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Celebrating Neurodiversity in the UCD Community

Welcome to UCD's Neurodiversity Blog series for UCD's Neurodiversity Celebration Week. Here you will find blogs from neurodivergent employees, students and contributors supporting UCD's Neurodiversity Celebration Week.

Launch of UCD Neurodiversity Celebration Week

As Chair of the Neurodiversity Working Group, I am delighted that we are launching UCD’s inaugural Neurodiversity Celebration week. Neurodiversity, a term coined to reflect the variation in human brain functioning, reflects the fact that at least 10% of the population is ‘neurodifferent’. Traditional labels for these differences include Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Developmental Coordination Disorder and dyslexia. Neurodiversity highlights that differences do not have to imply deficit as  has been the prevailing assumption for many years. Instead Neurodiversity shines a light on the positive aspects of differences in brain functionality and the value to every community in embracing an approach which enables rather than dis-enables. 

This celebration week represents the multiplicity of differences and talents represented by neurodiversity as evidenced  by the range of contributors across multiple strands of society – the arts, finance, medicine, technology, architecture and the environment. We want to send a positive message to all students, staff and graduates of the strengths and successes of Neurodiversity across the UCD community.We invite you to join us in celebrating these talents and successes via webinars, panels and blogs.

I would like to pay tribute to my colleagues on the group and all the contributors to the week who are giving generously of their time and insights – bringing this week together in a matter of months since the group was established, is a testament to the enthusiasm, goodwill and belief in the importance of neurodiversity which has fuelled the efforts behind the organisation. We have aimed to be as inclusive as possible and hope to build on this.If you are interested in joining us on this journey please do get in touch. Associate Professor Blánaid Gavin, Chair UCD Neurodiversity Group

Read blogs from neurodivergent members of the UCD Community, and register for events via UCD Neurodiversity Celebration Week webpage.

Blog Entry #2|Challenging the Societal Stigma of Autism -Autistic Doctors International

As an autistic consultant anaesthetist and founder of Autistic Doctors International (ADI), my aim is to promote understanding and acceptance of Neurodiversity in Medicine, for the benefit of our autistic and otherwise neurodivergent colleagues but also for the autistic community more widely. ADI is a peer support and advocacy organization for medical doctors who identify as autistic. We are also active in research and education. The group started in April 2019 with an initial 7 members and has grown to over 500 doctors worldwide, alongside an allied group, Autistic Med Students (AMS) which has many more. We know that medicine selects for autistic traits and recognizing the strengths that autistic people bring to our profession will benefit us all.

When I graduated from UCD in 1994, there was little known about autism, and certainly nothing about how it manifests in women. My college years and postgraduate training might have gone a lot more smoothly if I’d known, and so I want to improve the supports available to current and future medical students and doctors who identify as autistic. After graduating with an honours degree, and welcoming a newborn daughter that same year, I struggled to balance the demands of parenting and clinical training, so my natural inclination towards academia was put on hold. I’m thrilled to be stepping back into research and academia at this late stage of my career, and I’m currently undertaking a Master of Research which I am enjoying immensely. My research interests focus on two separate but related areas; firstly the experiences of autistic doctors and medical students, and secondly the healthcare experiences, access barriers and adverse outcomes for the autistic adult community. Tackling healthcare inequalities and removing access barriers are essential to ensure autistic adults can live long, healthy lives.

As a mother of two neurodivergent kids, I am conscious of how the traditional deficit focused approach to neurodevelopmental conditions can negatively impact mental health. The contrast between the pathology paradigm and the neurodiversity paradigm, and the consequent effects on self-esteem are clear to see in my own family and in the wider autistic community. I want to help drive the change towards a neurodiversity-affirmative approach to autism and to challenge the societal stigma and prejudice towards autistic people, so that autistic kids have the chance to grow up content and confident in their autistic identity. Recognising and celebrating neurodiversity will save autistic lives.
Dr Mary Doherty, Founder of Autistic Doctors International

Dr Mary Doherty MB BCh FCARCS

Founder of Autistic Doctors International (ADI)
Consultant Anaesthetist
Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan, Co Meath
Email: drmdoherty@gmail.com
ADI publications: https://linktr.ee/autisticdoctors

Read blogs from neurodivergent members of the UCD Community, and register for events via UCD Neurodiversity Celebration Week webpage. 

Blog Entry #3 | An Employee Perspective 

This week we are celebrating neurodiversity at UCD campus and as a neurodiverse employee this is greatly welcomed. When I joined the Neurodiversity Working Group my main motivation was to be part of a group that positively impacted our community for neurodiverse students and colleagues and to create visibility of neurodiversity for staff and students.

Typically when we think of neurodiverse people there is a preconceived image associated and this may be created from your own experiences with family members, friends or media representation. As an autistic adult, being told that ‘you don’t look autistic’ from a medical professional or that ‘you can’t be *that* autistic’ by friends proves the need for visibility in society of all types of neurodiverse people. This, of course, requires disclosure on neurodiverse people’s part but also the creation of a safe environment which not only accepts but celebrates neurodiversity people. This should be both a supportive and educational process for the university. 

Currently I work in the College of Social Sciences & Law and I disclosed my autism diagnosis when discussing working arrangements and it was a positive experience. The College has been accommodating to my needs such as my need for a quiet environment that allows me control of the lighting etc. My need for structure is also considered and the colleagues I work with have a positive attitude to neurodiversity and this has been invaluable when feeling at ease with colleagues. 

A key element of staff education and attitude for me has being not feeling disabled in my disclosure of my neurodiversity. As an autistic person I often feel disabled by societal norms - you may hear an autistic person describe their experience of life as missing an essential handbook that everyone else has access to. We often feel like we are ‘feeling around in the dark’ in situations that appear natural to others which leads us to ‘learning’ norms from how others behave which makes it difficult for us when a person may act differently to our learned behaviour. Working in an environment that allows for the freedom to work out these norms and provides flexibility for those moments of unsurety without judgement or prejudice are essential for neurodiverse people as from my own personal experience, these moments are often more daunting than work tasks. 

From my own personal experience, being autistic is not something I necessarily hide but I often fear people’s preconceived notions of autism and our abilities so it is not something I disclose in the first instance until I feel comfortable with the individual and this is not ideal for neurodiverse people as disclosure is required for access to accommodations necessary to fulfil our potential in the workplace. Our neurodiverse colleagues and students can be welcomed by having an open conversation that creates that healthy environment to challenge ideas of neurodiversity and celebrates our abilities and our Neurodiversity Celebration Week is the first step in doing this.  

Danielle Smart, Senior Administrator, College of Social Sciences and Law 

Read blogs from neurodivergent members of the UCD Community, and register for events via UCD Neurodiversity Celebration Week webpage.

UCD Neurodiversity Celebration Week Banner Navy

Blog Entry #4|Employee Perspectives

My name is Fergal Cooke, I’m an Executive Assistant working for the UCD Access and Lifelong Learning Centre. I came to UCD in 2013, on the DARE pathway, to study History and Philosophy and graduated with a BA International in 2017. While here, I was supported in my academic endeavours by the same Access Centre I now work for.

My experience as a neurodiverse person has been a mostly positive one but it has not been without its difficulties and drawbacks at times. I was diagnosed with autism early into secondary school, but I had a hard time accepting my new reality until I arrived at UCD and was shown that being neurodiverse didn’t necessarily mean I couldn’t excel in my chosen fields or have an enjoyable and enriching college experience both inside and outside of the classroom. 

Like so many others who are like me, I still had to be careful when it came to communication and social interaction with more neurotypical people; thinking over what I was about to say and trying to determine if it was the right thing to say or whether it was the right time to say it. Conversely, there would also be occasions when I knew in my mind exactly what I wanted to say and when to say it but social anxiety would prevent me from being able to vocalise it anyway and it would instead manifest as a stutter or excessive repetition.

Neurodiversity Inclusion and Neurodiversity Celebration Week is important to me because it introduces for some and reinforces for others the idea that neurodiverse people from across all the spectrums have the potential and the capacity to achieve very much in college and become successful and productive members of whichever professional field they chose to enter. It also highlights how valuable people who think differently can be in society; how they perceive challenges and the unique ways in which they overcome them.

I believe that further discussion of neurodiverse accommodation through greater awareness and understanding would be beneficial; those of us in our community can face challenges to entering a profession because many working environments still have some way to go when it comes to educating their other neurotypical employees on the challenges faced by their neurodiverse colleagues. I am happy to note though, that considerable progress has still been made in this regard. 

Read blogs from neurodivergent members of the UCD Community, and register for events via UCD Neurodiversity Celebration Week webpage.

Blog Entry #5|Student Perspectives - Darragh Kane O’Toole

Neurodiversity celebration week is a great opportunity for all of us to recognise and celebrate our friends, family, and members of the UCD community's neurodiversity. I am proud to be neurodiverse and through this week we can all learn how to make UCD a better and more inclusive place where everyone can be accepted and be proud to be themselves.

Darragh Kane O’Toole, Disability Rights Campaign Coordinator, UCD Students’ Union

Read blogs from neurodivergent members of the UCD Community, and register for events via UCD Neurodiversity Celebration Week webpage.

Blog Entry #6|Student Perspectives -Catriona Nicholls

My name is Catriona and I am studying for my masters in Equality Studies in UCD. As a neurodiverse person I am immensely proud that UCD are celebrating Neurodiversity week and are seeking to make our campus a neurodiverse friendly and inclusive space. As an individual who did not discover their neurodiverse identity until their forties I had struggled with the differences in how I presented and the challenges I faced. I internalised these differences and challenges as personal failings and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t be like everyone else. This chipped away at my self-esteem and self-worth.

The discovery of my neurodiversity coincided with my academic journey in UCD and the support I have received through accommodations and supports levelled the playing field for me and are so crucial to neurodivergent individuals thriving in the academic environment. It has been a wonderful journey of discovery and I was able to have a new perspective on myself. My deficits are just differences in how I learn and how I approach learning and for the first time in my academic career I was achieving and reaching my potential. I had a new-found confidence in myself, my identity, and my ability.

Celebrating neurodiversity week is celebrating me, and other students like me. It is an acknowledgement of the diversity of the student population, it is acceptance, inclusion, and the embracement of that diversity in all its many forms. It is also de-stigmatizing hidden disabilities by creating awareness, making the invisible visible. This is so crucial in the university environment where being included and involved in university life goes beyond academics. Making connections with your peers at university is just as important as the academics and many individuals with neurodiversity can struggle with social skills. This can impact their mental health and their success with their studies.

Creating awareness through education gives neurotypical students the opportunity to learn about neurodiversity. Equality, diversity, and inclusion cannot be just an institutional policy, it is incumbent upon all members of the community to embrace the tenets of equality, diversity, and inclusion. Celebrating Neurodiversity week is a week of celebration, education, understanding, acceptance, and inclusion. I’m very proud to be part of a community where my brand of diversity has been embraced, encouraged, and included, and where I have thrived and succeeded as a consequence.

Catriona Nicholls, Student, UCD

Read blogs from neurodivergent members of the UCD Community, and register for events via UCD Neurodiversity Celebration Week webpage. 

Blog Entry #7|Student Perspectives - Phoebe Doyle

My name is Phoebe Doyle, and I am currently enrolled in the MLIS Library and Information Studies Programme in UCD. Though autism comes with its challenges, which should never be blindly erased, I’m better able to understand the world because of it. The empathy for others in marginalized positions, listening to experiences contrary to dominant narratives and the drive to stand up for our rights – they have all been allowed to grow and take shape because I am an autistic woman, and I would never wish or want to change that.

Phoebe Doyle, Student, UCD

Read blogs from neurodivergent members of the UCD Community, and register for events via UCD Neurodiversity Celebration Week webpage.

Blog Entry #8|Student Perspectives - Lyndsey Hayes

DYSLEXIA FOR ME IS A WORKING HARD GIFT, A NEVER GIVE UP GIFT, YOU CAN EMBRACE THE GIFTS THAT ACCOMPANY DYSLEXIA AND CHOOSE TO SOAR.

Lyndsey Hayes, Student, UCD

Read blogs from neurodivergent members of the UCD Community, and register for events via UCD Neurodiversity Celebration Week webpage.

Blog Entry #10 Student Perspectives - Edoardo Massarelli

As we are the universe becoming aware of itself, the brain is the vessel we use for this trip toward self-discovery. I like the idea that every one of us has its own unique spaceship to have our own unique journey. Diversity is what makes this journey special, different and interesting for each one of us.

Edoardo Massarelli, Student, UCD

Read blogs from neurodivergent members of the UCD Community, and register for events via UCD Neurodiversity Celebration Week webpage.

Blog Entry #10 Student Perspectives - A Poem on Neurodiversity

Celebrating neurodiversity at UCD,

Means diversity and inclusivity,

A different brain, 

By 

a different name,

Autism, ADHD, dyslexia, 

Dyspraxia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia,

Different skills and abilities, 

Challenges and difficulties,

A part of the student community, 

Deserving of the opportunity, 

To be included like everyone else,

To be accepted for oneself.

- Catriona Nicholls, Student, Access Leader, UCD 

Read blogs from neurodivergent members of the UCD Community, and register for events via UCD Neurodiversity Celebration Week webpage.

Blog Entry #11 Ken Kilbride ADHD Ireland

My name is Ken, and I’m the CEO at ADHD Ireland. I have over 25 years experience in senior management positions in a wide range of both very large and very small not for profit organisations in Ireland. My role with ADHD Ireland is to enact the vision and strategy of the Board, and in the words of Captain James T Kirk to take this ADHD organisation to where no ADHD organisation has ever been before! 

Read blogs from neurodivergent members of the UCD Community, and register for events via UCD Neurodiversity Celebration Week webpage.

Contact UCD Equality Diversity and Inclusion

University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
E: edi@ucd.ie