At the end of last term, the ANU Disabilities Student Association held a neurodiversity panel at Burgmann College. The panel consisted of four women who had all interacted with neurodiversity throughout their lives.
Dr. Kristen Pammer, Associate Dean of Science at ANU, conducts research specialising in brain studies including synesthesia and dyslexia. Tori Haar is an advocate for neurodiversity with experience at a cooperative research center for people living with autism. Michelle Armstrong is a teacher to neurodiverse people, and Clare Green a student at ANU who struggled to get diagnosed.
The panel tackled the important question of what neurodiversity is. Armstrong said, “our brains are wired differently, however, I think everyone’s brain is wired differently”. This statement opened up an important topic of the night; the notion of people acknowledging and recognising the idea of a spectrum. Green stated, “It’s a relatively new thing. Most people don’t seem to think of people on the spectrum… as normal, mostly as different”.
Dr Pammer, while not neurodiverse herself, explained that the term was more activist than scientific. She likened neurodiversity to looking at faces; we all have the same features, but every face is different.
“Brains are exactly the same”, said Pammer, “we’re all neurodiverse”.
The panel moved onto the issues with getting diagnosed for conditions such as Aspergers, especially the prejudice they faced as women.
Haar, who was diagnosed during her university studies, said that at the time Aspergers hadn’t been around for that long (as a diagnosis) and that her diagnosis was an uphill battle.
What was most interesting was that all the panel members had the unique perspective of how diagnosis created exclusion. Green spoke about being bullied and unsupported by teachers who couldn’t reconcile her condition with her passion and aptitude for English.
Haar indicated how difficult it is to communicate to someone what support they need, as a lot of the time individuals don’t always know why something isn’t working. “I think a lot of people haven’t built the self-confidence they need to be advocate for themselves”.
The panel members provided unique perspectives into their experiences and struggles with neurodiversity and offered insights into the term.