An insider’s guide to the creative world of neurodivergence
Soho House member Kirsti Hadley is reframing the conversation around neurodivergence, and in her own words she shares why we should all be celebrating its creative potential
Monday 17 October 2022 By Kirsti Hadley
My brain runs at a million miles an hour and there is always an inner monologue going at pace. I literally cannot shut myself up. I also tend to react quickly before stopping to check whether what I have said or written is actually correct. Once, I was really unwell with tonsillitis and hurriedly added an out of office to my emails so I could go and rest. The resultant barrage of emails I received because I’d accidentally replaced the first letter of ‘sick’ with a ‘d’ is a prime example of my ADHD brain running riot. There’s rarely a dull moment when you’re around neurodivergent humans.
For the avoidance of doubt, the word ‘neurodivergent’ is an umbrella term for a brain type that deviates from what is currently considered to be the ‘norm’ or the ‘typical’. It includes ADHD, autistic individuals, OCD, Tourette’s, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, and the more socially accepted dyslexia.
I was diagnosed with ADHD/ autism and dyscalculia in 2021 at the grand age of 48 and I’m not the only one. Today, more people are being diagnosed as neurodivergent than ever before. Since the pandemic, ADHD and autism diagnoses have shot up (official NHS stats report a 38% increase in autism referrals this year alone) and across social media platforms like TikTok, video views relating to #ADHD currently stand at 15.4 billion, #autism is at 12.3 billion, and #neurodivergence, 52.1 million.
Add to this the raft of celebrities who have chosen to go public with their diagnosis – Billie Eilish, Lewis Capaldi (Tourette’s); Florence Welch (dyslexia); Justin Timberlake, Solange Knowles (ADHD); Greta Thunberg, Melanie Sykes (autism); Charlize Theron (OCD) – and it’s little wonder that some people are referring to the recent upward surge as a ‘trend’. I prefer to think of it as a ‘mass awakening’. Here are some key lessons to learn about the beautiful thing that is being neurodivergent.
1. We need to drop the stereotypes
Even with household names bringing neurodivergence to the fore, we are still living in the gap between the way things are and the way things should be. When we think of an autistic person, without even realising it, we think of a very specific stereotype – a cishet male with poor social skills who excels academically. When we think of an ADHD person, that stereotype is a cishet male who can’t sit still in the classroom and is generally deemed to be a disruptive presence.
It’s easy to see why thousands of women and underrepresented groups have gone undiagnosed for decades. Females are more likely to be misdiagnosed with PTSD, depression, and anxiety. And here we see another stereotype come into play – that of the hysterical woman. Underrepresented groups are more likely to be diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder or conduct disorder, yet another stereotype, that of the aggressive Black person.
These stereotypes are exactly what we are aiming to dispel with our recent series of talks at Soho House, which are all about reframing the narrative around ADHD/ autistic individuals.
2. Neurodivergence in women is a thing
In women, ADHD traits are mostly invisible to the naked eye. These can show up as low self-esteem, perfectionism, impulsivity, difficulty understanding social cues, being more sensitive to rejection, having an excess of empathy, trouble focusing, or the polar opposite: hyperfocus. We often operate on a boom or bust cycle of working ourselves to death and then collapsing and repeating, unable to recognise or break the pattern.
Our autistic traits can be internal, too. For instance, ruminating, social awkwardness, a dislike of certain fabrics, smells, or sounds, getting stuck on a certain subject or event, and not being able to mentally move past it. I describe this feeling as being like a scratched record, the needle is stuck in that groove until someone picks it up and physically moves it. That can take hours, days or sometimes weeks, and it is by far my least favourite part of how my neurodivergence shows up.
Then there is the literal thinking, a friend once joked that I was as sharp as a marble and my deadpan response was ‘but marbles aren’t sharp’. To complicate matters further, every neurodivergent person is different in the same way that every neurotypical person is different.
3. It’s time to share the challenges
I would venture to say that we do not suffer from our neurodivergence; what we suffer from is being judged by a neurotypical society. The best thing you can say to someone when they tell you that they are ADHD/ autistic is ‘thank you for trusting me with that information, how does your neurodivergence show up for you?’. We need to normalise bosses and co-workers, asking ‘how can I help you to get the best out of yourself’ and then actually putting the shared information into practice.
4. Neurodivergent traits are a super power
There are so many benefits to being the owner of a neurodivergent brain. We are super intuitive, the rule breakers, the risk takers, the ‘million ideas a minute’ people, the rebels, the truth-tellers, the problem solvers, and outside-the-box thinkers – mainly because we took so long working out how to get inside the box that we gave up and created a way that didn’t even involve the box!
ADHD people are six times more likely to own their own business or be entrepreneurs. We are also naturally attracted to the creative industries, an alternative environment that can see us thriving as opposed to just surviving.
5. The future is neurodiverse
If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from reading this, it is that neurodivergence is a lot of things, but it’s not scary and it isn’t something to pity.
I have a lot of hope for the future, because I know that the people who hold the answers and the solutions to so many of the problems that we neurodivergent humans currently face are us, neurodivergent humans; all we need is for our neurotypical friends to pass the power. I, a neurodivergent human, am here writing these words about how neurodivergence shows up for me and fellow neurodivergent individuals who have joined me in my series of talks. And in that sense, Soho House is passing the power to us.
We want the world to recognise neurodivergent humans as the individuals that we are, outside of our diagnosis. No two neurodivergent people are the same. Being different is something to be celebrated.
Kirsti Hadley is the founder of Generation Alphabet – a space for people who want to learn and celebrate neurodiversity.