25 September 2023
As a young person, you find yourself walking through a gallery of buzzwords, key phrases, labels – these letters become bigger and scarier with time, their meaning is muffled because life is hurrying too much to stop and explain. Before you know it, you find yourself looking through a map with floating words, walking through a sensory minefield, through life’s maze.
During the pandemic, different from so many of my peers, I felt relief; the different directions of the maze tied together to a dead end, and I just took a deep breath and looked around – the world had slowed down. Suddenly, it wasn’t so bright and loud; I could hang my ‘Yes-I’m-fine’ mask, untie my ‘It’s-Okay’ tag, and put my social battery to charge. For a while, I was left inside my safe bubble of neurodiverse comfort. It got lonely.
But the world outside the pandemic bubble – hmm.
The stigma and difficulties that come with being neurodivergent are still very much present. Navigating life’s maze can be particularly challenging when the world around you doesn’t always understand or accommodate your unique neurology. One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is the stigma associated with neurodiversity. Society often tends to pathologize and stigmatise differences in neurology, framing them as disorders or deficits, rather than recognizing them as natural variations in human experience. This stigma can lead to feelings of shame, isolation, and self-doubt. It can make it difficult to embrace and celebrate our neurodivergent identities.
Another significant hurdle is the lack of understanding and accommodation in various aspects of life. From education to employment, many systems and institutions are still not fully equipped to support neurodivergent individuals. This lack of accommodation can lead to missed opportunities and unfulfilled potential.
However, amidst these challenges, there is hope. Youth clubs and youth organisations – yes, that is the safety net I fell on when my bubble exploded.
I’ve found a community that celebrates neurodiversity rather than stigmatizing it. Here, I’m not defined by my differences; I’m valued for my unique perspective and talents. The youth organisations, that are close to my heart, have shown me how to navigate the maze and strategise on the different paths I could take, or even make safe spaces out of the dead ends.
That is why youth work and youth organisations are important…
The youth sector offers various programs and resources tailored to the needs of neurodivergent individuals. Whether it’s providing sensory-friendly activities, offering support for communication challenges, or promoting self-advocacy skills, the club has been instrumental in helping me navigate life’s maze with greater confidence.
But more than that, it’s the friendships and connections I’ve formed with fellow neurodivergent individuals that have truly made a difference. We share our experiences, offer each other support, and learn from one another’s strengths.
Through these connections, I’ve gained a sense of belonging that I had struggled to find elsewhere, and it doesn’t feel as lonely anymore.
Youth work plays a pivotal role in breaking down the barriers and stigma that neurodivergent individuals face. It creates a space for us to thrive, develop our skills, and contribute to our communities. It’s a reminder that neurodiversity is not something to be fixed or cured, but embraced and celebrated.
As I continue to navigate life’s maze, I am grateful for youth work, youth workers and so many other organisations like London Youth. They have reminded me that we all have our unique paths to follow, and with the right support and community, we can navigate life’s maze with resilience and hope.
Want to be part of the conversation? Join London Youth as we explore what neurodiversity in youth work looks like, and how we can all continue to develop our practice!
During this National Inclusion Week, we also host an Inclusion Network. We’ll focus on supporting young people, staff and volunteers who are neurodivergent. Come along to share practice and work together to make youth work more accessible. Find out more and register
— Amina Meshnuni, Membership Development Officer (Member Engagement)