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Celebrating neurodivergence in sport

To mark Neurodiversity Celebration Week, the founder and director of Neurodiverse Sport explains why being inclusive, nurturing and celebrating our differences can benefit every level of competition.

22nd March 2024

by Caragh McMurtry
Founder and director, Neurodiverse Sport

Neurodiversity Celebration Week aims to bring about worldwide neurodiversity acceptance, equality and inclusion in schools and workplaces, and Neurodiverse Sport exists to bring this change into sport.

It is estimated that 15% of the UK population are neurodivergent, which is the term used to describe those whose neurology and behaviour traits sit further from what we as a society consider 'the norm'.

However, that number is likely to be much higher in reality due to historic lack of diagnoses, something which is also expected to be bigger in sport.

Validating all experiences

Neurodivergence is more prevalent than many realise so it's important that everyone is aware of it and the ways in which it can be harnessed.

Our vision is for neuro-inclusive practice to be the norm in all sport and at every level.

I’m a former Olympic rower and in 2022 I founded Neurodiverse Sport with my husband, elite gravel cyclist Mikey Mottram.

We were inspired to push for change in response to our mixed experiences of professional sport as neurodivergent people, as I have a diagnosis of autism and Mikey has dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD.

Neurodiverse Sport operates on multiple levels and we use our website and social media to share articles and videos to relay the breadth and diversity of neurodivergent experiences in sport.

Our vision is for neuro-inclusive practice to be the norm in all sport and at every level.

Whether athletes are focussed at grassroots-level sport or operating at the very top of their field, we believe all experiences are equally valid and all stories have the right to be told.

We also engage in public speaking and workshops and have collaborated with a wide range of organisations including sports teams, businesses outside of sport, schools and other educational settings.

Most recently we have worked with the UK Sports Institute, the Premier League Charitable Fund, and the England and Wales Cricket Board.

There are a series of beliefs and values at the heart of Neurodiverse Sport that guide all our actions.

We consider that every human being is neurodiverse - we all have distinct neurology and behaviour traits - but we also believe that current stereotypes regarding how these manifests are outdated.

Neurodivergence exists in intellectual impairment and para sport, but it also does in able-bodied players of mainstream sport.

Building a 'safe space' in sport for everybody

It is therefore everyone’s responsibility to be aware of it and to facilitate working with neurodivergent athletes.

We want to combat the misconceptions that surround neurodivergence, removing the stigma that is still rife in many sporting arenas.

As it stands, in many sporting situations to disclose that you are, for instance, autistic or that you have ADHD is still a big risk.

We use real neurodivergent sporting stories to raise awareness, to inspire and to educate about neurodivergence in the sector and we endeavour for our website, blogs and social media to be a safe space for neurodivergent sportspeople, athletes and supporters alike.

By providing this ‘safe space’ we can facilitate meaningful conversations about neurodiversity without the judgement and stigmatisation that too often is still prevalent in the media.

Volunteers are also key in creating that space and the work we do at Neurodiverse Sport.

Whether it's helping to organise big events, different kinds of research or all sort of communications - like this blog, for which Peter Barnes’ collaboration was key - we simply wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them.

We respect the variability of strengths and struggles that often come hand-in-hand with neurodivergence and we understand success as anything from winning medals and accolades, to simply participating and engaging with sport and physical activity.

Whatever a person's capacity at any given time, we believe that every person is deserving of the support they require to reach their full potential.

We appreciate that for some this support needs to be more considerable, whilst for others it is often as simple as understanding and acceptance of difference.

Therefore getting to know each individual and not over-relying on labels and stereotypes is vitally important.

We exist to challenge and change perception and we want to make society better for neurodivergent athletes and to harness their strengths rather than stigmatising them.

We believe that the inclusion of neurodivergence allows for the inclusion of alternative perspectives and with this innovation, the chance to change how we perform and ultimately the opportunity to take sports to the next level.

We want to show that neurodiversity is something to be celebrated and welcomed into sport; to be worked with rather than against, so we harness strengths instead of hindering them.

So we embrace instead of exclude.

Find out more

Check out their website for more details of what Neurodiverse Sport do and get in touch if you'd like to get involved with their mission.

Neurodiverse Sport

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