This week (March 13th-19th) is Neurodiversity Celebration Week. As a company with a neurodiverse team that develops software products that support the neurodivergent community, this is a celebration we can get behind.
Neurodiversity Celebration Week was founded in the UK in 2018 by Siena Castellon, an autistic student with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and ADHD. Motivated by negative experiences throughout her education, Siena launched the initiative to challenge the misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding neurodiversity.
Since then, Neurodiversity Celebration Week has become a global movement, bringing together people from all backgrounds to celebrate the diversity of the human brain and promote greater acceptance and understanding of neurodivergent individuals.
Neurodiversity Celebration Week serves as a reminder that there’s no ‘factory standard’ when it comes to the human brain and how it operates. Globally, one in four people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, and it’s estimated that at least 15% of the population is neurodivergent. Yet, many people remain unaware of what neurodiversity is or how it impacts the lives of those around them.
Types of Neurodiversity
The significant diversity between human minds is due to multiple factors, including an individual’s environment, culture, family, and personal history. Several specific ‘conditions’ fall under the umbrella of neurodiversity – and we’re willing to bet they affect more people than you think.
Deriving from the Greek word ‘dys’ (meaning difficult) and ‘lexis’ (meaning words or language), dyslexia is a reading difficulty characterized by problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words. Approximately 15% of the population has dyslexia. However, it’s likely that many more people are affected and don’t know it, as reports show that schools could be failing to diagnose up to 60% of cases.
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADD is the term commonly used to describe individuals who have trouble focusing, are easily distracted, forgetful, lose track of time, and struggle with executive functions. The terms ADD and ADHD are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. ADD is the colloquial term for one particular type of ADHD (Predominantly Inattentive Type). Most people associate ADHD with hyperactivity which, along with the hallmark traits of ADD, would include being talkative, fidgety, or full of nervous energy. However, doctors have used the term ADHD since the mid-90s to refer to both inattentive and hyperactive types. ADHD may affect significantly more people than we think because it’s estimated that around 80% of adults with ADHD go undiagnosed and untreated.
Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD)/Dyspraxia
Typical symptoms of DCD/dyspraxia include clumsiness, poor special awareness, forgetfulness, and difficulty mastering motor skills. In a learning or professional environment, common issues extend to being easily overwhelmed by information, experiencing problems with spelling, and struggling to read and process information at the same rate as others. It is thought that dyspraxia affects around 5 to 8% of the population.
Dyscalculia occurs across all ages and abilities and is characterized by persistent problems in understanding numbers, which typically leads to difficulties with mathematics. Research shows that studies into the causes of dyscalculia are about 30 years behind research into other forms of neurodiversity, like dyslexia. However, it’s estimated that 3-7% of people have dyscalculia.
Usually characterised by writing difficulties, individuals with dysgraphia have problems recalling how letters are formed, often struggle to write in a straight line, and have trouble determining when to use lower or upper case letters. They may often write letters like ‘b’, ‘d’, and ‘p’ in reverse, and in formative years, struggling to hold and control a pen or pencil is common. Because it often goes undiagnosed or is mistaken for dyslexia, researchers estimate that between 5% and 20% of people have dysgraphia.
Hyperlexia is a trait that slams any discussion that neurodivergent individuals are in any way inferior. Characterised by a fascination with letters and numbers, hyperlexics’ have an innate ability to decode or quickly sound out words and are commonly known as ‘super readers’. Hyperlexia is uncommon, with an occurrence rate of around 2 in 10,000 as a stand-alone condition on the autism spectrum. However, around 6% to 14% of people with autism also have hyperlexia.
Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)
Also referred to as Specific Language Impairment, Language Delay, or Developmental Dysphasia, DLD is a communication disorder that cannot be explained by other conditions like hearing loss, autism, or extenuating circumstances like lack of exposure to language. It interferes with all facets of language regarding learning, understanding, and speaking, and is estimated to affect 7% of the population.
Individuals with tic disorders make sudden twitches, movements, or sounds repeatedly. Tic disorders are often described in a similar way to hiccoughs, in that they cannot be consciously controlled or prevented. The most well-known tic disorder is Tourettes Syndrome, but other examples include Persistent/Chronic Motor Disorder, Persistent/Chronic Vocal Disorder, and Provisional Tic Disorder. Tic disorders are prevalent in around 1% of the population.
Asperger syndrome is a high-functioning form of autism with many characteristics, including difficulties interacting socially and understanding emotions, nonverbal communication, and sarcasm. Those with Asperger’s can often memorize information and facts quickly, but may also engage in repetitive behaviors and obsessions and can become easily upset by change. Asperger’s syndrome is lifelong, although symptoms tend to improve over time.
Neurodiversity and Online Barriers
Neurodivergent brains assimilate the world around them differently, and that applies equally to the online world as the physical one. From the descriptions above, it’s clear the neurodiverse community would benefit from having information presented in a clear, consistent, and predictable way. So, varied approaches are needed when it comes to learning and working online to ensure equitable experiences for everyone.
Many websites are overwhelming for neurodivergent visitors. Between banners, pictures, links, and buttons, pages can appear very ‘busy’, making it challenging to stay focussed and understand the order and meaning of the words that comprise your content. Aversions to particular color contrasts can also be problematic.
Examples of Online Barriers
Online access barriers occur when an element of a website’s design or presentation makes it difficult to read or interact with the content. Let’s look at some real-life examples.
Sophie is a dyslexic trying to reserve tickets for a concert at her local stadium. However, the web copy is not presented in a dyslexia-friendly font, creating a ‘river effect’ that makes the text impossible for her to read. Also, the poor color contrast on the floor plan means she can’t tell which seats are still available.
Noam struggles with Developmental Language Disorder and is trying to complete a large online shopping order. Having moved recently from Israel, reading in English is hard at the best of times because it’s not his native language and the text flows in the opposite direction across the page. Without a translation option, he abandons his cart and completes his order with an alternative store.
How the Recite Me Assistive Toolbar Can Help
Recite Me assistive technology is the perfect solution to help organizations support their neurodivergent employees and customers. Our assistive toolbar allows website visitors complete control over how they consume your content by making customized changes to the design, content, and layout. Users can make singular or multiple adjustments. Specific features that assist with a broad range of neurodivergent traits include:
- A screen mask to help with focus and concentration.
- Options to have content read aloud in over 65 different languages to negate reading difficulties.
- Control over the speed at which the text is read aloud to allow for varying auditory preferences.
- Customization options for text font, color, sizing, and spacing, so that the look of the webpage can be tailor-made into the perfect format for every individual.
- A spell-checker and a fully integrated dictionary and thesaurus to help with comprehension.
Become Neurodivergent-Friendly Today
At Recite Me, our goal of achieving online inclusion for all starts by creating awareness and helping others to understand the opportunities presented by improving web accessibility. By guiding our clients through this process, we can make a positive difference together.
Increasing online engagement for people with neurodivergent profiles should be a priority. Whether you’re a school, university, or business organization, there are resources on the Neurodiversity Celebration Week website that can help you.