How to Be an Ally to the Neurodiverse Community

In a diverse world full of differing opinions and information overload, it can be difficult to know how to support the neurodivergent people in our lives.
Neurodiversity is an umbrella term for many conditions and neuro-profiles and even within each community (Autistic, ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, etc.), views, interests, abilities, and needs differ from person to person. We are individuals with complex, overlapping identities just like neurotypical people and we all need to be treated with respect, understanding, patience, and support.

With this in mind, we would like to offer some general advice on how to be an ally to the neurodiverse community:

“Nothing about us without us”
We need your voices to help us push for a change in attitude and better accessibility in all areas of life, be it education, work, health, housing, transport, or the communities we live in. However, please listen to us before speaking up. We can speak for ourselves and it’s important for us to take the lead when it comes to issues that affect us. We are the experts. Please don’t speak for us or over us but amplify our voices. If you’re part of any kind of committee, focus group, management team, or board and we are missing from it, speak up and demand our inclusion.

Get curious
It’s good to ask questions. Nobody knows everything and the fact that you want to learn means a lot to us. If you get something wrong, that’s OK. Just listen to us and keep an open mind. But know that it means a great deal to us when you take the time to do some of the research yourself. There is a plethora of resources to learn from, just make sure they come from neurodivergent people. Attend events that are open to allies, such as some of our Neuro Pride events. This is a great way to educate yourself straight from the mouths of neurodivergent people.

Engage respectfully
Please keep in mind that we have to explain ourselves on a daily basis. It takes a lot of energy and emotional labour. Please respect it if an individual doesn’t want to or can’t answer your questions. Please appreciate it if we volunteer our time. And if we correct you, it’s not meant as a personal attack. We are not trying to shame you. So please don’t talk back or treat our identities as an intellectual exercise. Debating our existence hurts us more than you. If you disagree, do some more research to find out more and listen to several neurodivergent people’s perspectives to form an opinion.

We are not “less than”
Don’t assume we are not happy with who we are. More often than not, we are not unhappy with being neurodivergent, but we struggle because society was not designed with us in mind. We don’t need to be “fixed”. If this perspective surprises you, learn about the ‘social model of disability’. Always presume competence. Never make assumptions about someone’s intelligence and abilities based on the way they communicate, move, or interact. It’s okay to offer help if you feel someone might need it, but always ask for consent and respect people’s boundaries.

Accept our identities
Unfortunately, access to diagnosis is still a luxury in Ireland. What’s more, diagnostic criteria and the way we are assessed don’t capture the vast variety of our experiences. It is especially difficult to access services and be taken seriously if you are part of a marginalised group or minority. So in most neurodivergent spaces, self-”diagnosis” is valid. Know that it is not only a medical diagnosis, but also an identity, a culture, a community. That said, many people with neurodivergent conditions need professional help, so please help us push for access.

Listen, don’t judge
Even with a diagnosis, there is still so much stigma involved that many of us are not comfortable disclosing it. So if you know someone who doesn’t make eye contact, declines an invitation, interrupts, forgets information, drops things, fidgets a lot, seems moody, erratic, direct or distant to you, don’t assume they’re being rude or inconsiderate. Many of us just communicate differently. And we have good days and bad days like everyone else. So don’t assume that we have bad intentions. If in doubt, don’t accuse – just ask and be kind.

Believe us
Don’t make us prove to you who we are. Don’t assess, question, judge or dismiss people’s diagnoses or identities unless they expressly ask you for your input. If someone opens up to you, appreciate their trust in you. There’s no need to make assumptions based on your limited knowledge of someone else’s experience. And in general, just assume that every person you meet has a unique mix of personality traits, needs, strengths, interests, and identities. We all have our invisible scars. We often don’t know what goes on in another person’s life ‘behind the scenes’.

Normalise neurodiversity
We don’t have special needs, we have human needs. We don’t have super powers, we have a mix of strengths and struggles like everybody else. Being neurodivergent affects every aspect of our lives, don’t expect us to ‘take off’ the label when it’s inconvenient. Don’t make us feel like we don’t belong. We are part of your life, whether you know it or not, we are your children, parents, partners, coworkers, managers, classmates, teachers, doctors, nurses, shop assistants, friends and neighbours. Tolerating us is not enough. Actively include us. Normalise our existence.

Don’t forget
Allyship isn’t just about putting a frame on your profile for awareness months but about engaging with our community thoughtfully, knowing that our needs should be met on our terms and not yours. It’s OK to ask us how you can help and accept that, sometimes, you just can’t. Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen, learn, connect, and include us.

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