By Upamanyu Dhar

Neurodivergence is a fairly new concept and an umbrella term for individuals whose brains process information atypically. This includes conditions like autism, dyslexia and ADHD among others. To commemorate Neurodiversity Celebration Week (18-24 March), I talked to Andrea Condé, a student from Mexico studying MA International Law at Sussex.

Upamanyu: What was your life like before Sussex?

Andrea: I did my Bachelor’s at Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. That’s where I discovered I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I was having problems in my studies so my mom decided I should take a test with a psychologist and psychiatrist. I shared my diagnosis with the university.

Did you get the support you needed?

A: Yes, I got a lot of support in my bachelor’s degree. I had fewer classes each semester so there wouldn’t be much pressure.

How has your experience been at Sussex?

A: It has been kind of the same. I have been receiving help from the university through Disability Support. I registered with them because my course coordinator said I needed support and he recommended that office. So, I had an interview with Claire, the Disability Support coordinator, who identified my needs and the things I needed help with. 

Do you think the university provides adequate disability support?

A: I really think so. They offered me a programme to read the text on my computer and headphones that I can use to isolate one person’s voice and not get distracted by my environment. They also have tutors to help with assignments and mental wellbeing.

What are some challenges you’ve faced at Sussex?

A: My challenge is to finish my Masters’ degree. I find writing and reading challenging, along with being social. It’s difficult for me to socialise with people.

Can you tell me more about your experience as a neurodivergent student?

A: In middle school, I became part of a group that was isolated from the rest of the class. I didn’t like that because when you isolate people who have Asperger’s or a learning disability, we feel excluded and stupid. You see “normal” people have fun and you feel… you don’t feel good. And those people complain about us getting extra help and attention. That starts to bother us more. Here, they don’t make you feel isolated.

Many people seem to misunderstand neurodivergence. What would you like to say to them?

A: It’s important for people to know about it because there are a lot of people like me who you don’t notice have a disease. You see us and think we’re normal and don’t have any problems. Once you start talking with us, you might think we’re shy but shyness is a sign that we have a problem socialising. People usually think we are weird because sometimes we are very blunt when talking, but you shouldn’t take it very seriously.

What are your goals after graduating?

A: I would like to work in an international organisation like NATO or the EU. My dream is to help draft treaties with different countries and aid in resolving conflicts.

Readers should note that English is Andrea’s second language and her usage of the word ‘disease’ is not intentional. The term Asperger’s originates from Hans Asperger, a Nazi collaborator who aided the Third Reich in the murder of children with disabilities. It is important to know that Autism Spectrum Disorder is inclusive of this syndrome as well. The language of mental health is evolutionary, and sometimes it may be worth accepting words that neurodivergent people use for themselves. Awareness around correct terminology is still low, but a collaborative effort to empathise with and understand their lived experiences helps build towards opportunities and inclusivity.

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