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Posted 18 Mar 2021

Neurodiversity Celebration Week: Because Awareness Is Not Enough

This week my colleagues and I will be participating in Neurodiversity Celebration Week: an initiative started in 2019 By UN Youth Ambassador Siena Castellon. Castellon was inspired to create this event because of her own experiences at school as an Autistic, ADHD, dyspraxic and dyslexic girl, but also because she identified a knowledge gap that exists in most educational spaces when it comes to neurodiversity.

What I especially love about the way she approached the problem is that she recognized the difference between “awareness campaigns” and actively accepting and celebrating diversity. If we consider the difference in language between the two it is easy to see why one is more impactful than the other. Being made aware of something does not require a person to act or change, it feels passive. For example I can be aware that autism exists without really needing to consider my relationship with it or how I interact with Autistic people. Now if someone tells me they want me to celebrate autism well that is a verb, it requires action from me. If I’m going to celebrate something then I’m going to need to know what is good about it.

By showing schools and young people how to reframe their perceptions and accept that neurodiversity is a positive thing for society Castellon is helping bring the world of education up to speed with the world of work, where we have made huge strides in reframing neurodifferences as talent.

Recognizing All Forms Of Achievement

As a part of my company’s contribution to Neurodiversity Celebration week we send out our lived experience ambassadors and psychologists to participate in educational events, but we wanted to do more to actively celebrate so in 2019 we created the Celebrating Neurodiversity Awards. We came up with award categories that we felt would allow us to recognize all kinds of different contributions in a variety of areas and invited nominations from the general public. Sometimes we can feel intimidated by the really highfliers, the neurodiversity heroes in sport, the arts and business. A goal for the Awards and indeed the Week is celebrating everyday achievements, obtainable success and the journeys of one step that took more resources than all our Olympians. Year on year the nominations have grown in number and reading through them is always an emotional rollercoaster. Our judging panel have struggled this year to choose only one winner for each category because of the sheer amount of talent, courageousness and stereotype busting they have seen.

Since this week is all about celebrating different neurotypes let me share a couple of our amazing nominations stories with you, two entrepreneurs with very different businesses, both capturing a market that needed a home.

Providing Life Changing Support

We had an incredible number of nominations for Laura Tween from Able Hands together CIC. She has built a support farm for adults with learning disabilities that teaches transferrable employability and social skills. Tween herself has multiple neurodivergent diagnoses and did not learn to read or write until in her twenties. She went on to complete a law degree and then set up her business in 2015. She was described as tenacious and unstoppable in her passion for her clients. During lockdown she set up online services and even secured funding to develop social pods for face-to-face services. It was clear from the amount of love we received for this nominee that her clients love her and her work is making a huge difference in people’s lives.

Courage And Breaking Down Barriers

Another popular nominee this year was Sab Samuel AKA Aida H Dee from Drag Queen Story Hour UK ® . They have built a business around reading books with messages of inclusion to children whilst also raising money for worthy causes such as Greenpeace and Mermaids UK. Earlier in the year they were targeted by anti-trans campaigners and became the victim of online harassment and abuse including threats of violence. Rather than be deterred they have been busier than ever calling out the bullies and continuing to spread a message of love and acceptance. We have so much respect for the bravery shown here but more than anything we are glad that Sab/Aida continue to share their talent with the world.

Why We Need To Celebrate

I think we can all agree that it has been a hard year. More than ever before we need to celebrate the wins and commend the people who have shown us that the world is still a great place. I could keep sharing these stories with you all day, there are so many fabulous neurominority businesses, initiatives and individuals out there that I simply can’t fit them all in. I’m really aware of how hard it is for the Neurodiversity community to give ourselves permission to be proud, to allow ourselves the luxury of feeling pleased with ourselves after so long under the shadow of the deficits model. It’s hard to access the sense of achievement when you’ve been in the trenches for so long. But, after more than 20 years in disability advocacy I personally marvel at where we are today, the progress we’ve made and inclusive entrepreneurship that’s come to fruition.

I hope everyone in the Neurodiversity world, as well as our allies in education and employment, will take a moment this week to reflect on how far we’ve come, how many of us are coming together and the feel-good factor of amplifying the good work in this sector.

It’s not too late to get involved! If you run a company, or a team, you can sign up for Neurodiversity Celebration Week and spend some time thinking about the value of a neurodiverse world, where difference is understood and valued.

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