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Neurodiversity Celebration Week 2021

Equality - 16 Mar 2021

Neurodiversity Celebration Week founder Siena Castellon reflects on the importance of celebrating and campaigning for neurodiversity

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My experience of growing up being rejected and judged for being different motivated me to bring about change. I am autistic and also have dyslexia, dyspraxia, and ADHD.

These neurological differences made my school environment very challenging and made me an easy target of bullying. I was bullied at school for most of my childhood. Like many autistic students, I felt, not believed or supported. Instead, I felt blamed and told that I needed to try harder to fit in and be like everyone else.

The bullying was sometimes so severe that I had move to a different school mid-way through Year 4 and again in Year 7 just so that I could be safe.

My negative school experiences motivated me to bring about change. When I was 16, I launched Neurodiversity Celebration Week to change the stigma, misconceptions, and stereotypes about autism and learning differences.

Schools are not ideal environments for neurodivergent students for many reasons. For example, most teachers and support staff do not receive any training on how to identify, understand and support neurodivergent students.

The result of this lack of training can mean our limitations and challenges are more likely to be seen, and perhaps not our many talents and strengths.

 Siena Castellon is pictured holding a sign about neurodiversity with actor Sally Phillips

I believe it's important to tell neurodivergent students that although we may not excel in a rigid and highly structured school environment, our unique way of thinking, our creativity, innovative approaches to problem-solving, and out-of-the-box approaches will be the key to our success as adults.

Orange and teal image reads 'Seven in 10 neurodivergent workers have experienced discrimination in the workplace'. Source: Westminster Achievability Commission for Dyslexia and Neurodivergence

Neurodiversity Celebration Week flips the narrative by shining a spotlight on the neurodivergent community's strengths, talents, and accomplishments.

The conversation is about highlighting and showcasing the many ways in which our neurological differences have given us unique skill sets that have helped to revolutionize and shape the world we live in.

Orange and teal image reads 'Only 32% of autistic adults are employed; Only 16% of autistic adults are in full time employment; Yet 77% of unemployed autistic people want to work'. Source: National Autistic Society, The autism employment gap, 2016

The week is a platform through which to recognize and amplify the achievements of people who view the world from a different angle and who have much to contribute to their schools, local communities, workplaces, and the world at large.

Orange and teal image reads 'Dyspraxia may affect up to 1.6million workers in the UK'. Source: Lingam et al, Prevalence of development coordination disorder using DSM-IV at 7 yrs of age: a UK population based study, Pediatrics, 2009

There are currently over 1,350 schools and over 828,000 students worldwide taking part in Neurodiversity Celebration Week 2021. This year, Neurodiversity Celebration Week has also expanded beyond schools to include many businesses and government agencies – and GMB.

We still have a long way to go before schools and workplaces remove the barriers and obstacles that hold us back. It is time for a collective societal awakening that recognises, values, and accepts the neurodivergent community.

Ultimately, Neurodiversity Celebration Week is about promoting acceptance, tolerance, and understanding of people who are different. We are continually being told that being "different" is a negative quality, but I see it as a gift. I hope that one day the rest of the world will see it too.

View the GMB Neurodiversity toolkit and guides 

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