The Neurodiversity In/And Creative Research Network #NeurodiversityCreativeResearch is a global network of >300 neurodivergent innovators and allies. We are leaders, workers, professors, CEOs, PhD researchers, practitioners and makers from, and often trespass the boundaries of: creative arts, culture, food, humanities, social and psych-sciences, neuroscience, health and social care, (higher) education, EDI, technology, finance, and more. We and are based in the UK (from Exeter to London, Cardiff and Glasgow), Australia (including Victoria and Sydney), Europe (including Netherlands, Sweden, Poland), India, Taiwan, US (including Rhode Island and Kansas), Canada (including British Columbia and University of Alberta in Edmonton) and other areas, where many also lead related local / specialist efforts, such as Attention UK, Kansas City League of Autistics, USA, Scottish Neurodiverse Performance Network, UK Adult ADHD Network (UKAAN), Neurodiversity in Albertopolis (NDIA) and more.

The Network is a creative and inclusive space to explore the messy and magical entanglements between ‘neurodiversity’, ‘creativity’ and ‘research’, and all the possibilities and intersections in between. We welcome anyone interested in any of these terms – unstable, multifaceted and thus exciting as they each already are. We will share, discuss, debate, motivate, interrogate and support one another’s practice and research as critical friends. Collectively we seek to make neurodiversity in research and the contributions of neurodivergent researchers more visible, and make research culture more inclusive. 

REMINDERS

  • We ask members to be respectful of each other’s views and ideas expressed here. We aim to develop a positive network of individuals interested in ‘neurodiversity’, ‘creativity’ and ‘research’, and all the complex ways that each term means, and they can entangle with one another. You can come from any background/discipline/sector, with/without an affiliation,
  • This is a public platform. Do not disclose information that may be private or which you are not comfortable with.
  • We are volunteers, and if you – including and especially allies who are beneficiaries – have ideas/skills/interest and would like to help out, let us know. 
  • New members, please introduce yourself!
    • Send an email to NEURODIVERSITY@JISCMAIL.AC.UK, and tell us who are you, what you do, where you are based, why you are interested in the network. How you think the group could support your work and what you could offer?
    • If you are here as an ally, state that. Share what you wish to learn and to contribute as a beneficiary.
    • Tell us how you have heard about this effort. 
  • To post something to all subscribers of the list, email NEURODIVERSITY@JISCMAIL.AC.UK. All 300 plus members will receive your post. 
  • To communicate with specific subscribers, please use their specific email addresses. Log on to the list on Jiscmail to see people’s email addresses Please be mindful that when you hit ‘reply’ to a post, or email NEURODIVERSITY@JISCMAIL.AC.UK, all 300 plus members will receive your email. 
  • To receive postings as a single summary at the end of each day rather than ‘as and when’, you could un-subscribe at the bottom of this email, and re-subscribe on the following link and chose the ‘digest’ mode here.
  • The Network and its associated spaces are inclusive spaces. We welcome participants who are respectful to diversity of ideas, practices, and bodyminds and the richness that arise from such a diversity.  We will not tolerate racist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist, xenophobic, elitist and otherwise exclusionary or discriminatory language and/or ideas.
  • Unusually, our Network welcomes non-neurodivergent people as well, on the condition that participants are genuine allies and can contribute and share labour and resources. We welcome genuine discourse, but do not welcome those who are here to troll, bully, harass and/or take advantage of neurodivergent people, and/or to poach for potential customers or participants for their experiments or projects that are counter to the positive ethos of the Network that celebrates neurodiversity as a positive force.    

A TRANSVERSAL, GENERATIVE PLATFORM

Founding:

The Neurodiversity In/And Creative Research Network #NeurodiversityCreativeResearch is an international hub. Founded in February 2020, Dr Kai Syng Tan and sculptor and arts-health expert Dr Ranjita Dhital are co-chairs. The Network is a legacy of the art-psychiatry project #MagicCarpet (2017-2019), as a platform to enable #MagicCarpet’s diverse participants (including Ranjita) and stakeholders to continue the conversations and actions. The timing turned out to be judicious, for, soon after, the first UK national lockdown came. The Network attracted 120 people in the first month and sprang into life with a flurry of activities subsequently. The Network can thus be itself understood as a creative response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

USPs and ongoing impacts include:

  • The Network is a transversal platform for/with 300+ neurodivergent innovators and allies keen to explore the entanglements between the terms ‘neurodiversity’, ‘creative’ and ‘research’, rich, nebulous, contentious, unstable, and exciting as each term already is. In fact, Australian sociologist Judy Singer, who invented the term ‘neurodiversity’, in the 1990’s, is also a member. The Network reveals a powerful, evolving portrait of the potential of how neurodivergence entangles with creativity.
  • Our stories, questions, sharings and learnings do not just describe existing ideologies; rather, they create them (Weeks 1998). Self-starters with yet other creative networks and initiatives in diverse fields abound. We are from the arts (eg an artist featured at London 2012 Paralympics and Rockerfeller Centre), performance (eg Scottish Neurodiverse Performance Network), mental health (eg AttentionUK), galleries (eg Attenborough Centre), festivals (Whistable), culture (eg UK’s leading autism podcast The Autism Podcast), think tanks (eg Royal Society of Arts), technology (JV-LA), employment (Genius Within, which authored the Neurodiversity at Work guide for the British Psychological Society and advises ACAS), HEI (Cambridge, Waterloo) and research.
  • Interdisciplinary and creative approaches to research is de rigueur here, not the exception. Examples include ‘disordering dance’ (Watson 2020); ‘neurodiversity rong table’ (Oliver 2020), and innovative approaches to studying neurodivergence spanning philosophy, social science, film and more (Russell various, including Exploring Autism project 2015). Members have also developed innovative approaches through the Network’s regular seminars (eg Watson’s ‘dysco’ which toured Southbank Centre 2021).
  • That the Network is co-led by two women of colour of diverse disciplinary backgrounds, artist-curator Dr Kai Syng Tan with a sculptor-social scientist Dr Ranjita, also evidences the Network’s mission to ‘diversify neurodiversity’ and critique the white privilege perpetuated by purportedly inclusive outfits such as disability arts (Tan 2020) (See this short clip by Imari Barbarin, which powerfully unpacks the phenomena; see also Russell 2020 on the politics of the neurodiversity movement, Mistry 2019 on disability art movement’s racism, and Obasi 2022‘s ground-clearing piece that uncovers how white feminism has oppressed black women which bear many parallels). Distinct to advocacy or support groups, or other Jiscmail groups, the Network is ‘open to anyone with an interest in the messy and magical nexuses of creativity, neurodiversity, and research’, and to ‘support others as critical friends’ (Tan and Dhital 2020), within and beyond UK (members are in US, Canada, Taiwan, India, Europe and Australia).
  • That the Network includes people with PTSD, OCD, dementia, stroke and fibromyalgia enacts disidentification, which has upset the purists and gatekeepers of neurodiversity. Members tell their own stories, rather than having their voices appropriated, commodified, co-opted, distorted, white-washed, re-packaged by others. If disabled people have been historically and culturally silenced (Berger 2013) and representation is often ‘oppressive or negative’ (hevey 1993, 423), the Network bypasses academic presses as gate-keepers of the ‘intelligibility of knowledge’ (Manning 2018) and enables those ignored in popular media a voice, which can now be examined (Egner 2019).
  • Like the Neurodiversity Reading Group led by a Network member, we will ‘expect participants to acknowledge their own normative and hegemonic experiences and (internalised) perspectives – be that in the realm of abledness, race, gender (identity), sexuality, class or otherwise’, and ‘while we all will learn, the group is not a place for people with normative identities to seek other participants’ marginalised experiences; we encourage all to self-educate’.
  • Summer programme 2021 for members to share their research and practice, which has led to further conversations and outcomes. The latter include a beautiful journal article by Dr Alyssa Hillary Zisk (University of Rhode Island) Being the Curriculum (here), and a biting op-ed by Prof Sudarshan R Kottai(CHRIST University, Bengaluru, India) that we wish to send to British Journal of Psychiatry Bulletin
  • Opening up spaces for discourse, critical friendship, sharing of best practices and support – integral during the destabilising times of a global pandemic, where everybody is trying adjust to the disruption and chaos. For neurodiverse colleagues there are additional challenges as well as opportunities. In fact, many are innovating as well, accustomed as we are to forms of ‘self-isolation’ and ‘social distancing’ pre-pandemic. March 2020: The Network shared ways to cope and make something positive from the crisis, including through a fun Craftiness Against COVID-19 haiku contest that redirected funds from a cancelled exhibition from one of the co-chairs, to emerging colleagues – the winner was an international PhD student. Our first Network session was a keynote and a live online advice support by member Professor of Psychiatry Philip Asherson. Other sessions involved discussions around workplace cultures and diverse practices, identities (disclosure), and discussion around ‘neuroaesthetics’
  • Being one of few neurodiversity networks that is genuinely inclusive and not reinforcing ableist or exclusionary approaches (such as requiring diagnoses). In March 2021, the Network experienced its ‘coming of age’ with the faultlines showing up (neurodivergent and non-neurodivergent people arguing about social v medical models. We had a mini-exodus, but now there is a new burst of exchanges and support.
  • Advancing EDI in what + how Network does, including its engagement with external organisations: The Network is creating an edited collection. This is a learning process for all involved. We aren’t just going to ‘make a book’ – the process matters. Better, if not best, structural practices, matter. Institutions must walk not just talk when they say they embrace EDI (Equity Diversity and Inclusion);
  • Advancing understanding of ‘allyship’: The Network is contributing to and expanding how we understand allyship – and urging self-proclaimed allies to do their bit and do better. Chapters in the edited collection will explore this, and neurodivergent members who have stepped forward to offer help to others who are dyslexic are raising the bar of what genuine ‘allyship’ and ‘using your privilege’ refer to!

WHAT IS ‘NEURODIVERSITY’ / WHAT ARE NEURODIVERSITIES?

Although the term is increasingly used/appropriated (not least by World Economic Forum and Nesta et al as a strategy in the face of technological upheaval), ‘neurodiversity’ remains a complex and contested – and hence exciting – term and framework. Invented by Australian sociologist Judy Singer, ‘neurodivers;ty’ can be understood as a framework that includes people with dyslexia, ADHD, autistic spectrum, and those with overlapping/co-occurring differences. While biomedical psychiatrists frame neurodevelopmental condutions as genetic predisposition, neuroscientists see differences in brain physiology and structure as key. Cognitive psychologists stress differences in thinking, processing and sensory issues. Beyond the brain and mind sciences, discourses are largely led by those in sociology and related field of disability studies (Rosqvist et al. 2020; Jones 2020), whose approach are largely ameliorative, social constructivist, foregrounding socio-economic status (Brown & Harris 1978), and considering ‘disorders’ as marginalising. This is echoed by many in the neurodiversity movement. While in-fighting and criticisms abound (Russell 2020), many frame the differences as a valuable part of the continuum of human variation (Kapp et al. 2013). This affirmative position is increasingly adopted by those in neuroscience, genetics and psychology, with studies on how traits relate to creativity (Greven et al. 2018; Mowlem et al. 2016; Sedgwick et al. 2018; Abraham et al. 2006) and entrepreneurship (Wiklund et al. 2017). Several features of ADHD like risk-taking, divergent thinking and creative giftedness (Lesch 2018) are related to traits required for effective leadership. Yet other views and perspectives abound in the arts (eg art-psychiatry commission #MagicCarpet by Kai Syng Tan in conversation with Philip Asherson), theatre (eg Declaration by Art with Heart) and creative research (‘disordering dance’ in Watson 2020; ‘neurodiversity rong table’ in Oliver 2020; ‘ill-disciplined’ in Tan 2020 and other examples in the Neurodiversity In/and Creative Research Network). Like the concept of biodiversity, neurodiversity has been argued to be ‘a next step in a more respectful way of thinking about our planet and our communities’, a ‘more humane and accurate lens’ to understand who we are (Baron-Cohen 2017).