Why do we need a neurodiversity network?

I thought I’d kick off the first blog-style post on the Neurodiversity at Surrey blog by exploring this rather big question. It’s something I thought long and hard about before emailing the EDI team with a suggestion to form a neurodiversity network. I’ve also had a couple of people asking this exact question since the word has been getting out about the networks. So, in this post, I’ll share my thoughts on why I think need a neurodiversity network here at Surrey.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) is coming more and more into the public consciousness. More people are becoming aware of the inequality issues within our society and Surrey has had a real EDI push in recent years. As someone who’s been a student and now PGR here since 2014, I’ve seen more and more equality initiatives at the university which is fantastic.

The formation of the network was somewhat inspired by other staff networks such as the Women at Surrey Network, Rainbow Network, and the Surrey Embracing Ethnic Diversity¬†(SEED)¬†Network. As a neurodivergent PGR, I wanted to help create a space where we can connect the neurodivergent community at Surrey and celebrate neurodiversity. Recognising that some neurodivergent people don’t identify as disabled (although I myself do), I wanted to make a space where everyone with a differently wired brain feels welcomed.

The neurodivergent student experience

I’ve been at Surrey for a long time– since 2014 in fact. I wasn’t diagnosed as autistic until the final year of my undergraduate degree. Being diagnosed was so empowering and helped me to access Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) and the fantastic Disability and Neurodiversity team here at Surrey. This has helped me so much in managing being autistic and functioning within the university environment. However, I want to help students who are not yet diagnosed to get peer support from the neurodivergent community here at Surrey. This is something that I wish I had as a student. The student network will be shaped by the members and what they feel they need in terms of support from the university. Neurodivergent conditions have a lot of overlap in terms of how we experience the world and the support we need, so it made sense to me to create a space for all neurodivergent students.

Forming the student network also aims to educate students about neurodiversity through the ability to join as an ally. In some ways, I hope that this can help students who aren’t even aware that they might be neurodivergent like I was through most of my degree. The student network is there to be another space for neurodivergent students to feel supported and safe sharing their experiences of neurodivergence as well as feeding back directly to the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team and collaborating with D&N.

Supporting neurodivergent staff

When I became a PGR and transitioned into that ‘not really a student but also not really staff’ space, I saw first-hand how little support there is for staff. While students can get DSA and support through D&N, staff have no such provisions. Starting a staff network seemed like a good starting place to connect the neurodivergent staff community at Surrey. Much like the student network, it gives us a space to share our experiences and share feedback with the university to improve support for neurodivergent staff across the university from academic staff to professional services. Keeping the staff and student networks separate allows us to protect the anonymity of staff members that may not want to disclose to students.

Our staff allies network allows those interested in learning more about neurodiversity to engage with the topic. We are creating a list of neurodiversity resources and aim to hold events that are open to the whole university community (watch this space!). By educating neurotypical staff members, we hope to foster more understanding both for neurodivergent colleagues and for students with who staff members work.

Neurodivergent community and culture

The neurodiversity networks aim to co-create safe spaces to meet and share our experiences of neurodivergence. Through this, we hope to celebrate neurodivergent strengths in our community as well as ensure that appropriate support is there, fostering a feeling of belonging through peer support and solidarity.

If you are a student or staff member at Surrey and would like to join either neurodiversity network as a member or an ally, please fill out this form.

You can also anonymously share an experience of being neurodivergent at Surrey here and express interest to contribute to this blog here.