A team is at its best when it’s made up of people who think differently from one another. Having different experiences, backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses helps us unlock challenges and find solutions for our patients and the communities we serve. Neurodiversity simply means we bring something unique to the table.
Celebrating our difference
This week is International Neurodiversity Celebration Week, first launched in 2018 to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about neurodivergent people. Neurodiversity refers to the cognitive differences in how we think, learn, communicate and process information as normal variations of the human brain. Neurodivergent conditions include but are not limited to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia.
I have sensory processing disorder, which is where the brain has trouble receiving, organising, and responding to information from your senses. It’s more than simply having difficulty with certain sensations; for example, if you hate the feeling of a particular material or avoid bright lights. A person with sensory processing disorder can experience sensations at a heightened level and struggle with calming or regulating themselves after being exposed to uncomfortable situations, which can make it difficult to interact with one’s daily environment. Sensory processing disorder is often diagnosed in people who have autism or ADHD and can cause individuals to seek out sensory sensations or to avoid them altogether.
I’m proud to be part of an employee resource group at AstraZeneca advocating for neurodivergent people, called TH!NK. We’re organising a rich programme of internal events for Neurodiversity Celebration Week including workshops, panel talks and coffee chats. My hope is that telling my story this week, alongside other neurodivergent people sharing their experiences, sparks more conversation and raises awareness of neurodiversity.
Some more of my colleagues share their own unique stories below:
How to support neurodiversity
Around one in seven people are thought to be neurodivergent.1 Throughout my career, I’ve had to adapt in some way to fit in with the more traditional workplace routine. That was until I worked at AstraZeneca, where I found an inclusive culture that celebrates and values differences. It’s encouraging that more organisations and places of education are working to improve inclusion of the neurodivergent community. In the UK for example, AstraZeneca is a founding partner of Neurodiversity in Business (NiB) – a new organisation which will act as an industry forum to support the participation of neurodivergent individuals in the workplace.
Within the workplace, one of my personal challenges is being in meetings with a lot of people. In a crowded room, I’m able to hear many sounds and conversations going on at once and sometimes, I can feel overstimulated or have a difficult time focusing on the task at hand.
However, my superpower – in other words, one of the good things that comes from having sensory processing disorder – is that I have very high emotional intelligence. I’m able to be aware of several different conversations taking place, gauge the mood and process a lot of information about my surroundings at a given time. I think that’s incredibly beneficial in my role as a business manager. Having my colleagues be aware of my challenges and superpowers allows me to be my authentic self at work and contribute at my fullest potential.
The TH!NK employee resource group that I’m part of is at the centre of a global conversation around neurodiversity at AstraZeneca. We are trying to shift perception towards embracing neurodiversity through education for allies, neurodivergent people and parents or family members of neurodivergent people. It really helps to have a support network in place, so this is something I’d encourage other organisations and places of education to pursue.
We must continue to create support networks like these and use their knowledge and power to create purposeful change to foster an inclusive environment across every workplace. That way, we can support neurodiverse people – like me – through the challenges and value our unique differences.
1. Wojciechowski R. Neurodiversity [Internet]. Bbc.com. 2019 [cited 14 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190719-neurodiversity