Reflections on Neurodiversity Allyship this International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day has long been a celebration of women’s achievements and a call for action to create meaningful change to gender inequality. But here is the thing, as women boldly cry out for greater equity in society there is vast inequality amongst its own gender when we start examining cross-sectionality. One such area is neurodivergent women often face a lack of understanding their neuro-identity due to limited investment in research and qualified health professionals with expertise in female presentations of neuro differences. Additionally societal expectations to fit in, communicate and behave in specific ways has a mental wellbeing cost to the individual and socio-economic cost to the broader community. 

I am a neurodiversity consultant, job coach and ally for neurodivergent women and whilst the majority of people I mix with from every walk of life want to #embracequity and celebrate diversity, the who, what and how is more murky. 

Statistics specifically focused on neurodivergent women can be challenging to find due to the intersection of gender and neurodiversity being historically overlooked and under researched.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 54 children are diagnosed with Autism. Although Autism is commonly thought of as affecting boys more often than girls, it is now believed that the actual gender ratio may be closer to 3:1 or 2:1. This suggests that many girls and women with autism may be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed due to gender bias in diagnostic criteria.

The prevalence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is estimated to be around 5-10% of children and 2-5% of adults. There is limited research specifically focused on neurodivergent women with ADHD, but studies suggest that women may be more likely to have inattentive symptoms rather than hyperactive-impulsive symptoms, which can make diagnosis and treatment more difficult.

Dyslexia is a common learning disorder that affects reading and language skills. The International Dyslexia Association estimates that dyslexia affects around 15-20% of the population. While there is limited research on gender differences in dyslexia, some studies suggest that girls may be more likely to internalize their struggles with reading and language, which can lead to low self-esteem and increased anxiety.

Anecdotally in my professional practice, the vast majority of women I see are in their 30’s and 40s and  have just received a late diagnosis, are still seeking a diagnosis or self-identifying due to poor diagnostic measures or financial constraints. They have spent much of their lives searching for an understanding of their challenges to connect and navigate a neurotypical world. Most have a history of mental ill-health due to lack of acceptance, have incredible strengths to offer employers but a patchy work history and many are socially isolated.

Remember these are the ones, I see. As neurodiversity is a growing and evolving area and there is so much misinformation, what about all those women out there who have still to start this journey?

So here are my practical tips for all women to #embraceequity and embed allyship for neurodivergent women this International Women’s Day and beyond.

    1. Listen and support: Listen to neurodivergent voices. Ask questions about preferences, how someone feels or if you can support them. Never make assumptions.
    2. Educate yourself: Learn about neurodiversity and the different conditions that fall under it. Read articles and books written by neurodivergent people and undertake training to gain a better understanding of neurodivergent experiences.
    3. Challenge your assumptions: Recognise and challenge your own biases and assumptions about neurodivergent individuals. Avoid stereotypes and negative language, instead focus on capabilities and individuality. Remember no two neurodivergent individuals are the same. 
    4. Create an inclusive environment: Make sure that your workplace or community is inclusive of neurodivergent individuals. Ensure that accommodations are in place to support their needs, and create a welcoming and accepting environment where everyone can thrive. 
    5. Embrace different communication styles: Direct and explicit communication is generally preferred by neurodivergent women. Saying what you mean is supportive and kind as it takes the guesswork out of communication. If someone is direct, they are not being rude or pushy and labeling it that way supports the narrative that women should be submissive and without opinion. 
    6. Celebrate neurodivergent strengths and greater acceptance to encourage individuals to feel more empowered to be their authentic selves: Masking is the practice of hiding one’s true self or natural behaviors to fit in with neurotypical societal norms. Masking can be a coping mechanism for neurodivergent individuals to navigate social situations, but it can also be exhausting and detrimental to their mental health. It can lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression, as individuals may struggle to find acceptance and understanding of their true selves.
    7. Be a good friend: Everyone needs connection and friendship but socialising can also be stressful for neurodivergent individuals in high sensory environments like bars and restaurants. Many individuals prefer 1:1 interactions or small groups and like purposeful activity based social interactions. Be open to connecting in a way that promotes well being for everyone involved.
    8. Promote awareness: Use your platform to promote awareness of neurodiversity and the challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals. Share resources and information, and encourage others to get involved in promoting inclusion and equity for all.

By taking these steps, we can create a more inclusive and equitable world for all women, including those who are neurodivergent. Let’s celebrate diversity and work towards a future where everyone can thrive, regardless of their neuro-identity.

Nicole Done is the Chief of Inclusion and Wellbeing at Xceptional.


Photo of Nicole Done wearing a white shirt with her arms crossed.

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