How to support neurodiverse people in practice

1 November 2023
Autumn 2023

Providing appropriate and respectful eye exams for people with different learning needs is a crucial skill for optometrists, says Anna Scott.

An estimated 15% to 20% of the UK population is neurodiverse (Doyle, 2020), experiencing and interacting with the world in different ways. The concept of neurodiversity states that human brains process information in different ways – there is no single “right” way to think, learn and behave (Baumer and Fruh, 2021). Australian sociologist Judy Singer first coined the term to suggest neurologically different people should be considered in a demographic category like class, gender and race (Singer, 1999).

She was referring primarily to autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but neurodiversity is applied to other conditions too. While 700,000 children and adults in the UK are autistic, a total of 694,000 children and 1.9 million adults in the UK are thought to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (National Autistic Society, 2023; ADHD UK, 2023). A tenth of the UK population is dyslexic, 6% have dyscalculia and up to 6% dyspraxia, and between 435,700 and 1,197,300 individuals may be autistic and undiagnosed – 59% to 72% of autistic people, or 0.77 to 2.12% of the English population (British Dyslexia Association, 2023a; 2023b; Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, 2023; O’Nions et al, 2023).

Other examples of different ways the human brain processes information include difficulties with cognitive function, executive dysfunction and slow processing speed. These can affect sensory processing, as well as attention, learning and memory. Dysgraphia impacts people’s ability to write, misophonia triggers an emotional or physiological response to certain sounds, stammering affects speech and Tourette’s syndrome causes tics.

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