I’m writing this after a difficult but interesting couple of weeks. Im reflecting on the messages I have tried to share and the messages that keep on coming back to me and my neurokin within a social work context. Although I am referring to Autistic students this message really is a shout out to all neurodivergent students, I guess I don’t want to assume I speak for us all.
Because of course I don’t.
But this is important to say. And to say it loudly for you to hear. Because it isn’t obvious sometimes and everyone needs to hear it.
You belong here. You are valuable. Social Work needs you
Why am I saying it?
You are a neurotype that oozes that social justice vibe. Whilst no-one has thought about us neurodivergent social workers in terms of research, there is plenty of sources that show we as autistic people align with a lot of social work values just by being us (Cope and Remington, 2021) . Fairness, equity, openness and rights are high on our agenda for others and often what we strive to seek for ourselves.
And that’s another great thing about you. You know. You know what it’s like to be different. You may know what its like to be misunderstood, to stand out, to know hurt. But what’s better is that you can use that knowledge to connect. You see it in others and you understand the need to be understood, heard, and safe. You connect with the trauma experience. You speak the language of surviving.
But there’s more
You may see the connections to the connection. What I mean is, you see the detail within the whole picture overview. And that’s important. The detail counts. Linking the detail to understand what’s going on is an integral strength of the social work role. Analysing, problem solving and really getting deep down into the information is what makes you great. No surface level, skim-reading a person’s lived reality here.
And then there’s questions. The curiosity. The need to know ‘why’ as much as the ‘what’. To make sure what you are doing is the ‘right’ thing to do in that context. Its person-centred rather than resource-led. Its advocating, challenging with purpose, and not letting that person who you are working to affect change with, fall out of view.
Then there’s your commitment. To get things done. To that person who depends on you turning up. To doing a good job. That’s a precious ethic to hold. Its builds trust, it enables success (whatever that may look like).
We have the barriers that prevail and challenge us in holding onto our strengths based view of ourself. Imposter syndrome is vicious. It creeps up even when we have succeeded. It makes us question ourselves, our skills, our value. It mocks us when we think we are as good as everyone else in the room. It shuts us down and holds us back.
It holds a lot of power, internalised ableism, fuelled by systemic ableism – those myths and untruths about autism that are perpetuated between people, teams, organisations, and wider systems.
The sensory overload in a context not designed for us (see Making the Social Work post)
This power is hard to challenge, and it can have a massive and harmful impact on our self-esteem, our sense of self our self-worth and even more our self-efficacy ie what we believe we can achieve ourselves.
You deserve those “reasonable adjustments”; you are worthy of those changes you need from others to feel, to respond, to do. To breathe.
You aren’t creating a problem; you are illuminating the inequity that surrounds you. In other words, you are highlighting where the problem sits, and accountability towards duty of care. That is where the 'uncomfortable' for others, the ambivalence to see harm resides, not with you.
You are the agent of change in the workplace that can actually make it better for everyone including families), if everyone would just see that. Beyond the normal. Beyond the “its what we have always done”.
To the Practice Educator who “doesn’t have time” to think about what could enable you to thrive in your placement, to the academic assessor who is worried of the “unfair advantage” some extra time may offer in assessment, I challenge you.
To the team manager, the ASYE coordinator, the service manager who questions the need for familiar space; a sense of ownership in the shape of a corner that you can identify when overwhelm is real; or the opportunity to just slow the pace down a smidgen, I challenge you.
Why are you so afraid of change? What is it about “professionalism” you cant see in this social work student who is fighting the onslaught of the day before they even walk into your office. Every single day. Who, despite their trauma, show up. Waiting for you to see the difference their difference is making. And how much yours is restraining them.
The colleagues who notice, who support, who speak up, we need you. We value you. We thrive and survive with you. You are our secure base.
To our Neurodivergent colleagues and friends, help us create a safe haven where boats rock a little less and the storms are sheltered from. Even just for a little while.
It takes one person to reach out to start building these connections.
And guess what, we are there, in those offices those lecture rooms.
If your organisation doesn’t acknowledge and offer space ask why. Collectively.
Because you belong here.
You are valuable.
And Social Work absolutely needs you
Cope, R and Remington, A. (2021) The Strengths and Abilities of Autistic People in the Workplace.Autism in Adulthood.0(0) DOI: 10.1089/aut.2021.00371