Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Neurodiversity Celebration Week: what is it and how can organisations show their support?

Neurodiversity Celebration Week is celebrated every year from 13th to 19th March. It is a worldwide initiative that challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences, whilst providing opportunities to recognise the many talents and advantages of being neurodivergent.

Siena Castellon, wanted to change the way learning differences are perceived, and founded Neurodiversity Celebration Week (NDCW) in 2018.

“As a teenager who is autistic and has ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia, my experience has been that people often focus on the challenges of neurological diversity. I wanted to change the narrative and create a balanced view which focuses equally on our talents and strengths,” she said.

The purpose of NDCW is to help the world to understand, value and celebrate the talents of neurodiverse minds. By working with schools, universities, and organisations, it aims to increase acceptance and understanding and provide resources and other tools to support neurodivergent thinkers.

By celebrating the strengths of neurodivergent individuals, NDCW aims to change the narrative of how neurodivergent individuals are perceived and supported, empowering them to achieve their potential.

This year, NDCW hosted 24 free events and promoted a plethora of resources for schools universities, students, parents and organisations.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity means no two brains are exactly alike, and that we experience, view, interpret and interact with the world in many different ways.

It is important to highlight that ‘neurodiversity’ is most commonly used to refer to a group which encompasses the full spectrum of brain differences. This includes both neurodivergent and neurotypical individuals.

‘Neurodivergent’ is used to describe people who think differently to the average ‘neurotypical’ person. This encompasses autistic people and people with learning disabilities, as well as those with ADHD, Tourette’s, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dyspraxia.

There are many positive aspects to being neurodiverse which deserve to be celebrated. Neurodivergent people are creative and innovative thinkers, and they have a unique ability to be able to think outside the box and problem solve.

Despite this, many neurodivergent people have negative experiences in school and in the workplace, which can prevent people from reaching their full potential.

Neurodiversity Celebration Week is a time to challenge stigma and change perceptions and misconceptions. It is a time for organisations and institutions to think about how they can adopt an inclusive culture that supports different ways of thinking.

Is neurodiversity the right term to use?

The term ‘neurodiversity’ has been adopted as a way to explain that there is no such thing as a ‘normal brain’. However, in the context of NDCW, some argue that the term ‘neurodiversity’ doesn’t quite come to the nub of it. This is because everybody’s brain is as unique as a fingerprint, so we are all neurodiverse in one way or another.

Dr Damian Milton, a British sociologist and social psychologist who specialises in autism research, says that ‘neurodiversity’ does not explain a type of brain in any biological sense. As he explains: “There is no neuro-typical to deviate from other than an idealised fantastical construction of Galtonian inspired psychological measurement.”

Many people in autistic and ADHD communities therefore prefer to use specific language that portrays their experience accurately. Explaining someone as ‘neurodivergent’ lumps them in with a group of people all of whom have very different experiences and ways of viewing the world.

Lumping together a large group of people and labelling them as ‘neurodiverse’ can dilute people’s specific experiences, and this prevents accurate public awareness of these conditions as disabilities with specific needs.

Even so, neurodiversity is still a widely used term that is predominantly used in a positive way to promote the idea that every brain is different, and these differences should be celebrated rather than criticised.

What can organisations do to better support neurodiverse individuals?


In a previous webinar held by Learning Disability Today, Dr Damian Milton highlighted what workplaces can do to better recognise and support their neurodivergent workers.

Dr Milton described the key issues which impact neurodivergent people in the workplace, including the sensory environment, spiky profiles, flow states and different perceptions and viewpoints.

He highlights that workplaces can cause a great deal of anxiety and stress for neurodivergent people, and often lead people to mask their issues and not be open about their struggles to managers and co-workers.

However, Dr Milton says office environments can be a good fit for neurodivergent people, as long as there is a sense of predictability, control over one’s environment and knowledge of what work needs to be done and by when.

Transparent and open workplace environments therefore allow employees to raise issues quickly and effectively, and he recommends workplaces adopt an ‘inclusive culture’ which allows people to disclose their neurodivergence and receive the appropriate support.

Employers should also ensure their job adverts are accessible for everyone in both design and wording. This will encourage more people to apply, allowing the employer to access a wider array of talent.

Education providers

Research has recently revealed that nearly every state school in England is struggling to provide proper support for children with special educational needs because of insufficient support staff.

Specialist schools across the country are struggling with capacity problems, meaning thousands of neurodivergent children are either studying in mainstream schools with a lack of support, or are not attending school at all.

With this in mind, it is important that mainstream schools are providing appropriate learning environments for all pupils, no matter their needs.

Structural Learning, an organisation which helps learners achieve in the classrooms, highlights five things schools and places of learning can do to make the classroom more accessible for neurodivergent children:

  1. Create a psychologically safe environment where students can safely ask questions for clarification or if they did not understand something. Performing ‘active listening’ protects psychological wellbeing and improves confidence, eliminating barriers to learning and participation for neurodivergent learners.
  2. Teachers should be patient and allow neurodivergent students to plan, think and process their response. They should also be given options of communication so they can communicate in a way they feel most comfortable.
  3. Teachers must think about how their lesson plan might impact each student. They should monitor students’ progress and adapt their teaching style to the student’s preferred approach.
  4. Teachers should ensure they are recognising students’ strengths and praising them accordingly. Neurodiverse students will find some tasks challenging and will excel in others, as most students do. It is important to celebrate the wins, no matter how big or small, to provide encouragement and support.
  5. It is important for teachers to engage with parents and carers, as they are likely to know which learning style their child responds best to. Teachers should also feedback to parents about their children’s mental health conditions and performance to reduce the gap between children’s school and home life.

Homelessness charities

Homeless Link, a charity for organisations working directly with people who become homeless in England, says that neurodivergent adults (particularly autistic adults) are overrepresented among those experiencing homelessness.

The charity says that autism is a likely risk factor for becoming homeless, with one study suggesting that 12.3% of 106 rough sleepers that were screened “showed strong signs of autistic traits that would be consistent with an autism diagnosis.”

Some forms of housing may be unsuitable for autistic adults, which means those adults who are autistic and experiencing homelessness are not having their needs met and are placed in a vulnerable position.

Homeless Link aims to draw attention to this, and this NDCW, the charity is encouraging service providers to put steps in place to better support people who are neurodivergent and experiencing homelessness.

The charity says it is important that each service takes a person-centred approach, as every neurodivergent person has a unique pattern of strengths and challenges.

For more information and resources, see the charity’s Knowledge Hub here.

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