10 Things learnt about making change for Neurodiversity happen

neurodiversity - lessons from past change makers

I believe a step change is needed for Neurodiversity, which requires making people stop and think. To think about their long-held views and beliefs, question what is right, and consider what needs to change going forward.

I was reminded of this as I watched David Letterman interview Barack Obama, and again when I  read the articles celebrating 100 years of women being given the right to vote. Since then I have been thinking what change-makers of the past can teach us about getting society to embrace Neurodiversity.

David Letterman, Barack Obama and John Lewis

There was one statement in Barack Obama’s interview with David Letterman that really made me sit up and take notice. It was as if he was answering my very own questions about how possible is it to achieve something like Neurodiversity when there are so many people whose mindsets seem closed to the possibilities of inclusion in educational settings and workplaces.

Every once in a while you'll find in every period in our history .... extraordinary folks like a John Lewis, who against all odds change history
--- Barack Obama

What a great and inspiring thought. That there are people out there who are the John Lewis for Neurodiversity. People who against all odds are destined to change history. 

Who was this John Lewis, and how did he change history? I had to know.

On 7 March 1965, John Lewis led a group of people on a march from Selma to Montgomery to campaign for the registration of black voters in the South. As they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge they walked into a blockade set up by Alabama state troopers and were brutally attacked with clubs and tear gas.

Eight days later President Johnson was motived by this event to speak before Congress, and a few months later he signed the Voting Rights Act to ensure that all citizens would be able to vote regardless of their skin colour.

As John Lewis set across that bridge, he didn't know that it would lead to a defining moment in history. He just knew that he was moving forward for something that he believed in and that he needed to raise his voice in order to be heard.

The thought that any moment could lead to widespread change should give us hope, even when facing the most difficult of situations. There will be challenges and resistance but it will be nothing like what John Lewis faced, the trick is to keep moving forward as change could just be on the other side of the horizon. 

The Suffragettes and Suffragists

With this fresh in my mind, I explored the history of women being given the right to vote 100 years ago. I quickly learnt that women campaigners largely fell into two groups, each of whom had very different views and approaches to achieving change.

The Suffragettes, like Emmeline Pankhurst, believed in "deeds not words" and often used tactics such as hunger strikes, arson and breaking windows to make their point, as they felt that the moderate approach had yielded no progress. The Suffragists, like Millicent Fawcett, believed in peaceful tactics which involved marching, petitioning, campaigning and raising money to fight for women's rights. They actively distanced themselves from the activities of the Suffragettes.

These differing views led to divisions amongst those campaigning and there was no united front. Despite this, their common passion and relentless campaigning meant that they increasingly could not be ignored.

everything points to the growing volume and force of the womens movement. Even if victory should be delayed it cannot be delayed for long
--- Millicent Fawcett, 1912
Despite their differences, the years of campaigning paid off when on 6 February 1918 women over the age of 30 were given the vote under the Representation of the People Act 1918. Ten years later women were granted the same voting rights as men in 1928.

I have often wished that the people with differing viewpoints about Neurodiversity could come together in support of what seems to be a common goal. This was a good reminder that we don't all need to agree in order to make change happen. We don't even need to agree to disagree. Each voice counts, even if they differ, as it is our collective voices which will lead to the growing volume and force of the neurodiversity movement until the step change can no longer be ignored. 


As I reflected on all that I learnt, I remembered being told that being gay was once classed as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and I began to wonder about what led to its removal.

It came shortly after The Stonewall Riots, during a time of increasing visibility of LGBT individuals and campaigning for pro-gay rights. It started with activists who invaded meetings of the American Psychiatric Association (APA)  to challenge the idea that homosexuality was a mental illness. The protests led to an invite for activists, including Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings, to speak at the1972 & then the 1973 conventions. The tide had turned, and after Robert Spitzer (who went on to chair the DSM-III task force) met a secret group of gay psychiatrists he became convinced, despite initial reservations.

Equality means more than passing laws. The struggle is really won in the hearts and minds of the community, where it really counts
--- Barbara Gittings

Robert Spitzer became a lead voice in the call for change, and just a few months later the DSM was changed in December 1973. Homosexuality was no longer classed as a disorder, but it took more than 10 years for it to be fully removed from the DSM.

It was the courage of prominent people in well regarded positions, who chose to stand up and be recognised as gay along with the support of people from inside the APA that helped to achieve the desired change.

With a spectrum of needs the question of disability vs. difference is not an easy one to answer - especially not in this post. There are many people with severe learning disabilities, and many without. Each need a different level of support. What is hopefully less questionable is that we need the voices of Neurodivergent people along with the support of educators, employers and professionals to make a difference. Acceptance can be boosted by people in prominent positions acknowleding their own differences, and from people on the inside supporting the call for change.

South Africa and the end of apartheid 

Thinking about all this change made me think of my own experience of a social change.

As someone who was at high school in South Africa when Mandela was released, apartheid ended and the first democratic elections were held, I know that change can be unsettling. Even when you aren't against the change.

At 14, I didn't understand what the end of apartheid meant as it wasn't something that we talked about much at home or at school. I was not racist, but I did live in a segregated society. When that is is all that you know, it is hard to know what change will be like. It was a time of uncertainty with gossip, gloomy predictions and scaremongering. I remember being worried about what the what change would mean, the possibility of civil war and the fear of losing everything that we had.

In reality, I made some great new friends as school became integrated and was proud of how South Africa embraced becoming a rainbow nation.

There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.
--- Nelson Mandela 

My years in the UK have helped me to better understand a non-segregated way of life, and the impact that segregation had on those who were being excluded. I know that I have been influenced by my years of living in South Africa, and I am careful to avoid unconscious bias from influencing my thinking as I know that it is these unconscious biases that can prevent us from achieving full integration.

The challenges of people being uninformed or misinformed is currently one of the biggest challenges that I can see with Neurodiversity, which is why there is such a great need to raise awarness and ensure that people fully understand what it means. People can struggle to understand what they don't know, and in many cases may need to see what is possible before addressing unconscious biases that prevent them from fully adopting a new viewpoint.

Looking ahead for Neurodiversity

So what have I learnt? I have learnt that bringing about a social change is not easy, but is it not impossible.

If I were to guess what the change-makers of the past would tell me, if I were able to get them all in a room to share their top 10 tips, it would be:
  • Speak out so you can add to the volume of voices raising awareness and calling for change
  • All voices count, even if they differ
  • Highlight the challenges that others don't see, especially the impacts of discrimination
  • Find ways to inform the uninformed and misinformed, so that they can start to understand why change is needed
  • Give people insights into what life after the change could be like, as people need help to see what is possible
  • Celebrate neurodiverse people who have successfully overcome challenges to be successful in their own way
  • Enlist supportive advocates including politicians, professionals, educators and employers to help drive the change from the inside out
  • Be resilient in your quest for change and continue moving forward, even in the face of adversity
  • Be hopeful in your ability to bring about change, as it can take a single moment to create the tipping point
  • Never give up

The question now is what do we do now in order to move Neurodiversity forward?

Neurodiversity is the embracing of neurological differences as part of human diversity (which I like to call diversity of thought). This requires changes in educational settings, workplaces and society to find ways to include Neurodivergent people in a way that can realise the benefits of divergent thinking and work around the areas that they find challenging. This includes Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, ADHD, Dyscalculia, Autism, Tourette Syndrome, Bipolar, OCD and others.

Life and ASC
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
Spectrum Sunday


  1. A brilliant and really positive post. I have to believe that this change will happen, maybe not for us but definitely for our children x

    1. There seems to ge a growing number of people who are looking at this. In some I think employers are ahead of educators in starting to explore what can be done, as I am seeing more openness and collaboration in that area. This month I am launching neurodiversity at my company, after getting support from my CEO and the partner team. Hopefully wider change is no too far off

  2. It is definitely time for change and hopefully it will come soon #kcacols

    1. it does feel like the time for change is now :-)

  3. So much food for thought in this post, and very well-written too! x #KCACOLS

    1. Thank you. Hopefully some of what I have written might light a spark in others who are looking to bring about change 😊

  4. The 10 tips to create change is fabulous. We need to speak up and speak out but above all, never give up. I sincerely hope that neurodiversity is embraced in my children's lifetime!

    1. I think I might to find a more visual way to share the 10 tips I learnt. Never give up is the one that resonates most with me.

  5. This is great.
    I wish all disabled people would come together to fight for the common good - all too often people with different disabilities argue amongst themselves when they should be looking for similarities.
    It is hard for everyone in different ways - but we do all have one thing in common - the right to be included & recognised.

    1. Absolutely agree that everyone deserves to be included and recognised, and for many there is a common desire to be heard and understood. If one more people would stop to listen.

  6. I found this a really inspiring read - thank you. I liked the top tips for change at the end too. I do believe that things will improve if we keep on keeping on raising awareness and explaining what will help increase inclusion. Thanks for hosting this linky! #neurodiversitynotions

    1. Explaining what will help increase inclusion is so important. We need to give people the tools to make change happen. Understanding what is needed, is one of them.

  7. An interesting thought provoking post I like your top tips. Influential advocates are very important to promote messages you just finding the right influential ones to get on board #KCACOLS

    1. Finding the right influential advocates is definitely key to ensuring that you get the support involved in the right places.

  8. This is easily one of the most interesting, most thought-provoking posts I've ever read in my 3+ years of blogging. 1973 is shockingly recent! #kcacols

    1. It is not that long ago - one generation. Thinking about how much we have achieved in one generation does give me hope about what we can achieve in the next generation 😊

  9. Great article. I've been mostly lucky in life not to face too much discrimination as an lgbt person but it's still there and for those who are neurodiverse. Though I'm not sure that's the right word. #kcacols

    1. Tackling discrimination, especially unconscious bias, is one of the hardest aspects of change. This is why the mindset change, can be the hardest change of all.

  10. I think we are at a pivotal point for many things, many issues -- and we can all hold the courage to never give up. Great article. xox #kcacols xo

    1. There really does seem to be a swell in the number of issues which are being discussed more openly these days. I hope that the greater transparency will lead to greater change.

  11. This is a brilliant post, well done. We all have to believe that some change fame happen, it must happen. Thank you so much for linking up to #kcacols and hope to see you again x

  12. I agree that the change must happen 😊 hopefully sooner, than later.


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