Becoming “Unmasked”

Neurodiversity, an umbrella term for all brain types.

Neurodivergence, an umbrella term for divergent brain types that differ from the “norm” which excludes neurotypical. These differences can include autism, ADHD, dyslexia, among others.

However, living in a neurotypical world often forces neurodivergent individuals to ‘mask’ or hide their true selves to fit in. This series of info graphics is of my experience. There are many, many more experiences that will be different, that I haven’t experienced that would be wrong for me to try and explain such as the intersectionality of race and disability, or trans, LGBTQ etc. So whilst I don’t delve into those experiences I need to acknowledge that they exist and will also have a very different impact on any individual and their safety with unmasking.

The Process of Becoming Unmasked

For many neurodivergent individuals, becoming unmasked is a privilege they do not have access to. It requires a safe and accepting environment where they can openly express their unique neurological variations. When individuals feel safe to be themselves, that’s when they can truly ‘unmask’ and embrace their neurodivergence. Sometimes it isn’t safe for a variety of reasons and so many neurodivergent people are living in fear, in unsafe environments with the added mental health pressure that masking contributes to.

The Trauma of Masking

Constantly masking one’s true self can lead to deep-rooted trauma. For some, this trauma becomes so intertwined with their identity that unraveling it to discover who they truly are can be an overwhelmingly painful process. This trauma can stem from various causes, including shame, blame, judgment, punishment, and ignorance. These negative experiences can make a neurodivergent person feel unsafe and unsupported, further reinforcing the need to continue masking. Some people will mask because of Trauma and others suffer trauma because of masking. and also, this creates a trauma cycle that is difficult to maintain.

The Exhausting Effects of Masking

Living under a mask is not only traumatic but also mentally exhausting. When neurodivergent individuals feel pressured to suppress their needs continually and conform to neurotypical standards, it can lead to significant long-term struggles. This constant striving and suppression can severely affect their mental health, leading to burnout. Repeated burnouts can also slow down their recovery process, further straining their mental well-being. It is confusing, overwhelming, and excruciatingly difficult when the mask you wear is uncomfortable and you develop co-occuring disabilities such as OCD (Pure-O) and in your head lives this uncontrollable voice that berates, scolds, mocks, and shames you just like you feel on the outside. There becomes a point where there is no getting away from the judgment, the voices are too. loud and you crash!

The Importance of Support

Support plays a crucial role in helping neurodivergent individuals unmask and embrace their unique selves. When they feel accepted and understood, they are more likely to feel safe to express their true selves. This acceptance can come in various forms, such as nurturing, understanding, and unconditional support. These supportive elements can help create a safe environment where neurodivergent individuals can thrive without the need for masking. I wish for safe environments for our children to break this generational traumatic cycle of hiding who we are. Acceptance of our idiosyncrasies, our unique movements, our honest communication, our sensory preferences so that we can learn to love ourselves as we truly are.

It’s essential to understand the immense pressure and trauma that neurodivergent individuals undergo trying to fit into a neurotypical world. Recognising these challenges is the first step towards creating a more inclusive and accepting society where everyone feels safe to unmask and embrace their true selves.

Let’s strive for an environment where being ‘unmasked’ is not a privilege for a few but a fundamental right for all.

Allowing our children to feel safe to be free is the beginning of the change we need to see in order to improve our mental health difficulties and speak our truth.

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Guide Two - Trust Your Gut

Guide Two: Trusting your instincts is a vital part of the process for RADICAL (UN)Parenting and we will discuss the many experiences of the facilitator and the learners where this has either proven to be true when listened to or when you wish you would have listened and acted on that gut feeling.

Briefly discussing methods of communication for the neurodivergent person and how important it is to study our young people intently so that we can begin to talk their language.  This session guides you back to your most confident, enabling those advocacy skills to flourish once more and encouraging you to always trust your gut.

Week 2: Nurturing Advocacy Confidence

The aim of this session is to break down attendees’ advocacy skills, then rebuild them so that facts and controlled emotions are used successfully.

Laura and Jodie share their experiences of advocating for their children – both good and bad and demonstrate how to use assertiveness skills effectively and remove emotive language.

They also share their “Top Tips” before, during and after transitions to ensure that all objectives are achieved.  

Week 3: Reasonable Adjustments

The pathway of SEN / EHCP’s / Reasonable adjustments and so forth can be a scary and bewildering place. But knowledge is POWER and this session aims to provide members with this power. 

Attendees will be given clear information and knowledge so they will be able to navigate these pathways armed with confidence. This will include basic law and children’s rights including ideas about what reasonable adjustments vs unreasonable adjustments are. We give examples of our own reasonable adjustments, how to ensure these adjustments are put in place and ideas on how to approach the professionals in your children’s lives to ensure that their needs are met. 

Members will also be equipped with ideas for “reasonable adjustments” versus “unreasonable adjustments”. A guest expert speaker – Karen Stepanova – SEN Consultant is arranged for this week who will give her very own presentations on the basics of SEN Law.

Week 4: Mental Health

In this session we look at how Imposter Syndrome can cause people to doubt their abilities.

The toll of advocating for children with additional needs can be detrimental to a parent or carer’s health. Our aim is to build up confidence and restore the mental health of parents or carers so that they have the inner strength to fight as hard as they can for their children.

This week focuses on changing negative thoughts to positive ones and helps restore the mental health of attendees. Jodie and Laura provide ‘Top Tips’ to staying mentally well during tricky times.  

Week 5: No-one can help me

What can I do? By week 5 we hope that all attendees will feel more confident, less stressed and have the skills and facts that they need to successfully advocate for their children. But we know that sometimes this is not enough.

The system can be fraught with challenges, and no matter how skilled you are, it can feel like your journey keeps being taken off track. In this session, an expert speaker will join to give fantastic advice on where to turn next when you feel you have exhausted all avenues. Practical advice regarding matters such as benefits, grants and additional sources of advice is also given, leaving the attendees feeling well equipped in their journey ahead.  

The Anxiety Nurture Programme

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The ADHD Nurture Programme

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The Autism Nurture Programme

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Guide Three: I'm Giving Up

Making sure that consistency is key, as our young people will not learn to trust us if we do not show them we are trustworthy. So making sure that when we start this process, we are committed to making it as successful as we possibly can.

Gaining trust, and keeping it is extremely important, however we all make mistakes, we will get triggered at some point, it is how we manage those mistakes that count. We are so used to being judged for our parenting choices, that throughout this session you be inspired to take back control of who you are, and give you the confidence to shut out the negative and leave more room for the positive.

Radical Guide Four: F*ck That Sh*t

Tuning out all the negative interference from around you will be crucial to enhancing your progression through this change, and this is something that will be difficult for a lot of families particularly when people are not yet ready to accept the RADICAL approach. Ditching the negative impacts on your parenting so that you can be free to be you. No shame. No judgment, just unapologetically you!

Join us whilst together we chant:   

F*ck That Sh*t

Week 3: Worrier to Warrior

In this final session, we will help you and those you support to find ways to reframe negative thoughts so that it is possible to “think better and feel better.”  We will also cover practical strategies to help you manage your anxious self, keep calm and turn you from a worrier, to a warrior, ready to battle everything that life throws at you.

Guide Five: RADICAL CONNECTION - Neuroparenting with Kristy Forbes & Jodie Isitt

Kristy and Jodie have worked together for a number of years and are completely aligned in their parenting, and in fact all round beliefs. Creating neuro-inclusive spaces, using neuro-affirmative approaches as standard. 

Week 1: Introduction to ASC

We will explore the many aspects of being autistic or having an autistic family member. Jodie will share her road to diagnosis for her three children and finally herself and her own diagnosis in 2020 at 35 years of age.  This first week will lay the foundations for the rest of the Five week programme. 

Week 2: Differences I May Experience

Focussing on the saying, “When you have met one autistic person you have met one autistic person” we will take a deeper dive into the way that autism effects everyone individually.  During this session we will look at sensory needs in more detail and provide some ideas to help keep autistic children more regulated.

Week 3: Advocating For My Autistic Child

Laura and Jodie feel that “small changes make a big difference” for autistic individuals – and during this session we will discuss helpful tips for parents and reasonable adjustments for schools and colleges. 

In this session you will also be able to ask us questions relevant to this topic and we will signpost you to other helpful organisations and sources of information related to Autism. 

Week 4: Sibling Support

There is no doubt that an autism diagnosis can affect the whole family.  In this fourth session we will explore the impact autism can have on families and siblings.

We will discuss lots of helpful approaches to help you support your whole family and explore the positive aspects of an autism diagnosis.  We will also discuss how to support siblings of autistic individuals using empathy and understanding whilst also covering the importance of looking after your own mental health as parents.

Week 5: The Autistic Experience

Chloe, Jodie and Laura will discuss the medical model of autism and some of the theories of autism which are now proven to be out-dated and detrimental to autistic individuals.

Chloe will talk using her personal insight as an autistic adult, will discuss effective ways to support the mental well-being of autistic individuals and answer questions from attendees.

Week 2: Nurturing Anxious Minds

Whilst it is true that many children suffer from anxiety at any one time, those who are neurodivergent (ie are autistic, with or without PDA; have ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia etc) are more likely to have anxiety to varying degrees as part of their experience.  In this session, the anxiety experienced by any child is approached with understanding and acceptance and is jam-packed with practical ways to support children in a positive and nurturing way.

Week 1: Understanding Your Anxious Self

In this first session, Laura and Jodie gently introduce what anxiety can look and feel like with a real and tangible understanding that all participants come from a variety of experiences. Together, we will look at the impact anxiety can have on how we behave and interact with different people as well as the internal struggles it can bring.  By offering an invitation to reflect on and recognise our own anxiety and the negative internal voices that drive it, they begin to consider ways to quieten those voices and fears both for ourselves and those we wish to support. 

The RADICAL Parenting Programme

Many neurodivergent families are living by the textbook and this puts them at a disadvantage of struggling to live using outdated and debunked methods of parenting.

This programme encourages learners to reflect on what could have been better during their own childhood, to begin reframing that into their own unique, instinctive parenting style, allowing autonomy, creating trust, which in turn will allow trusting bonds to flourish leading to the three most important aspects of development, growth and independence, Autonomy, Authenticity and Consent.