Neurodiversity at work It takes all kinds of minds

“Neurodiversity Celebration Week falls between the 15th and 21st of
March, 2021. To celebrate, we’ve brought together a collection of some of our favourite and most fabulous job profiles, all showcasing
neurodiverse individuals rocking their day-to-day jobs.”

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Siena Castellon: Neurodiversity – The New Normal

“Siena is 17 and from London. She classes herself as a ‘maths and
physics nerd’ and claims her dog is the cutest dog in the world. Siena
is also neurodiverse: She is autistic, dyslexic, dyspraxic and has ADHD.
We caught up with Siena – who is also an award-winning advocate for
neurodiversity, an author, a student and the founder of the
‘Neurodiversity Celebration Week’ – to talk about what being
neurodivergent means to her.”

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Pour me the bitter truth, save yourself the sweetest lies

When I started school, thanks to my mom I already knew most of the stuff that was being taught so I had no trouble with regards to the academia. However it also meant I had to pretend to learn stuff I already knew so it was painfully boring. Initially I killed time by travelling with in the realms of my mind but there was one problem.

I was left handed with bad hand writing. I realized it was bad because the teachers constantly encouraged me to improve it by tracing letters in practice books.I used to think that maybe I could do better if I wrote with the right hand? After quite a while & a lot of attempts I realized I couldn’t, so then l just started seeing how peers with a reputation for good hand writing wrote and tried to copy.

For reasons I couldn’t understand then, I wasn’t really popular but I didn’t care, because I loved coming to school .I do remember the first time I felt humiliated in front of everyone, later I lost count.
The principal of the school was visiting the classrooms when my maths teacher proudly asked me to stand up and show, up to how many numbers I could count.

I remember counting to 63 before she stopped me, and asked the class to clap. I turned red, I did enjoy being praised but I was very uncomfortable with the attention. To my relief someone raised their hand & started speaking, just as I was sitting down, I realized I was the subject. “Ma’am can you please ask her to count backwards too?” said the guy (who would always secure 1st place in future). He knew I had trouble counting backwards and used to get really anxious, sometimes even stutter when i had to do that. My time to bask in glory was short lived but thankfully so was the time taken for the principal to realize the boy was right.

Later when I asked him why he did that, he said “because I can count better than you in both directions” “OK great, but why did you point i couldn’t? “so the principal knows who’s smarter & likes me better!” Well by the look on her face it didn’t look like she did but I appreciate the boy for his honesty. In the adult world the answer I would have gotten would have been “oh sorry I didn’t mean to” & I would have believed it.

To Bobby

In first grade there was a boy who liked to be called Bobby.
I was sitting one day when he just came by & casually said:”You know when we grow up we’ll marry”
I was baffled, I had no clue what would be the “normal” response because I hadn’t seen or been a part of such a conversation before in real life. But I did have a reference point. I had come across something on TV in which the girl gets really offended when the boy talks about marriage, & slaps him.

So I figured it’s something to be angry about. I wasn’t feeling very angry. But I felt like I should. So I slapped Bobby but instead of being shocked and angirly walking away, like the boy in the movie he laughed. It made me anxious since I had no clue now that he twisted the scene, So I slapped him again, but with less strength & confidence.

He fell. I asked him if he would stop laughing now & was sorry for saying “bad words”. He replied in negative . So after one last half-hearted punch I said what children usually were most scared of, or at least I was. I used the mom card. I told him I’ll tell his mom he used bad words. Because his mom also happened to be a teacher at school. Bobby panicked & asked me not to. He said he’d not only apologise but also do anything I asked him to do

After some serious deliberation about what I wanted there was only one thing I could think of.
I hated the lunch break. I had to stand in a queue to get the lunch, and it was very crowded with people running, bumping into each other, and the taller ones always bypassing queues. Usually I was the last one remaining even if I had been one of the first few.
I told him I wouldn’t say a word, if he could get me my lunch every day. I was willing to give him extra money for the lunch as an incentive. He happily agreed. So, Bobby, got me my lunch for the entire year.

Until one day, when he said “If you want you can tell my mom I don’t care”.I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came out. After a while, he asked me, why hadn’t I gone to tell his mom? . I told him I didn’t even know who his mom was, which was the truth .
Then Bobby was angry.We never talked again.P.s If you come across this post Bobby, please know that I truly am sorry. I never meant to imply I am going to tell your mom- The teacher. I just assumed you were equally scared of your mom. I still don’t know which grade she taught or how she looked like. I am not sure if I am sorry for hitting you, but I am sorry for making you feel helpless. I would have never wanted that for anyone.


Putting Usain Bolt to Shame

I was horrified of speaking in public like most kids. When I had to read something in the assembly in front of everyone in grade two, my mom took days to help me prepare. Since she was so excited, i couldn’t tell her that I didn’t want to do it.

When i was standing in front of the mic and looked up, the fear was overwhelming. So i ran, fast and hard, I knew I was being called but i didn’t care. I didn’t even go back to the class but hid in the school bus instead.When I went back home I didn’t tell my mom about the episode, i just told her in vivid detail how everyone clapped a lot. I did because I didn’t want to let her down & felt like I have somehow wasted all her effort.

What I had forgotten was that one of my relatives taught in the same school & a few days later ended up telling my mom. My mom laughed, because it was not uncommon for children to lie to their parents in order to boast.

She didn’t even say a word to me, but I was overcome with guilt & embarrassment. For 1 month in a row I went to the organizer to let me take part in a poetry recital competition which was being arranged for high school students. I was told that I was too young but I kept going, with different words for how important it was for me. I didn’t want to compete, I just wanted to make my mom proud.

So after a month & few days they finally agreed to let me take part as a “filler”. That was enough for me. After the help of my mom & watching a lot of speeches, I decided that I’ll day-dream during the recital which had always been easy to do during the class.

So on the day of the recital, even the fact that almost every student was laughing because someone had to put a foot stool behind the podium so i could reach the mic (but still hardly made it) didn’t scare me away, even though the anxiety had kicked in.

In every speech I had seen the speakers faced & even scanned the audience. It is easy if you’re not really seeing an audience in front, so that’s what I did, I imagined my mom’s face & saw it till the very end.

Then the people actually clapped but that was too much to handle so i just mouthed thank you & started running.

With the same speed like the first time towards the school bus.

Yin and Yang

I switched school in grade 3. I made two friends for the first time, both boys, J & E who were different from the rest of the class. J harbored the love for random fact books & encyclopedias like I did, & liked dinosaurs as well. E always ended his name with three different fruits whenever asked which basically means he had 6 middle names.

However the best thing about the new school was its principal. Mam H was not only a very qualified educator with a great vision but she also put in a lot of time and effort into every student. When she met me for the first time I felt oddly safe around her, so she was the only person I told when I got injured, I didn’t want a different person touching me for providing first aid every time I fell or hurt myself because owing to my clumsiness I used to fall a lot. Mam H never sent me away & always took care of it if I only needed first-aid. For that I was really grateful because I did appreciate her sparing time from her busy schedule. I asked her one day if there was anything I could do for her she smiled & said “Just encourage & support everyone to behave well”

That day onwards I took it upon me to make her happy by dutifully ensuring discipline & mannerism, not just in my class but in the entire school.
I used to run down the stairs just to tell mam H that the new kid farted, or that someone picked their nose. I never waited for the response, for in my head I had successfully done the job.

Of course this didn’t make me very popular, I couldn’t understand why until one day when S hadn’t done his homework & then lied. I didn’t rat him out in the class as I didn’t want to get him in trouble but i did tell Mam H. She wasn’t happy though, & S was called in. When he came back to the class he was sad, so I stayed with him during P.E & explained my action. In response S told me he couldn’t do the homework because his mom wasn’t feeling well & he had to help his younger brother with a test which took all day.
That was the first time I realized that often there is no absolute good or evil. Good can be blanketed in a lie, or telling the truth unnecessarily can lead to something bad.
I wish the lesson would’ve stuck with me, like S’s words did.

To Chai Or Not To Chai

I would not share the background story to what made me realize this, however I can confidently say that it was the turning point in my life. I ended up both losing & gaining so much that I am struggling to stick to a particular emotion. I probably lost a potentially meaningful platonic friendship which is a rarity in the practical phase of life, along with the literally heartbreaking disappointment that I was wrong in thinking for probably the first time in my life that someone

knew/understood me at least 1% of how my grandmother did. I lost faith in so many people as a community that I genuinely believed were amazing humans. I came very close to losing all hope in humanity itself, or the fact that people who are different can survive in this world without either changing themselves completely or shutting down. Almost lost myself in the process.

Despite that I sincerely believe I gained more. A deeper understanding into love, for God and humans. A state of peace I could only have achieved in my imagination, the courage to be myself & finally speak up for myself & others like me to challenge standards of normality.And an unshakable belief that all humans have a potential to be kind & good if you challenge their beliefs that being selfish is the only way to protect themselves or succeed in life.

What led to All this?

Believe it or not , 5 minutes , 4 sentences and 3 cups of Chai vs breakfast. Literally. That is the majestic power someone’s seemingly “harmless” words, little lies, & half truths can have when taken out of context, with or even without their knowledge.

P.S when in doubt ALWAYS choose CHAI. Without a question or suggestion. It is life changing business, seriously

Driving Lesson for 2

I’ve always been protective of people around me. I could sense emotions. I could sense danger. And I really wanted to save people I love from all things bad. Especially after I lost my grandmother, I did not want to lose anybody I love ever again.

Or to see them in pain. So I took it upon me to make everything right. And since I displayed rather floridly that I was there to protect, eventually everyone did start looking at me like somebody who could really do that irrespective of my age or sensibility.

A long time ago my cousin was learning how to drive. One day when the adults weren’t home , she decided to practice without the presence of her dad.
Obviously I tagged along, and sat in the rear seat.
Despite my prior warning we set off and decided that she would take the car to the end of the road and comeback. The total journey would have been 400 meters.
I don’t remember the exact speed but i do recall that the bicycles passing by were faster.

Anyways when we reached the intersection of the road, a motorbike whizzed in front of us. I heard my cousin shout at it to get away but I believe the rider would have preferred the horn.
The car nudged the tire of the motorbike & it fell over along with the riders.
My cousin panicked. She came to the rear seat to sit with me and started crying. My reminder about the importance of parental supervision didn’t help.
Then she made a strange request. She asked me to sit in the driving seat & to tell the rider that it was me who was driving if he comes to confront us.
Despite the fact that my legs couldn’t reach the breaks I confidently sat on the driver’s seat while the rider watched us quizzically & efficiently masked any signs of fear.
I had even thought of a plan to pay the hospital bills in case the person was injured. The plan was to break open my money box and take all the coins out. But it was a plan.

When the rider came towards the window. I said in a very composed fashion “Uncle I did it. I’m sorry.”
“You mean you were driving?” He suppressed
a grin
“Yes “
The man looked at me, looked at my cousin in the backseat, who was by now, crying & profusely apologizing.
He ended up comforting us instead.

The Cardamom Fairy

I was 3 years old, maybe even younger when I realized something wasn’t quite right. I couldn’t really tell but I felt uncomfortable, especially when someone praised me on doing something good that wasn’t expected of me. I felt like a “cheater” because in most instances I was simply applying what I had observed without knowing it was good or bad and found it out later. I didn’t correct anyone though, because I did enjoy the praise but felt oddly guilty. There was another person who always knew I was different.

My grandmother. Even though out of her love, the words she used to describe me to the rest of the family made them laugh because she painted me like something supernatural but she understood. Every time I was copying someone we had passed by a week earlier, or a strange sound we had heard, she used to get excited and call my mom expecting the same response.

However mama would laugh saying all children make strange sounds or do strange actions, disappointed, eventually my grandmother stopped sharing the excitement. I was her best friend and she was mine.
On our walks I asked her so many questions, like why do the ants walk in lines & not side by side .

Or why older children ran from the stray dogs when she had told me there’s nothing to be afraid of. She always smiled and had the perfect answers.
I didn’t like candy, but I harbored a strange love for cardamoms. I used to get a very limited supply, so one day I asked her .

“What do we do if we can’t get something we really want?”
“We pray to God ” she said
“Where is God”?
“In the heavens above the skies”
“How do we pray?”
“We just raise our hands and ask”

So from that day onwards, i used to stand outside every day, raise my hands, look up to the heavens, and fervently ask God for cardamoms.
The prayer was answered & everyday I found a cardamom, some nuts & a coin under her pillow.
I did find my cardamoms, even on the day she died. I was 4.5 years old, but I knew perfectly well that no one would understand me as well as she did so I just sat on her bed.

I haven’t cried properly/mourned for her to date. I think a part of me would never accept she is gone. I think of her whenever I feel misunderstood.

Living in The Ugly Duckling’s Tale

I never understood why no one liked me when I was really nice to everyone. I felt like an alien in a strange universe where I was either slow or too fast. At 4 when I took my drawing to show my mom she did not believe that I had drawn it. She asked me if I had traced it , I told her I didn’t know how to trace. I don’t think she bought it until my teachers started pointing out about my “gift”. When my mom “blamed” my friends for not really being friends or taking advantage of me I locked myself in room or threw a tantrum. I went from “an angel” , to “a gifted child” , to a “clumsy weirdo” to a “fussy /reckless teenager” to “hormonal” to someone with “an eating disorder & body image issues” to someone with an “unstable personality” to ” Bi-polar ” to having a” Dissociative Indentity disorder”. All of it before a student nurse who had an autistic sibling started asking questions that alerted my doctor during an inpatient admission . 23 years ,8 of which were spent in psychiatric inpatient units, dropout from Oxford , 5 suicide attempts , lifelong self-hatred , loss of friends, relationships and all hope LATER they told me I was Autistic.They were proud of finally finding out what was “wrong” with me and expected me to be happy about it . Suddenly everyone had all the answers to everything I had been through since I was a child . For me it is maddening. Would things have been different if I was a boy? I am writing this in a hope that you say yes. For then, at least I will know what to be mad about . R.W , UK ( E.O British+Australian)