By Dr Alice Siberry
What is Intersectionality?
Intersectionality is a way of understanding how different aspects of a person’s identity contribute to their own unique life experiences. In understanding intersectionality, it is essential to acknowledge that there are a number of social identifiers that can marginalise people, such as their gender, race, class, sexual orientation, disability and neurodivergence.
Where research is growing in the field of neurodiversity, research into the interconnected realities experienced by neurodivergent people appears to vary. Some areas, such as neurodivergence in women and girls, are seeing vast research outputs. In other areas, such as the growing acknowledgement of overlaps between the LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent community, research appears to be building momentum. And despite there being a need for research for what seems like decades, areas such as the interconnected experience of neurodivergent people from ethnically minoritized communities continues to be seemingly ignored.
Women and Girls
The research surrounding the experiences of neurodivergent women and girls has been steadily growing for many years. In debating that certain neurodivergent conditions (i.e., autism and ADHD) are predominately ‘male’ conditions and instead identifying that the diagnostic tools developed in the early 1900s were exclusively designed for men, it has become better accepted that women and girls are just as likely to be neurodivergent as men. That being said, the effects of the past are still being experienced by women and girls. 85% of autistic women are diagnosed in adulthood (Adams, 2022), with the majority of women with ADHD being diagnosed in their late 30s to early 40s (ADHD Foundation, 2021). It appears that as opposed to a difference in brains, the differences in the socialisation of women and girls contributes to the lack of diagnosis (Lai et al., 2015). For example, a girl with a special interest in dolls, is much more likely to fly under the radar as being autistic. Furthermore, women and girls are reportedly much more socially adept in the concept of ‘masking’ (https://www.creasedpuddle.co.uk/neurodiversity-celebration-week-the-impact-of-masking-in-the-workplace/(opens in a new tab)).
For more information about neurodivergence and women and girls, read our International Women’s Day blogs: https://www.creasedpuddle.co.uk/iwd2022-neurodivergent-women-girls-misdiagnosed-misunderstood-and-missed-altogether/
An emerging area of research, the overlaps between the LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent community are vast. Spearheaded by Professor Sir Simon Baron-Cohen’s team at the University of Cambridge, it appears that up to 70% of autistic people (specifically) identify as LGBTQ+ (Weir, Allison, and Baron-Cohen, 2021). Furthermore, transgender and gender diverse people are three to six times more likely to be autistic (Warrier et al., 2020). The reasons for this are being put together by the community themselves:
- The historical cure-agenda experienced by the two communities
- The coming out and disclosure process being similar
- The acceptance in ‘being yourself’ and challenging the ‘norm’
- The similarities in the experience of ‘self-identification’ of gender and neurodivergence
For more information about the overlaps between the LGBTQ+ community and neurodiversity, read our Pride Month blogs: https://www.creasedpuddle.co.uk/happy-pride-month/
Race and Ethnicity
A question we regularly get asked is ‘do you have any statistics about the number of neurodivergent people from Black / Indian / Southeast Asian communities?’ and the answer we have to give is ‘No!’ There just isn’t enough research being conducted about the experiences of neurodivergent people from different ethnicities and races.
The majority of research in this area appears to be focused on children and young people in the education system. A recent research paper by Roman-Urrestarazu et al. (2020), described as the largest autism prevalence study to date, found that 1.8% of school children in England are autistic. The prevalence of autism was highest among Black children at 2.1%. Furthermore, research by the National Center for Health Statistics in the US found that in 2020, 16.9% of 3 – 17 years were ADHD (in comparison to 14.7% of white children).
So why aren’t we talking more about the experiences of ethnically minoritized neurodivergent people? Still many years after the 2014 National Autistic Society report, the barriers to accessing support for ethnically minoritized communities who are seeking diagnosis continue to exist. These barriers include:
- Cultural barriers, including knowing what services are available due to information often only being available in English, few translation services and professionals’ use of jargon
- Challenges getting a diagnosis due to a lack of understanding about neurodivergent conditions within some ethnic communities
- Stigma and judgemental attitudes towards disabilities in certain communities, with parents sometimes being blamed. This is often exacerbated by a lack of support from faith groups and places of worship
- Being in denial and feeling isolated as a result of all or some of the above factors.
These barriers are often reported in relation to ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia too, with discrimination and bias often being cited as another reason as to why this intersection is not well documented.
Everyone, especially those in the neurodiversity community, can help promote intersectionality by promoting and amplifying the voices of neurodivergent people from minoritized groups (such as ethnically minoritized, women, transgender and gender and sexually diverse individuals). Learning and educating ourselves on the experiences of those with different personal identifiers to ourselves not only ensures that we can support neurodivergent people from a range of backgrounds and experiences, but also means that those individuals do not have the additional emotional burden of doing it for us. This allyship is what will lead to truly inclusive societies.
ADHD Foundation – https://www.adhdfoundation.org.uk
ADDitude Magazine – https://www.additudemag.com
National Autistic Society – https://www.autism.org.uk
Amy Adams (Founder of Finding Autism) – https://www.findingautism.com.au
Lai, M. Baron-Cohen, S. and Buxbaum, J. (2015) Understanding autism in light of sex/gender. Molecular Autism, 6 (2)
Roman-Urrestarazu, A., van Kessel, R., and Allison, C. (2021) Association of Race/Ethnicity and Social Disadvantage with Autism Prevalence in 7 Million School Children in England. JAMA Paediatrics, 175 (6)
Warrier, V., Greenberg, D. M., Weir, E., Buckingham, C. Smith, P., Lai, M., Allison, C. and Baron-Cohen, S. (2020) Elevated rates of autism, other neurodevelopmental and psychiatric diagnosis, and autistic traits in transgender and gender-diverse individuals. Nature Communications, 11 (3959)
Weir, E., Allison, C. and Baron-Cohen, S. (2021) The sexual health, orientation and activity of autistic adolescents and adults. Autism Research
For more information on the specialist services Creased Puddle offer, visit Services – Creased Puddle