Navigating Covid with neurological differences
One community whose experience of the pandemic has been under appreciated in mainstream media are those with neurological differences such as dyslexia. The discrimination faced by this community has led to inequitable treatment under the governments strategies for addressing the pandemic demonstrating their marginalisation in politics.
This deeprooted discrimination has been, and continues to be, pervasive across all settings in society. Within educational settings neurodivergent pupils have consistently been segregated and ostracised. The bigotry I experienced during my time in mainstream education was primarily due to a lack of accommodation. I was once removed from an English class, not due to the work I was producing, but because the teacher didn’t feel qualified to teach me. This was the most direct form of exclusion as it was undeniably clear that my school ignored requests for extra support. A traditional form of these barriers that neurodivergent students face is the lack of awareness and recognition. Stigma causes many to view these neurological differences as “middle class myths”, promoting stereotypes such as “naughty boy syndrome” in ADHD, which causes harmful outcomes such as the underdiagnosis of girls across all neurological differences . A more implicit form of ostracisation appears when teachers attempt to accommodate neurodivergent students un-collaboratively. I experienced this in an English lesson when my English teacher asked me if I was able to read out loud; despite the teacher's honest intentions, exposing my neurological difference in such a public display resulted in me feeling victimised and vulnerable. Actions like this lead to student intolerance towards neurodivergent students causing bullying and its associated consequences such as poor mental health and suicide. Segregation in education still exists for neurodivergent students who are dissuaded from going to mainstream schools by councils further demonstrating how they are overlooked in politics. The Disability Law Service estimates 41 of 149 local authorities have policies which illegally deny autistic children social care assessments forcing families into an uphill battle for support. Occasionally misunderstandings of neurological differences lead to parents being shunned and blamed for their child's behaviour by the community.
Neurodivergent adults face similar discrimination in the work place. International bodies describe the UK’s support for adults with ADHD as "poor" limited by the lack of specialist services in the NHS. This is additional to the recognition struggles that adults with ADHD face. Recent evidence highlights the possible existence of Adult onset ADHD which would suffer greatly from this lack of support. Moreover, Dyslexic discrimination is widespread with most countries failing dyslexic workers due to the many systemic barriers Dyslexic workers face. With 52% expressing experiences of discrimination during the interview or selection processes and with 43% feeling disuaded from ever applying. Autistic workers face similar employment prejudice with only 16% of Welsh autistic adults being in full-time employment with only 10% receiving employment support). This highlights the systemic discrimination the neurodiverse faced prior to the pandemic.
The pandemic worsened this inequality. In order to access support at university I had to apply for the Disabled Student Allowance (DSA). When my application returned it read ‘Further Evidence Needed’. It transpired that my diagnosis was “out of date” (as if I could grow out of my dyslexia). I therefore needed a re-diagnosis to become eligible for any support. Under normal circumstances the re-diagnosis process would have been relatively easy, however the pandemic presented unique challenges. My family spent weeks contacting educational psychologists (Ed Psych) trying to find someone who would offer a diagnosis in line with the strict DSA guidance under lockdown measures. Finally, we found a local Ed Psych who was willing to provide us with a diagnosis in company with an extortionate price I was very privileged to afford. With no assurance that the report would ensure my access to DSA my family blindly invested. The diagnostic tests, which involved interviews and exhaustive cognitive testing, made me feel anxious and powerless as I sat under scrutiny of the Ed Psych. After the confirmation of my DSA I expected relief. This did not come. I merely felt anxious.
When I arrived at university my anxiety appeared justified as support for neurodivergent students amidst the pandemic seemed poorer than ever, specifically in regards to mental health. The University of Manchester, which I attend, erected fences which were especially harmful to the mental health of students with autism as they like routine and find comfort in their everyday rituals. The predictability and consistency that the structure of a routine provides can stop them from potentially becoming overwhelmed and stressed. As such, any amount of change, even as small as a sudden unwarned change in activity, can cause distress. This was reflected in the wider community with the National Union of Students survey finding that 27% of students surveyed reporting that they were unable to access online learning whilst 18% said they lacked the support necessary to deal with the pandemic, many of these students may have been neurodivergent with a prevailing feeling within the community that their voices are being marginalised and left as an afterthought in the universities covid-19 support provisions.
Neurodivergent adults have further struggled during the pandemic. Many found working from home challenging as it forces dyslexic workers in isolation, leading to anxiety over deadlines and procrastination. Moreover, adults with autism have also suffered during this pandemic which has caused disruption to support services and heavily impacted their mental health. On the other hand the pandemic has conversely allowed neurodivergent adults to appreciate some of the benefits which working at home can bring. For Dyslexic workers giving them more autonomy over their work allows them to implement their ideas in an easier and without being micromanaged. There were also unexpected benefits for autistic adults as working remotely made communication easier shifting the emphasis away from in-person communication allowing for a reduction in social anxiety. These benefits should be prioritised moving forward as further strategies for accommodating neurodivergent employees.
Ultimately, the pandemic has shown government support for the neurodivergent community at its lowest, yet this should be used for future support such as the need for remote diagnosis and support material in the future. Moreover, working from home may benefit some neurodivergent employees, something which some companies may choose to adapt going forward. However, to achieve this we need more political representation. Currently, the number of neurodivergent MPs in parliament is just 3 demonstrating a continued marginalization of our communities issues.Therefore the discrimination which neurodiverse individuals face needs to be politicised in order to fundamentally achieve equality. Yet this requires wide-spread public support, therefore, I hope by raising this issue to you, you will call to question what you can do to enact a more neuro-diverse future.
Article written by Freddie Jones
For information and support on neurodiversity visit:
You may also like...
Worldwide the countries struggling most to contain Covid are ones led by right-wing, populist, male leaders. We explore why.