into the extent and cost of masking of neurodivergent traits.
So, is it any wonder your average exhausted G.P has no insight into the effects of neurodiversity and the mental health challenges it can present?
Gender Social Bias – Little Ms Helpful
When you add the bias that STILL exists for females over the neurodversity lens, you can quickly see that the pressure to mask our difference is still huge.
From an early age we are pressurised into making ourselves neat, small, compliant and pleasant.
We are conditioned and expected to; behave well, be quiet, to be soft and gentle. We are expected to share well, play nicely, have excellent impulse control and to understand all the complex social rules.
When boys and men display their natural neurodivergent traits, direct communication, questioning or challenging of the status quo, emotional dysregulation, or an aversion for small talk, these things pass easily and without judgement, in fact they are often admired and praised for these qualities.
Misdiagnosis and Mistreatment
In a chapter, I’ve recently been researching for my book, due to be published by JKP later this year; This is Who I Am; A guide to thriving with late life autism discovery, I’ve been exploring the triggers for autism discovery.
Whilst I was aware of the many of those who identify as female or non-binary, those who have been misdiagnosed as bi-polar, with depression, with acute anxiety disorder or borderline personality disorder, I was shocked to listen to their stories, their personal accounts of misdiagnosis and even more heartbreakingly, their mistreatment.
Many women have spent years, heavily sedated with medication that they do not need, that is not helping to treat the underlying cause of their struggles.
Whilst mental illness can become a biproduct of unrecognised or misunderstood neurodivergence it is not the starting point or the whole picture. Too many women are being medically neglected or mistreated. Medical malpractice of women has serious consequence’s to their life’s.
It’s a very shocking statistic and the ultimate consequence of not being listened to, understood and appropriately treated and cared for; autistic people are six times more likely to attempt death by suicide the greatest risk is among autistic women who are 13 times more likely to die by suicide.
How can you embrace equity in Neurodiversity?
If you’re reading this article with interest, thank you. You may be curious about being neurodivergent yourself? You may identify with the stories you’re hearing or the traits you hear described? You may have a family member or close friend who is exploring what neurodiversity means for them?
If you’re exploring it for yourself, I hope you find something in my writing here or in other places, or within a very supportive neurodiverse community that informs you.
Keep looking, keep exploring, keep being curious and maybe engaging within this community to delve deeper for answers to your questions.
From my own experience of exploring what autism meant to me, I danced between awareness and acceptance for a very long time.
A large part of me craved acceptance from others, for acceptance to come from an external source. I realised that acceptance of my difference, the good bits and the challenging bits of it, that acceptance needed to come from within – I needed to accept myself before I could really embrace equality in neurodiversity.
Once I got to the point of self-acceptance, I felt ready to add my voice, to be seen and heard amongst other late discovered neurodivergent women.
We need many more voices to provide visibility and representation of how neurodiversity can present in women.
It’s estimated that 20% of the population are neurodiverse. I think given the barriers to information and support that still exist, that figure could be even higher… maybe a quarter of the population are neurodiverse?
If you want to be a good ally to the neurodivergent community, to embrace equality equity and the changes that are needed for us to reach equality equity, keep being curious, open minded and big hearted.
We need allies who can do the work to inform themselves about the strengths and the struggles of the neurodiverse.
We need people to ask what changes can we make to welcome and accommodate those who think, communicate and engage with the world differently.
We need people who make space for questions, for it to be ok to ask questions to better understand what’s expected of us to be able to belong.
We need people to be curious about what’s going on for the person with the strong or volatile reactions. Are they struggling with something? Are they feeling overwhelmed?
Perhaps they are not a difficult person. Perhaps they are someone with an invisible difference? Perhaps they are someone who needs an open mind, an open heart and compassion for their struggles?
With 20% of the population, of your community being neurodivergent, you need to anticipate and expect of people you come into contact with to have an invisible difference. Perhaps they need you to embrace equity in neurodiversity.