By Kathryn McGuigan
Neurodivergent awareness week internationally was March 13-19 (www.neurodiversityweek.com). This was a week to celebrate neurological differences, to raise awareness of the strengths and challenges that neurodivergent face.
The term ‘Neurodiversity’ (ND) was originally coined in the late 1990s by Judy Singer, an Australian autistic sociologist, to represent Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism (now Autism Spectrum Disorder; ASD), and Dyslexia. The purpose was to move the focus from the typical litany of deficiencies, pathologies, and disabilities to advocate for equality and inclusion. Neurodiversity also refers to the idea that people perceive and interact with the world around them in a variety of ways; there is no one ‘correct’ way of thinking, learning, or acting, and differences are not seen as weaknesses. Critical health psychology can play an important role in supporting research, raising awareness, and adding that critical eye to systemic issues.
My interest comes as a parent to my autistic daughter who does not fit my old stereotypical understandings of ASD – non-verbal, doesn’t look you in the eye, boy. She was diagnosed at 13 years old after years of treatment for an eating disorder. She is not in traditional school now but she did cope for 11 years at a huge cost to her well-being. She continues to inspire, challenge me and poke me when I think I know it all as an ally and parent. I have also been inspired by many of my students and colleagues who have disclosed their diagnosis or struggles to me, want to research in this area, and want to change the high school and tertiary systems as well as challenge systemic inequalities. Now I belong to a community of practice (lived experience and allies) who are all passionate about making change at our tertiary institute with our student body. I am beyond excited and privileged to do this work.
“it’s not a disability, it’s a gift. You don’t have to work against it; don’t try and be neurotypical, cos it’s just gonna exhaust you to no end “ (Emily, tertiary student)
About the author
Kathryn McGuigan (she/her) is a lecturer at Massey University, Albany. She teaches social and health psychology and her research focuses on neurodivergent experiences, critical disability studies, gender and food, and chronic illness.