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Neurodiversity: Not a Setback - Celebrating UCU's Founding Duo

Vanessa and Nicholas Peat

20 March 2024

It’s neurodiversity week, and here at Uniquely Created U (UCU) we're proud to be led by a team that celebrates neurodiversity. Our founders, Vanessa and Nicholas, both neurodivergent individuals, have channelled their unique strengths to build a company that thrives on embracing the power of seeing the world differently.

This article dives into the exciting world of neurodiversity, exploring the positive traits and hidden talents that come with neurodivergent conditions. We'll also explore practical strategies you can use to leverage your own neurodiversity and unlock your full potential, just like UCU's founders. So, get ready to ditch the stereotypes and discover the strengths within.

An Introduction to Nicholas and Vanessa Peat

Before we jump into discussing neurodiversity, we want you to get to know our founders a little more.

Nicholas, a London native, displayed exceptional academic prowess from a young age. Despite facing social challenges and encountering violence during his upbringing in Tottenham, he remained focused on his dream of becoming a doctor. Excelling in academics, music, and martial arts, Nicholas navigated through school, eventually earning two medical degrees from University College London.

In adulthood, Nicholas received a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome, shedding light on his unique neurodivergent identity. Reflecting on his journey, he appreciates how his autistic mind shielded him from societal pressures, allowing him to pursue his aspirations unfettered. Embracing his diagnosis, Nicholas now advocates for neurodiversity and celebrates his individuality, striving to empower others like him.

Amidst tumultuous teenage years, Vanessa grappled with disordered eating triggered by societal pressures. Unbeknownst to her at the time, she was also navigating these feelings and situations with undiagnosed learning disabilities—dyslexia, dyspraxia, and visual stress, which were later diagnosed as an adult at university. Struggling with body image and isolation, she found solace in the resilience of figures like Dr Ben Carson and the true story of Dave Pelzer "A Child Called ‘It’". These stories empowered her to reclaim her life, embracing her unique individuality.

Vanessa and Nicholas advocate for understanding and support for neurodivergent individuals facing similar challenges, particularly in navigating healthy eating habits. As parents of neurodiverse children, they celebrate their uniqueness while striving to create supportive environments for wellness. We interviewed Nicholas and Vanessa to find out how they embrace their neurodiversity and navigate it alongside their life and careers.

Can you share examples of your biggest strengths that you attribute to being neurodivergent?

Nicholas: My biggest strength, which I attribute to being neurodivergent, is my laser-focused determination. Since childhood, I've had a clear vision of my goals, like becoming a doctor. Actually, my mother said I wanted to be a doctor at age three. Despite facing challenges and societal pressures, I remained undeterred, creating stepping stones in my mind to achieve each milestone. Even in a school environment filled with social inequalities and challenges, I excelled academically, staying ahead in subjects like maths. This razor-sharp focus, driven by my neurodiversity, kept me on track, unaffected by peer pressure or societal norms. It's been instrumental in my academic journey and success.

Vanessa: Absolutely! One of the strengths I attribute to being neurodivergent is my resilience and determination. Even before realising I had the condition, I had a deep connection with survival and persevered through challenges. Additionally, I've always had a strong verbal ability, which is often overlooked in academic settings. Despite the focus on grades, my talent for articulating myself verbally has been a significant asset. This ability was evident even at a young age, as I was interviewed by a judge due to my social circumstances at three years old, showcasing my perception and understanding beyond my years. So, I believe my neurodivergence has equipped me with the confidence and inner belief to thrive.

How did receiving your neurodivergent diagnosis impact you, and did it help you in any way?

Nicholas: Getting a diagnosis of Asperger’s made a massive difference. Before my diagnosis, I struggled with social interactions and often felt misunderstood. I'd make mistakes trying to mimic social norms, only to be labelled as weird or rude, which made me want to withdraw from social situations altogether. I didn't see the value in social relationships like others did, so I found it easier to be alone.

After seeking help and receiving my diagnosis, I realised the importance of facing my challenges rather than avoiding them. Understanding myself better, I learned to navigate social situations with more confidence, although I still struggle with social fatigue and worry about being misunderstood. It's an ongoing battle, but awareness of my condition has helped me communicate better and rely on supportive individuals like my partner, Vanessa. While it's a work in progress, I'm grateful for the progress I've made.

Vanessa: The diagnosis was like a light bulb moment for me. It ended years of self-blame and confusion, allowing me to connect the dots and understand what was truly going on. Discovering my strengths, like my high verbal ability, alongside challenges such as processing speed issues, gave me clarity and relief. Initially diagnosed with dyslexia, I felt some relief but still sensed a difference from my peers. It wasn't until later, during a review assessment, that I learned about my dyspraxia and visual stress, which was a profound awakening. This journey has been about embracing my differences and understanding myself better, ultimately empowering me to navigate life with confidence.

The impact of neurodiversity and how a diagnosis can be a light bulb moment of realisation and learn to face challenges rather than avoid them

How do you navigate the challenges that come with your neurodivergent diagnosis, and what strategies have you implemented to overcome them?

Nicholas: Neurodiverse conditions often come hand in hand with mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. For me, tackling these associated issues was crucial. While I couldn't change how my brain functioned, I could address the symptoms surrounding these challenges. Stress management and anxiety became areas I had to conquer. Even today, there are moments where I question interactions, wondering if they were perceived differently than intended. It's about consciously shifting focus away from worrying and towards acknowledging the positivity of the interaction.

In addition to personal strategies, seeking therapy and attending marriage courses for better communication with my spouse has been immensely beneficial. Marriage brings its own set of challenges, especially when our brains process information at different speeds. These courses helped us navigate impulsive tendencies and impatience, fostering a deeper understanding of each other's perspectives.

Moreover, achieving a balanced work-life dynamic was crucial. Overworking only exacerbated stress and fatigue, contributing to heightened anxiety. It's not just about implementing a few strategies but conducting a holistic review of one's life. This entails examining work routines, sleep patterns, social engagements, and even reconnecting with fellow neurodiverse individuals for mutual support.

Each person's journey with neurodivergence is unique, requiring tailored approaches to fit their specific needs. It's about finding what works best for you and continually adapting to lead a fulfilling life amidst the challenges.

Vanessa: Wow, diving into this topic from my desk feels like the perfect setting for this conversation. Sound has always been a challenge for me, whether it's in the office or at university. To drown out the distractions, I rely heavily on headphones and soothing instrumental music, creating my own tranquil bubble where I can focus. It's like entering a zone where I'm shielded from the chaos around me, even in a bustling coffee shop.

But it's not just about managing sound; it's also about adapting my workspace to suit my needs. From transitioning to a standing desk for a more dynamic approach to work to utilising visual aids like tinted glasses to combat visual stress, every adjustment plays a role in optimising my productivity.

Creating a conducive environment goes beyond the physical setup. Scented creams, candles, and oil diffusers add to the ambience, fostering a sense of calm and relaxation that enhances my workflow. Even classical music softly playing in the background is a must-have, as complete silence can be just as distracting.

Assistive technology has been a game-changer, from read-and-write tools to task management software. But perhaps the most transformative strategy has been breaking tasks down into urgent and important categories, alleviating the anxiety of feeling overwhelmed. By focusing solely on what's urgent, I've found a newfound sense of clarity and purpose in my work.

Calendar blocking and scheduled support sessions also play a vital role in keeping me organised and on track. Whether it's university accommodations or workplace assistance, having dedicated time for one-on-one support ensures I can address any challenges head-on and stay on top of my responsibilities.

Overall, it's about finding what works best for me and embracing strategies that empower me to thrive in any environment. Through careful planning, a supportive workspace, and a positive mindset, I've learned to harness my neurodiversity as a strength rather than a limitation, allowing me to achieve my full potential.

Embrace your neurodiversity and through a supportive network harness it as a strength and not a limitation

How would you advise individuals who are finding it challenging to navigate their neurodivergent diagnosis?

Nicholas: Firstly, I'd say don't hide away. I get it; seeking a diagnosis can be daunting. I had my reservations, too, fearing the labels and stereotypes. But getting diagnosed was a game-changer. It's liberating. It helps you understand yourself better and others to understand you, too. Even if there's no magic pill, the insight is priceless.

Secondly, patience is key. You need it for yourself and your loved ones. They've been coping with the challenges, often silently. It's tough on relationships, but things can improve with understanding and support.

Lastly, embrace it. It's not about being a superhero; it's about recognising your strengths and weaknesses. Neurodiversity is part of what makes you, you. Celebrate the positives, work on the negatives, and find joy in being yourself.

Vanessa: When it comes to receiving a new neurodiverse diagnosis, the first piece of advice I'd offer is this: be gentle with yourself. It's like embarking on a journey into uncharted territory. I remember when I got my diagnosis. It felt overwhelming, to say the least. But everyone's journey is unique, whether you're discovering it in adulthood or childhood.

Take the time to breathe, process, and, most importantly, be kind to yourself. Reach out for support wherever you are. Whether you're at university or in the workforce, know your rights and access the support you're entitled to. It's astonishing how many people miss out on vital assistance simply because they're not aware of what's available.

If you're in a working environment, familiarise yourself with resources like Access to Work. Understand that your needs are valid, whether it's ergonomic adjustments or additional support. You don't have to fit into some predetermined mould; your uniqueness is your strength.

And don't underestimate the importance of caring for your mental wellbeing. Neurodiverse individuals often grapple with higher levels of anxiety and stress. Don't suffer in silence. Reach out, connect with others who understand, and seek the help you deserve. It's through openness and transparency that we can truly thrive. So don't hesitate to reach out, speak up, and embrace the support that's out there. You're not alone on this journey.

Thriving with Neurodiversity

Nicholas and Vanessa's journeys demonstrate that a neurodivergent diagnosis is not a setback but a chance to discover unique strengths and navigate the world on your own terms. UCU thrives because it embraces this very idea. By fostering a supportive environment and celebrating neurodiversity, UCU empowers its team, clients, and partners and paves the way for a more inclusive future.

So, what are you waiting for?

Embrace your neurodiversity, explore your strengths, and embark on a journey of self-discovery. You might be surprised at what you find.

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