No two brains are the same: that’s a given - Angela Prentner-Smith

Neurodiversity describes the concept that brain differences are just that: differences. It’s a concept that’s been around for a while and centres on the premise that common conditions like autism or ADHD do not make a person or their brain functions abnormal, they simply vary from what is determined to be ‘normal’ and can be referred to as neuro-atypical or neurodivergent. That is, they diverge from a ‘typical’.
Angela Prentner-Smith, Managing Director of This is Milk.Angela Prentner-Smith, Managing Director of This is Milk.
Angela Prentner-Smith, Managing Director of This is Milk.

Embracing neurodiversity, in terms of education and business, is of prime societal importance. Although atypical labels, such as Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, ADHD and Autism are considered disabilities under the law, I and many others do question the construct of able versus disabled.

I myself am neurodivergent - at 27, I was diagnosed with Dyspraxia and I think I probably have some strong ADHD tendencies. However, I also have a 1st class degree and a successful business. Am I really disabled or is my brain just wired differently?

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I don’t know the answer to that - my Dyspraxic tendencies cause me problems daily, and the first problem I encountered was navigating an education system that didn’t feel like it was made for me. I struggled to pay attention; I struggled with the coordination needed for handwriting and I was, on reflection, emotionally more sensitive than my peers. Despite appearing to be an over-achiever, as a child I under-achieved and continually had ‘the potential for higher achievement’ emblazoned on my report card.

Many young people struggle with the education system.Many young people struggle with the education system.
Many young people struggle with the education system.

Whether we like it or not, stigmatisation is still prominent when it comes to describing neurodiversity – those with ADHD are often thought of as naughty boys. Of course, not everyone with ADHD is naughty or a boy. However, this stigmatisation prevents many children with ADHD from accessing the help they need to be embraced into the education system. Until we fully understand neurodiversity as a given, and an imperative to social change, many children will grow into adults missing the opportunity to reach their full potential.

I know the benefits of embracing neurodiversity. Every day my team sets out to solve challenges and embracing different learning methods sits at the very heart of our ethos. As individuals, we are all different. Those differences don’t make some of us normal and others abnormal, they make us a unique bunch of people setting our brains alight with problems worth solving.

Neurodivergent people also display many positive attributes. Entrepreneurs are 6 times more likely to have ADHD than the general population; and artists are commonly Dyslexic. I recently learned that Dyspraxics have positive qualities too – my episodic memory, strategic insight and tenacity are all associated with my ‘label’.

Through embracing neurodiversity, we were inducted into the Scottish Government’s award-winning innovation programme, CivTech. The idea of the CivTech Challenge is to take problems faced by the public sector and challenge innovative private businesses to solve them in a collaborative manner. Frankly, without embracing neurodiversity we would never have been successful in our bid.

In response to the CivTech challenge we developed Neve, a technology that encourages people to learn in whatever way works best for them. It takes a lifelong learning approach to education and guides users through a series of challenging pathways that aim to change how the learner experiences learning. In essence, it is neurodiversity in action.

Angela Prentner-Smith is Managing Director of This is Milk