Neurodiversity Week 2024

Boardman, Hawkins & Osborne LLP

This week is Celebrate Neurodiversity Week, and we’re delighted to have our first Guest article, from Harcourt Chambers’ barrister Frances Harris.

It’s so helpful to recognise that we’re all different, and we all have different qualities, needs, strengths and weaknesses. The Family Justice system is waking up to this, and all professionals and Judges involved, are now much more alive to ensuring that those participating in the family courts, or indeed outside of it, might need adjustments, to make sure that their voices can be heard, and their needs can be considered.

Our lawyers, mediators and staff can help make sure that our client’s needs are recognised. We are able to consider if intermediaries or advocates are needed, and can also work in conjunction with our linked counsellors to ensure that our client’s needs are taken into account. We are also really lucky to be working alongside other lawyers such as Frances who feel similarly.

This week is Celebrate Neurodiversity Week: a now internationally recognised opportunity to celebrate all aspects of neurodiversity and an initiative started in 2018 by a London school girl named Siena Castellon.

I have mixed feelings about the week. Whilst delighted that the corridors of both my girls’ schools bear posters advertising the fact that Justin Timberlake and Simone Biles have ADHD, Greta Thunberg is autistic and Richard Branson dyslexic I feel that this is only a part of the story and potentially a misleading one. It buys into the neurodivergence is a ‘super power’ narrative which I struggle with, and wonder how many neurodivergent children sold this narrative may also struggle with, since for many, I suspect, it doesn’t feel that way at all.

A more compelling narrative, in my view, is that neurodivergence means difference from a neurotypical norm rather than deficits. I would rather tell my daughter that there are some things her brain may find easier than her neurotypical peers and others that her brain may find harder and that is not because her brain is better or worse but just different. Difference is not inherently good or bad it just is.

Moreover, when Greta Thunberg is held up to me by professionals as an attempt to reassure me of the amazing things my autistic daughter could potentially go on to do I want to remind them that prior to becoming an activist Greta was so weighed down by depression that she struggled to talk or eat: Greta ‘the poster girl’ is one snapshot only. And whilst representation of course is important, I do not need my daughter to become a leading activist for her to matter: she is more than enough just as she is. I have delighted in the writings of Dara McNulty, the teenage author of Diary of a Young Naturalist: they more accurately portray the mix that is the pure joy he can experience through his ‘special interest’ in the natural world, together with the daily difficulties of being an autistic individual navigating a world built for neurotypicals.

I hope that maybe this week can be a week for us all to be a bit more curious about the lived experience of the neurodivergent members of our communities and to absorb some of their first hand accounts of how their differences impact them and to ask how we can better accommodate these differences.


Frances Harris – Harcourt Chambers

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