• Shelley

Neurodivergence often means disconnect and loneliness too

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK and the focus this year is on loneliness.

Loneliness has always been a factor in our society, across many sectors, but surely never more so than now, after the enforced isolation and disruption of Covid.

Many parents and educators report that their young people are struggling with confidence and connection, after that long period of exclusion, from almost everything and everyone that they knew.

Loneliness is felt when connection is lost. Not only physical connection, but a sense of belonging to something, being part of a group, being able to relate to others around you, feeling that your presence is important, in some way, to someone else.

Talking specifically about neurodivergent experience here, the systems and structures of society mean that many neurodivergent young people experience these feelings of loneliness and it has nothing to do with the pandemic. They are constantly made to feel different and disconnected from those around them, isolated in the way their brains process things and often far removed from the majority of individuals around them. The value that society places on the skills they often struggle with, means that they often feel that they do not belong or cannot contribute anything important.

Loneliness and disconnect are often used as words by neurodivergent adults to describe their experiences growing up and, sadly, often how they continue to feel as adults.

As parents, finding ways to maintain our own connection with our neurodivergent young person can be challenging at times, but supporting them to connect to others can be even more difficult. This is often because we see clearly how many in society disregard and dismiss them, how they are excluded by peers and how education and work devalue their strengths and refuse to celebrate their individuality.

We advocate that our neurodivergent young people may not feel comfortable with human interaction as much as others, they may prefer isolation when things feels threatening or uncomfortable, and they may need to relate in a different way to their peers, but they definitely need human connection and want to feel included and important too. We see the destructive power of disconnection and loneliness on them and it is heartbreaking to witness.

Humans thrive on connection; neurodivergent humans are no different. The sooner the systems and structures of our society enable and include all individuals, value all sorts of skills and strengths and encourage every kind of interaction and connection as worthwhile, the sooner we can begin to remove the almost inevitable relaltionship between loneliness and neurodivergence.

I wholeheratedly support Mental Health Awareness Week and working to address loneliness across all sectors of society, but I will continue to strive for the inclusion and acceptance of neurodivergence in our society, so that loneliness is not an inevitable part of being differently-abled.

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