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Celebrating Neurodiversity Week 21-27 March

Date Posted: Friday 25 March 2022

Students and staff have been marking Neurodiversity Celebration Week with a series of events including assemblies, lunchtime talks and an art installation.

The week’s celebrations are in recognition of the fact that all people’s brains work differently, that we are all unique and each of these differences should be valued. The events, organised by Mrs Suzanna Minnis, Head of the Girls’ & Boys’ Divisions, Mrs Vanessa Minihane, Acting Head of Learning Development, and Classics teacher Mr Charlie Hailes; were designed to be informative while demonstrating the School’s solidarity with anyone who might be neurodivergent.

A colourful display of umbrellas, decorated with details of students’ individual talents and ‘superpowers’, is now suspended in the School’s Cloister as a reminder of, and salute to, cognitive differences.

Across the week, students have learned how they can respect diversity and support each other.  Mrs Minihane is keen for students to recognise that neurodivergent thought processes bring benefits as well as challenges, and Sixth Form students Charlotte (Year 12) and Albi (Year 13), who captains the School Riding Team, shared their personal stories of dyslexia.

Mr Hailes, who has a diagnosis of autism, received a standing ovation for his inspiring Sixth Form talk on autism awareness. He shared his life journey and thoughts on how people can make everyone, including those who are neurodivergent, feel more included and accepted. Next term he will give the talk to other year groups. A link to a recording of his talk can be found here.

Further lunchtime talks included two from New Hall parents, Dr Peter Berry and Mr Preetham Peddanagari, on the positives of neurodivergent thinking.

  • Dr Peter Berry, Consultant in Anaesthesia and Burns Intensive Care, spoke about his educational journey making links with the personal qualities often associated with individuals with dyslexia and the advantages that these qualities had brought to his career.
  • Mr Preetham Peddanagari, who is a partner at Ernst and Young, spoke to students about his company’s Neurodiversity Centres of Excellence worldwide which recognise the economic and business benefits of having teams which include neurodivergent thinkers. In his talk, he gave examples of neurodivergent individuals who have led innovation and driven scientific and technological change.
  • Professor Susan Deacy, a lecturer from Roehampton University, gave a talk on autism and classics, discussing her research into this and encouraging students to colour in a Herculean drawing to explore different interpretations of the scene.

Principal Katherine Jeffery said: “There have been so many positive comments from parents, students and staff in response to this neurodiversity celebration. I’m proud that our students have enthusiastically engaged with the topic, gaining a greater understanding of, and empathy with, those who are not neurotypical.

“The various activities and talks have demonstrated that being neurodivergent is not a barrier to a successful career, indeed the opposite is quite often true. Our individuality is something we should wear as a badge of honour; it is what makes us special and gives colour to all of our lives. That is why we actively support a range of talents in the New Hall community through sport and other co-curricular activities as well as learning development.”