The term ‘neurodiversity’ is used to recognise that we all learn and think differently. It’s about embracing this and seeing differences as exactly that - they’re differences and not deficits.
This really resonates with me and the journey I’ve been on to value who I am. Part of that journey is acknowledging and embracing who you are, and what better way than to share it with others. As the OVO Neurodiversity Network’s lead, I’ll work with our Network members to challenge stereotypes.
My earliest memory of feeling (and being treated) different from everyone else was at junior school. Twice a week myself and two other boys would be taken out of class for ‘special’ half day lessons due to our ‘learning challenges’.
I have little memory of what we did in these sessions apart from one lad having to balance on a large medicine ball and all of us messing around. I suspect our removal was largely for the benefit of the rest of our classmates.
In my final year at junior school, I had to take a separate exam to everyone else to determine whether my education would continue in a mainstream school, or whether I’d have to go to a school for those with severe learning difficulties. I passed the exam and went to senior school, which I can confidently say were the worst days of my life. This wasn’t just due to my learning challenges (dyslexia and my inability to concentrate on one thing for more than a few minutes), but I also had a severe lisp and stutter (which isn’t a combination that makes you popular in an all boys school!)
It was during this time that I recall seeing a puzzle in a newspaper on the dining table. Something clicked - I knew how to solve it! I filled it in and sent it off. A week or so later, I got a response from Mensa, telling me I should take a supervised exam as my result indicated I had a high IQ. I remember showing my Dad and his reaction was that I must’ve cheated. Looking back, this had a significant impact on my confidence and, coupled with school life, my self-worth was pretty low.
Despite my dyslexia I became a ferocious reader, starting with comics, then graphic novels and eventually losing myself in heroic fantasy. This led me to roleplaying games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, where I could let my imagination fly. This got me through school and I made a few good friends.
Skipping forward a couple of years and after a dalliance with A levels, I ended up at a start-up where you didn’t need to fit into any one role and people naturally gravitated towards where they could help most. I ended up in the technology team and thus started my career in building software products.
It was at this point where I came to realise that I wasn’t ‘stupid’. I had the ability to relate to all types of people, regardless of their neurodiversity. I was good at understanding abstract problems, finding ways to untangle them and connecting the skills of the people working with me to focus on the same problem.
My confidence grew, my lisp and stutter faded away, and I finally decided to take the supervised Mensa exam. I passed the exam and joined Mensa. My wife thinks this is hilarious as I’m the worst person to have on a quiz team (my general knowledge and recollection of facts is abysmal). However, it was enough for me to validate that whilst certain parts of my brain didn’t fit with general norms of intelligence, I was a very capable individual.
Many years later, I joined OVO and was one of the first people to join without a degree. They took a chance on me as they were growing quickly and thankfully I think it worked out for both of us 😊
I feel blessed to have met and worked with some truly smart and kind people in my career that have supported me, and given me the confidence to just be me. I hope we can do this through the Network and supporting the OVO goal to make this a place where everyone belongs.
Finally, if I can give one piece of advice, it’s to find your super powers (they don’t have to be what anyone would think of as a superpower), and embrace it. You're you, and we’re all special!