Neurodiversity Celebration Week: Laura's Story

In the third blog for Neurodiversity Celebration Week, hear from Laura Bentley, Learning and Development Manager as she talks about the experiences of her son, Noah.

Laura's Story

Celebrating neurodiversity benefits everyone

Hi, I’m Laura, Learning and Development Manager within the wider HR Team at Telent. I support the People Strategy through new starter inductions, management and leadership development programmes, and embedding our Values and Behaviours across the business. I love having a broad view of the organisation and getting to know so many colleagues.

Our son Noah who is now nine, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and anxiety in Spring 2022. This would have previously been termed ‘Asperger’s’, which relates to more high-functioning autism, but is now not a term used so commonly. When we were initially referred to the psychiatrist, Noah was assessed for both autism and ADHD, as he displayed many of the traits from both neurodivergent conditions.

Noah was showing signs of distress, anxiety, reluctance to go to school, mood swings, meltdowns, irritability, and hyper-fixation on topics that he enjoyed such as Liverpool FC and the Premier League! However, because he was academically ‘able’ and socially competent on the surface, these signs could have been related to several other conditions or circumstances. After a lot of research and reading we felt that it probably was a neurodivergent condition given his early childhood and transitions through school.

We decided to go for a private assessment which we were in the privileged position to be able to access; the NHS waiting lists are up to four years currently and it’s heart-breaking that many families have to struggle in the dark for so long. Our assessment was over a few hours with a psychiatrist and psychologist who concluded that Noah did have ASD. Once we had the diagnosis it was a relief to know and to start understanding and accepting how life would be for us as a family going forward.

The pressure of ‘masking’ can be very exhausting

Noah can be very confident, chatty, funny, and empathetic so people tend to be surprised that he is autistic. This is known as ‘masking’, where autistic people feel like they need to emulate the responses or behaviours of neurotypical people to fit in.

This leads to shutdowns or meltdowns when they’re at home, or with people they trust, as the pressure of masking can be very intense and exhausting. He also feels (in his words) weird and different and has many low moments where he tells us he wishes he wasn’t autistic. The mental toll of the anxiety that’s related to his autistic condition is a lot to cope with and it’s led to some very difficult times for us all.

Thankfully we are now starting to get the right help, both for Noah at school and for our younger son who has to put up with a lot! My husband and I are also working with a therapist to build our confidence and toolkit on how best to support our family.

He’s teaching our family compassion and empathy

There are so many positives of being neurodiverse! As Jemma also mentioned in her blog, there’s a saying, ‘if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met ONE autistic person’ as there is a huge range of how autism presents. Noah has a beautiful way of tuning into the feelings of others and has a real sense of fairness.

He has an incredible memory and can reel off statistics and match fixtures about the premier league in a heartbeat. He sees things differently and often challenges us with ‘why?’, which makes us look at things in a different light too. He’s teaching our family compassion and empathy.

On both sides, my advice is to be open and transparent about the adjustments you need to work effectively and happily. Neurodiverse people often struggle more with mental health conditions because of the constant adjustments they’re making internally to ‘fit in’. If we normalise and celebrate neurodiversity then it not only benefits the individual, but also the whole organisation.

I’d also highly recommend a read or listen to The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin, Unmasking Autism by Dr Devon Price, any of the books in the Autism children range from Jessica Kingsley Publishers and Inside our Autistic Minds on BBC iPlayer.

You can also follow my TikTok channel (@laura_when_they_cannot) where I talk about life as a parent to an autistic/demand avoidant child. I’ve found a lovely community of fellow parents on the platform which others might also find useful!

Jemma's Story

I’m Jemma, Commercial Manager in Telent’s Legal and Commercial Team. I’ve been with Telent for nearly nine years now, negotiating contracts and helping teams with in-life project issues for Transport and Network Services.

I’ve been on the fringes of neurodiversity for a while; I have a nephew and brother-in-law who are both autistic. However, I didn’t come to properly understand neurodiversity until I had my first child in 2016, a little girl we named Chloe. She was different from the get-go as she didn’t sleep a wink…. ever! I’d always noticed she was less social than my friends’ babies, always watching – never participating. She was happy so I thought nothing of it.

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Jo's Story

I’m Jo and I head up the Network Services Procurement Team which includes IT, Nuclear, and TIS. I specialise in procurement for major Software and Engineering transformation projects, but I also have wide general procurement category experience. In primary school my son was diagnosed with high functioning Autism and ADHD and referred to CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services)

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