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7 must-read books to understand more about neurodiversity

01 December 2022

These helpful reads can help you learn about the unique challenges and talents of neurodivergent people.

7 must-read books to understand more about neurodiversity
These books help unlock the unique abilities of neurodivergent people. Image credit: Shutterstock/Triff

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a broad term used to describe neurological disorders, including:

  • autism spectrum disorder (ASD);
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD);
  • dyslexia;
  • dyspraxia;
  • dysphasia;
  • dysmorphia; and
  • dyscalculia

Although each of these is a unique condition, people who have them typically experience differences in their learning and thinking from those of neurotypical people.

Neurodiversity as a superpower

An estimated 15% of the population is neurodiverse.

Neurodiverse people can have enhanced creativity, problem-solving skills and mathematical talent.

However, the differences in how neurodivergent people experience the world can make everything from the workplace to social situations especially challenging for them.

Neurodiverse individuals typically suffer from lower self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety and depression, which can harm mental and physical health.

One way of improving the experiences of neurodiverse people is through educating yourself about their conditions.

These seven books provide invaluable advice, practical suggestions, and wisdom to help you better understand your neurodiverse colleagues and friends.

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1. Odd Girl Out: An Autistic Woman in a Neurotypical World by Laura James

‘What do you do when you wake up in your mid-forties and realize you've been living a lie your whole life? Do you tell? Or do you keep it to yourself?’ asks Laura James.

James, a journalist, author, and columnist, wasn’t diagnosed with ASD until she was in her forties.

James could be described as ‘neurotypically passing’ – she had forged a successful career as an author, been married twice and raised four children.

Yet being diagnosed made so much of her past make sense, from her painful experiences at secondary school to everyday practical struggles.

She reflects on shocking statistics that show us how far society and workplaces must go in understanding the condition. For instance, up to 87% of autistic people are unemployed.

In her diagnosis, she finds hope and positivity, beginning to embrace her differences and see them as something that make her uniquely herself.

This part-memoir is a fascinating exploration of the female experience of autism and a great starting point to learn more about Asperger’s syndrome.

2. The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain by Thomas Armstrong

So, you’ve been diagnosed as neurodiverse. Now what?

In this book, best-selling author, psychologist, and educator Thomas Armstrong re-writes the traditional narrative around ‘disabilities.’

He argues that since neurodiversity is a natural part of the diversity of the human brain, those who are neurodivergent do not have disabilities or disorders.

Instead, he looks towards the positives that can be born of having a neurodiverse brain, including evolutionary advantages and specialised skills.

If you want to learn more about your condition or are a colleague, friend, teacher or parent of a neurodiverse person, Armstrong's approach to neurodiversity makes this a compelling and necessary read.

3. The Neurodiverse Workplace: An Employer’s Guide to Managing and Working with Neurodivergent Employers, Clients, and Customers by Victoria Honeybourne

Whether you’re a manager, work in human resources, or are a colleague of someone who is neurodiverse, you probably want to make sure you’re doing the best job possible to support them.

But navigating the different needs of neurodivergent people might feel intimidating.

How to be understanding without being patronising? And what can you do to make your workspace neuro-friendly?

Like Armstrong, Honeybourne normalises neurodiversity, looking at it as something that workplaces and employers should embrace.

For employers who want to foster a more inclusive environment and empower their neurodiverse employees to do their best work possible, this is the definitive guide to achieve this.

4. Wired Differently, 30 Neurodivergent People You Should Know by Joe Wells

Wells’ book is a heartening celebration of neurodiversity – and the incredible things neurodiverse individuals can achieve.

Comedian and writer Joe Wells, who is autistic, combines his characteristic humour and charm to shine a light on individuals whose differences have transformed the world we’re living in for the better.

Wired Differently would make an excellent read for neuro-diverse young people who want to explore their own unique talents and find a connection with those like them.

Wells also hosts a podcast alongside comedian Abigoliah Schamaun called Neurodivergent Moments, where they speak to famous guests with a wide range of neurodiverse conditions.

You can find the latest podcasts here.

5. Smart but Stuck: Emotions in Teens and Adults with ADHD by Dr. Thomas E Brown

ADHD has often been a misunderstood condition, with unhelpful stereotypes often contributing to misdiagnosis.

Dr Thomas E Brown’sSmart But Stuckgoes some way to demystifying the condition and the role that emotions can play in ADHD.

Brown’s book looks at 15 fascinating real-life stories of adults and teens.

Despite being intelligent and highly capable, each person has become ‘stuck’ at work, school and in social relationships due to ADHD.

ADHD can cause issues including difficulties with self-management, time management, concentration and working memory.

Many of Brown’s patients are in the top 10% or higher on IQ tests, but ADHD has resulted in upsetting academic, professional, and social setbacks.

Although his patients have all suffered in varying ways due to their condition, Brown shows how proper management and treatment have helped his patients get ‘unstuck.’

The stories show how people with the condition can lead productive lives, achieving their goals and ambitions along the way.

6. The Reason I Jump: one boy’s voice from the silence of autism by Naoki Higashida

The Reason I Jump tells the extraordinary story of Naoki Higashida, born in Kimitsu, Japan.

Higashida is severely autistic and non-verbal. His means of communicating – and writing his memoir –was achieved by using a ‘cardboard keyboard.’

Higashida’s memoir gives a rare and touching insight into the inner world of someone affected by autism.

He answers a range of questions about autism that many neuro-typical people might be curious about, including why he jumps:

‘When I’m jumping, it’s as if my feelings are going upward to the sky,’ he writes.

In 2020, a documentary film based on the memoir premiered at Sundance Film Festival.

You can now watch the film on streaming services such as Disney+ and Amazon Prime.

7. The Adult Side of Dyslexia by Kelli Sandman-Hurley

Through a series of searingly honest and personal interviews with people with dyslexia, Kelli Sandman-Hurley gets to the heart of the suffering and shame that can surround dyslexia.

Even though 10% of the population has dyslexia, like ADHD and other neuro-divergent conditions, it’s often associated with unhelpful myths and stereotypes.

Sandman-Hurley’s interviews help dispel these myths and ultimately offer practical advice to help dyslexic people empower themselves to overcome the barriers they face every day.

A critical read whether you parent, teach, work with, or share a friendship with a person with dyslexia.

  • Jessica Beasley, communications executive at ICE