Black History Month- Amplifying Black Neurodivergent Voices- Charlotte's Story
By Charlotte Marian Pearson
As a mixed-race individual, I've often felt like I didn't quite fit in anywhere. It's a peculiar feeling, like standing at a crossroads with a foot on each path, both equally unfamiliar. Society often posed the question: "Which side are you on?" It was as if I needed to pick between my racial identities. Yet, I remained committed in my understanding that my reality was beyond the boundaries of a single race. I was both, and in being both, I encountered unique hurdles that were neither Black nor White but rather a blend of experiences, I've faced the hurdles and joys of both worlds. But what I felt was a logical perspective was not always a popular one.
Growing up undiagnosed as autistic and ADHD, I found social settings to be stressful and awkward. I'd mask my true self, appearing confident even when I felt physically uncomfortable. I'd often be misunderstood, with others considering me argumentative, blunt and without a filter. I even collected nicknames like "ice queen", “stush” and “Steel face” because of how others saw me. It wasn't that I was trying to be harsh; I was navigating the social cues I couldn't quite grasp. I didn’t know any better.
In school, I struggled to focus, disliked conformity, and often felt like an outsider. Eventually, I stopped attending altogether, preferring to hide away at home. Surprisingly, despite skipping class and not revising, I still passed my exams and in all the top sets. It felt like I was coasting, never with a plan, no focus, simply winging it. And even after I left school and journeyed through adulthood, this was the theme for most of my life. Frustrated and overwhelmed but never really knowing why I just couldn’t cope like everyone else. Why just basic adulting took every bit of my energy just to keep my head above water, often going under before finding my feet and treading water again. This vicious cycle majorly impacted my mental and physical health. Leading to anxiety and depression that I’ve battled for many years and more recently diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and problems with my heart. Largely the result of the mental strain and stress. Which many don’t realise can really impact your physical health.
But everything changed when I had my son who was diagnosed as autistic at the age of 2. Advocating for him led to my own diagnosis, and later, my daughter's diagnosis. Advocating for my children, I am very aware of the unique challenges they face. Being neurodivergent is one piece of the puzzle, but when you add the complexities of navigating the world as black individuals, it becomes a layered experience. Despite the progress society has made, microaggressions, stigmas, cultural nuances, and unwarranted assumptions are still very real issues
It's not just how we wear our hair, dress, or speak; it's the music we listen to and the food we eat. The way we carry ourselves. - they all come under scrutiny by the court of public opinion. While I'm a gentle soul, I've been labelled intimidating due to my assertiveness. My son, gentle and towering, will likely encounter preconceived notions because of his stature. As for my daughter, she is a reflection of me in more ways than one, yet she has the advantage I never had growing up - an advocate in her corner.
Life's complex blend is shaped by the intersectionality of these factors. It's filled with hurdles, often overwhelming, as we try to find our place in a world that doesn't always understand or accommodate our unique combination of identities. Many cultures shy away from disclosing neurodivergence, believing it doesn't exist, or facing an immense amount of stigma and misconceptions. Misdiagnosis and lack of diagnosis remain significant issues. An additional layer to navigate.
Within our Nigerian culture, we often hear that "prayer can fix us" or dismissals with phrases like "we don't believe in all that stuff." These beliefs have posed challenges when advocating for my neurodivergent children. It's not that prayer or faith is the issue; rather, it's the need to bridge the gap between culture and the reality of neurodiversity. Neurodivergent conditions are not something that can be "fixed"; they are lifelong conditions that require understanding, accommodation, and acceptance. It's time for cultural beliefs to step into the current times and acknowledge the unique needs of neurodivergent individuals.
In the midst of all these challenges, the need to amplify Black neurodivergent voices becomes crystal clear. It's about understanding and acknowledging these unique struggles and triumphs. When we share our experiences, we not only find a sense of belonging but also raise awareness, dispel myths, and foster acceptance. The path isn't easy, but it's necessary, for in our stories, others may find their own strength and courage to embrace their neurodivergent identity while proudly carrying the banner of their culture. It's a complex journey, but through these narratives, we light the way for others to navigate the unique blend of obstacles they may face.
Keep up with Charlotte on Instagram @charlottemarianpearson