Society must do more to support neurodiverse young women

Tuesday 3 December 2019

Young disabled women face discrimination based on their sex, age and disability and our research has shown the impact of this on mental health and economic autonomy. This International Day of People with Disabilities, Chloe writes about her experience of living with dyspraxia in a world where neurodiverse women often receive delayed diagnosis and miss out on essential support.

Chloe AliceHello! My name’s Chloe and I am dyspraxic. I’m writing this blog for IDPD (International Day of People with Disabilities) to raise awareness of what dyspraxia is and how I’m affected by it as a young woman.

Understanding neurodiversity

Dyspraxia is estimated to affect around 10% of the population but isn’t well known. It comes under the neurodiverse umbrella alongside things like ADHD, ASD, Dyslexia or Tourettes. Neurodiversity as a label identifies how neurodiverse people differ from neurotypical people and creates an understanding of the various crossovers common among the conditions in this category.  This is important as it’s estimated that around 40% of the population have some form of neurodiversity.

Dyspraxia itself includes motor coordination difficulties as well as difficulty planning, organising and executing movements in the correct order. Even the simplest of tasks such as carrying a full glass can be much more difficult for dyspraxic people, which feeds into the stereotype of being ‘the clumsy condition’.

Not just for boys

Historically, dyspraxia, alongside other neurodiverse conditions was thought to be something that only impacts boys. This was partly due to lack of knowledge or research and in part due to symptoms presenting differently in girls than in boys. For instance, unlike men, women are often expected to perform poorly at sports and unfortunately, people still look for symptoms through a male lens as dyspraxia is something many people have little awareness of.

Dyspraxia in women often goes undiagnosed in childhood. This is particularly problematic as there is no diagnostic pathway for adults on the NHS meaning in most cases, adults pay significant amounts of money to get diagnosed. I’m lucky that my dyspraxia got picked up on at university and I received a diagnosis. Many adults don’t get this opportunity and so miss out on support.

We can’t continue to fail neurodiverse women

The education system is failing neurodiverse people, with women especially impacted. There are gaps in diagnosis across the board and more needs to be done to raise awareness and train educators to recognise neurodiversity in children, particularly the way it presents across genders. Due to the lack of awareness, many dyspraxic people get diagnosed late or not at all which causes huge barriers in education and employment opportunities.

If problems aren’t recognised early people can grow up feeling inadequate, losing motivation as a result. Lack of confidence, anxiety and poor mental health is a huge issue for neurodiverse people, especially women who are disadvantaged among an already vulnerable group.

Awareness is important and days like IDPD are vital in helping wider society understand why we struggle and what our needs are. Dyspraxic people are represented politically via the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dyspraxia – though its future is unknown because of the upcoming election. Voters can help ensure parliamentary support remains by signing petitions and writing to newly elected MPs after the election. They can also check the varying policies surrounding neurodiversity put forward by major political parties, some of which have even made separate manifestos which specifically address neurodiversity.

How young women’s trust have supported me

To round up this blog, I’d like to discuss my own relationship with Young Women’s Trust (YWT). The charity have supported me since before I was diagnosed in a number of ways. They connected me with women in similar situations to me and gave me a platform to help others like me. On my time with the Advisory Panel I went from being a girl who thought she wasn’t good enough for university to woman who is on her way to completing her degree. Organisations like YWT are vital as they give young women a platform and a voice when nobody else will. YWT really have changed my life for the better and I am so grateful for their continued support, not just for me, but for women across the nation!

By Chloe Alice

Young Women’s Trust research shows

  • Over ¾ of young women with a disability of long term health condition were worried about their mental health
  • Research also shows that the pay gap for disabled women is larger than average at 22.1%
  • 70% of young women with a disability felt they were not listened to by those in power

This needs to change. Policy making needs to take into account, not only women’s specific experiences, but the experiences of intersecting discrimination based on sex, age and disability.