I’m sorry – I’m teasing you with the title of this one, and you’re getting three different answers to this question!
And for that reason, let’s jump straight in:
You can’t tell whether someone is neurodivergent just by looking at them
Never a good idea to tell someone they “don’t look autistic” or that they “cover it well”. You might get very short shrift. These preconceptions are based on an outdated stereotype.
Did you know?
A lot of stereotypes of autistic people are based on individuals who are autistic but also have other diagnoses. For example, Kim Peek – who inspired Raymond Babbitt in Rainman – wasn’t only autistic. He had learning difficulties and possibly also a condition called FG Syndrome. Yet the film suggests that all of Babbitt’s traits are down to autism. Why let the truth ruin a good story, eh?
One person’s neurodivergent traits might not be the same as another’s
If you’ve met one neurodivergent person, you’ve met one neurodivergent person. Our challenges, strengths, coping mechanisms, sensory sensitivities all vary from person to person, even when we share a diagnosis. This means that just because one neurodivergent friend didn’t need a particular accommodation, that doesn’t mean that other neurodivergent friends won’t. So take the time to understand what makes your friends and family tick.
Some real world examples of what Neurodiversity “looks” like
When reading this list please ask yourself: If I had the opportunity to talk to this person, would it matter to me that I might need to accommodate their foibles? Because giving your neurodivergent friends time, space and understanding can be a huge help in social situations.
Virgin Tycoon Richard Branson knew he was dyslexic from school age, saying “I was seen as the dumbest person in school”. You can read more from Richard Branson here: Dyslexia helped me to become successful
Multi Olympic gold medal winner Simone Biles had to speak publicly about her ADHD when hackers revealed that she takes a commonly prescribed ADHD medication. See a 3 minute discussion of the topic on Good Morning America here.
Model, actress and author Cara spoke candidly about her dyspraxia in this interview with Vogue. She has since written a book to help teenagers navigate their mental health.
Footballer and Spice-husband Beckham has been talking openly about both anxiety and OCD for over 10 years.
In 2020 singer-songwriter Billie Eilish joined the likes of Shirley Bassey, Adele and Paul McCartney in recording the theme tune for the latest James Bond film. You can hear her talking about Tourette’s with Ellen Degeneres here (2 minute video). She touches on two very important topics: not being defined by our neurotype, and masking (which we’ll talk about in a later blog).
In this 2017 interview Oscar winner Sir Anthony Hopkins talked about his autism diagnosis (referred to here as “Aspergers”) and said, “I don’t go to parties, I don’t have many friends… But I do like people.” The paradox of autism in a nutshell!