Updated: Apr 6, 2021
As I've written about previously, I believe passionately that Special Education Needs provision should include the opportunity to see counsellors/therapists and that work needs to be done to raise awareness of the psychological and emotional impact of being non-neurotypical in society.
At present, what tends to happen is that the visible symptoms of specific learning difficulties are addressed in school in a practical way (allowance for fidgeting, help with organisation, reading support etc.) The majority of people working in schools and the wider public still associate specific learning difficulties with these narrowly defined, behavioural characteristics. There is a scarcity of knowledge about the impact of living with an invisible condition. The psychological and emotional toll of being dyslexic, dyspraxic, dyscalculic, being on the autistic spectrum or having an attention disorder etc. is rarely acknowledged. In a previous post I described the situation and how it can make an individual feel like this:
"If you have a Special Need you are a liability, a nuisance. Everybody has to adapt their way of doing things to accommodate you. It's difficult not to feel embarrassed for the extra burden you place on others and angry at a world that has saddled you with all of the challenges that come from being different. This is true where the need is profound and also where it is more moderate.
Deeply angry and shamed people struggle to integrate into society. Is it a coincidence, for instance, that studies consistently estimate that over 30% of the prison population is dyslexic and up to 30% meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD? I suspect that difficulties at school, poorer formal qualifications and the unaddressed emotional toll of being different all contribute.
The impact that special educational needs place on the mental health of the young people is rarely considered and, to my knowledge, never funded. This is unlikely to change soon. At a time of financial crisis, our perception of 'cost' becomes narrower and more short-term. The needs don't disappear; we choose not to notice them."
Part of the problem is that most of the population, and probably the individuals attempting to help, think differently to the person they are supporting. This makes empathy quite difficult. You have to work really hard to understand and relate to the internal workings of people who function differently. People with non-typical brains will know what I mean because they have to learn to do precisely this in order to survive and thrive... the 'normal' world thinks differently from them and they have to learn to decode it. Inevitably, some are better at it than others.
I have produced a document in which I try to explain the experience of being dyslexic (because I know most about this.) I think there is precious little our there which offers this sort of insight. I hope it can help non-neurotypical people (not just dyslexics) to feel seen and provide a window for others into an experience they may never have considered before.
I think I should make it clear that this intentionally focuses on the challenges of being dyslexic and I know it can come across as negative. I feel that there are two parts to raising neurodivergent awareness, as with tackling any minority issue. One part is about celebrating what individuals can do, but to only do this distracts the conversation from the difficulties which are experienced because of being different. In my experience, a number of large organisations spend most of their time promoting the achievements of a few, but not raising awareness of why it can go wrong. I'm not opposed to celebration, but I think it can be used to cloud the issue. If you are a dyslexic child, it may make you smile to have a picture of Einstein in your SEN department, but it won't remove the barriers to your success? Just as with race, sexual orientation, gender and other forms of disadvantage and discrimination, celebration needs to be balanced with raising awareness of struggle.
I hope you find the document useful.