East Midlands marketer celebrates neurodiversity5 July 2022
Barry Aldridge welcomes a campaign to recognise and discuss neurodiversity. By his own admission, neurodiversity is new terminology for Barry and is something that he feels excited about as he believes that neurodivergent people should be celebrated.
Exclusively for the Business Gateway and in his own words, here Barry shares his experiences and thoughts about neurodiversity.
I have always been ‘different’. From an early school age, I could tell that my classmates considered me to be ‘different’ from them.
Whilst I did not feel isolated or left out from my surrounding social group, I knew that I was not quite the same as everyone else.
In many ways, I was accepted for being the way I was because I brought with me a sharp, zany sense of humour and an energetic buzz. My imaginative comedy routines, jokes and impressions would provide great amusement not just to my friends but also the teachers!
Then, came my drawing and writing ability. I could draw works of art and creative designs way beyond the capability of most adults, let alone my peers, and from a very young age was told I had fluent writing skills.
I did absorb myself in reading and very often felt far too shy to join in conversations even though I knew that I had an opinion and could add substantial value to the group discussion.
It felt confusing. I enjoyed being the centre of attention but was also enclosed and introverted. However, for all my differences I was very popular and liked.
When reflecting upon my school life, I don’t think that conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, or dyspraxia were at all recognised.
In adult life, I have often wondered if I have some form of autism but have never personally sought official verification as, over the years, I have found coping mechanisms and know which social situations I enjoy and which ones are best to avoid.
When the email came through from the Business Gateway wishing to raise awareness and understanding about neurodiversity, I felt inspired to undertake further research and compelled to contribute.
Born in 1977, it feels terrifying that in my lifetime electric shock treatment and behavioural punishment therapy has been widely used to help ‘cure’ autism.
Quite clearly, sociological perception and scientific understanding has come a long way since my childhood, and it is great to see that autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and a great many other conditions have become much more accepted.
As always, we still have a great deal more to learn, discover and achieve but this is a good place to start. Neurodiversity is a new subject for me and reading more about it has been incredibly exciting and positive.
What I have learned is that neurodiversity acknowledges two different ways of thinking which are neurotypical and neurodivergent. The former is often considered to be a more standardised way of thinking, brain processing and functioning. The latter is frequently referred to as being a way of thinking where brain functioning and processing deviates from what is largely thought to be typical.
With only 30-40% of the UK population being neurodivergent thinkers, it is easy to understand why we may encounter discrimination like other minority individuals and groups.
A major shift going forward could be for neurodivergent people to be better understood by authorities for being a protected characteristic under the Equality Act of 2010.
My sister, Dr Melanie Petch is a Senior Lecturer in Culture Studies for Leicester’s De Montfort University and when recently discussing with her how I was putting pen to paper for this piece, she told me how aware of neurodiversity academic institutions are. To my mind, this highlights a need for industrial, commercial, and educational establishments to align and collaborate.
I think neurodiversity should be entwined with wider diversity and in industry, should form part of the team building and recruitment process.
As we continue to understand more about the sociological and commercial benefits of diversity and inclusion, neurodiversity should be prominently positioned as a topic of major consideration and thought.
As a marketer and creative designer, I believe that neurodivergent thinkers are critical success factors in the commercial success of any company and should be intrinsic members of the wider team.
For me, I channel my neurodiverse way of thinking into a positive environment where I can come up with concepts and ideas that neurotypical thinkers may find difficult or even impossible to do.
Many may argue about the worth of this is but when you need new ideas and innovation to remain competitive and relevant within a rapidly changing world, neurodiverse thinkers are incredibly important and can add commercial advantages to organisations.
Without exploring new things, the human species is quite simply, stunted. Exploration after all, has helped humans to evolve.
I was not surprised to read that neurodivergent people are more likely to work in creative fields, science, computing, and academic research.
As a marketer, it seems obvious to me that part of my role should be to explore the ‘unknown’ and to ‘come back’ with ideas which may be somewhat outside the normal way of thinking but within them have golden opportunities for growth, innovation, progression, and expansion.
I imagine this blue-sky way of thinking being like explorers of times past setting off towards uncharted waters or space astronauts rocketing into new and exciting galaxies both with the objective of discovering new things which can be used to make things better.
When I think about my career, I have come under both heavy criticism and high praise. I should imagine this is an occupational hazard sometimes made worse by fear and a lack of understanding from neurotypical thinkers.
I have been referred to as a fake, charlatan and fraud who makes up ridiculous stories and comes up with commercially non-viable ideas which are in no way profitable or realistic!
On the flipside, a colleague once told me that I am special, unique and have a wonderful mind. In 2016, a friend and associate of mine wrote that ‘Barry brings those ideas to life which often get lost in a busy day-to-day working environment’.
My current colleagues appreciate my skills too:
“Barry’s neurodivergent way of thinking brings really creative ideas to life which not only promote our company and its products but humanises us as a team where Barry communicates our stories and successes to the world.
One great example is the recent #sharetocare campaign where Barry invited employees to raise awareness about charities and good causes which are important to them and provided a marketing platform and voice for us to raise awareness to an external audience.” (Chloe Smith – Purchasing Executive for Flotec Industrial Limited)
As well as holding commercial acumen, neurodiverse individuals possess the ability to make progressive and transformative change like the #sharetocare campaign Chloe mentioned.
In the working environment, I do believe that neurotypical and neurodiverse teams can work together incredibly well with the marketing team developing an innovation, Finance budget forecasting and the Board giving the go-ahead.
Importantly, Board members and Directors need to make bringing creative thinking into the organisation an important growth strategy. It is important to celebrate difference and employ people different from us and empower them to bring ideas to the table which may otherwise, be overlooked.
Currently scribing a fortnightly blog titled Open-Minded, I discuss frequently how blue-sky thinking and learning helps to eradicate fear.
Feel free to connect or follow me on LinkedIn to read my series of writings, where I now understand the major theme of the publications being the importance of neurodiversity and the valuable contribution that neurodiverse thinking delivers.