Understanding neurodiversity amidst South Asian culture

In a rich tapestry of South Asian culture, diversity is celebrated through traditions, languages, and vibrant customs. But within this spectrum, the concept of neurodiversity remains a less explored territory. South Asian culture prides itself on unity, but it's time we broaden that unity to include everyone. Neuro Directory isn't just about connecting people; it's about fostering acceptance, understanding, and support.

Understanding neurodiversity amidst South Asian culture

Where to Start?
The motivation for writing about this topic…

It is daunting to share that one knows the lived experience of mental health issues, these are, if taken in isolation a challenge. To also identify as Neurodiverse, makes for a collective mixed bag which, it seems few can understand. To break through the barrier of stigma and taboo for being labelled just another brown person with disabilities.

Diversity matters when the needs of individuals count.

Despite all the efforts in the last decade in promoting and sharing nuanced ways of dealing with mental health, especially if you’re non white, has somewhat improved. There is now so much choice, no one really knows who the expert is. Does having brown skin and a course in counselling and mental health enable me to count amongst the field of experts? The therapeutic container; the psychological safety, trust, acceptance, and responsibility, ultimately is not only with the therapist but begins and end with the self, ‘me’.

Bringing the best foot forward, to bring professional expertise to holistically look at the whole self and personal background to truly acknowledge and understand the unique differences, allow the privilege of explicitly working with the diversities and validate them. Shackled with generational trauma and conditioned behaviours going back centuries; The lack of any autonomy, choice, unvoiced opinions all because I was a girl. The challenges were to plough through the various infrastructures of racism, matriarchy, patriarchy, misogyny and ableism.

I was bought up in a Northeast inner-city area, on the typical corner of a terraced street. We lived and worked in the corner shop, labelled as the ‘Paki’ shop, myself a young Pakistani girl struggling with identity and shackled with undiagnosed dyslexia. I spent most of the time at school writhing between racism, otherism and the uncharted water of uncertainty of how the future me would look.

At 16, knowing full well I had failed my GCSE’s, there was no choice to do further education. However, I wanted another chance. I begged for the opportunity to go to college, it was unheard of. I was to be the first female in the family to go to college, even amongst the boys, my brothers, only one went to college. I wanted to follow in his footsteps. Why I was I not allowed that same privilege, why was I denied my basic right to education, why was I being actively shamed and told I will bring dishonour.  Why, was it my fault I had moved cities; from Newcastle, to the London suburbs of Hampton, to Leicester, and back to London? The attitudes, the restraints, the control was overwhelming.

I took my G.C.S.E’s, desperate to get the desired grades to do A levels; upon first attempt I failed, at second attempt I passed English Language and Literature with 2 C’ s and a B in Sociology, on my third attempt I attained a few more GCSE’s; Local History, Politics, and Business Studies. My teachers were steering me towards a follow on vocational course, this was not what I wanted to do at all. Why should I have settled for this limiting pathway? I was labelled lazy; an average student, a day dreamer, lost, shy, insecure, and lacking confidence. I knew I wasn’t the brightest student; I didn’t know I was dyslexic. I didn’t know I was bad with numbers. I pleaded with the teachers for the chance to take A levels, I was good enough to sit with the A level students. It was a challenge but I attained 2 D’ s and and E in Law.

My first work experience was in Nationwide Building Society, my dyscalculia yet to be discovered. Not only were there Neuro-Divergent traits playing in the background, but there was also a pressure to be financially independent. I would work at lunch time in a local jewellery shop; TOKO jewellers. There was pressure to conform to dress and behave respectively like a ‘good Pakistani Muslim girl’. I was later to discover I was dyspraxic, which partnered with the traditional dress constraints made me feel all the more clumsy than was necessary.

My daydreaming; grit, and determination to be something different was my impetus. I set myself the challenge of university. What was there for the taking for boys was also fair game for me, I felt. Looking back it was the exit plan I yearned for, to explore the big world. I wanted my own journey of self discovery; to know myself and be able to beautifully unfold the true self within.

University life began for me still without access to the realisation or diagnosis for my dyslexia and associated traits. I could see I wasn’t academically gifted. Notwithstanding, The drive to be better than my peers kept me going. I was warned I would barely pass, told I would be lucky to achieve a 2:2. I observed others study; hold themselves together in class, and I mimicked the style and writing skills of others. I did manage the degree, I wrote my dissertation but recall it being marked with a RED pen throughout. I achieved a Third; embarrassed and shamed to share this, I archived to my soul the fact that I had a degree at all in Third World Studies and History. The overriding highlight of the degree was visiting Egypt, it was when my love for travelling began. In the background was my family’s expectations and culture, in the form of the insidious looming darkness of an arranged marriage.

I married and brought up my three boys, alongside caring for aging sick parents. Self-worth really does take a back seat in these traditional roles for women and I was no different in that sense. However, I was determined to become a counsellor, and to achieve what in my own mind was the unfulfilled dream of actually attaining a degree. I was warned my work was not up to standard, questioned as to whether I really thought I was capable of completing the degree. My emotional stability was brought into question. Counselling I was informed; was a white middle class profession, I was warned I would be wasting my own time and money. The negative reinforcement was plentiful; at college the message was clear; I was not good enough, and my academic work didn’t make sense. At home I was bombarded from many angles; told to stop waisting my time, look after my boys, they need their mother, and reminded that women of my age don’t suit the college setting. Inclusion was not to be found either in my own home or at college. Then there was driving; theory passed at attempt three, driving passed at ninth attempt.

With years of questioning my self worth, further exacerbated by work and at home. Despite the dreamer within, despite the determination and grit to succeed, something always brought me down. My skill set was hidden to me, ‘Johari’s window’ was the key, wanting to know the unknown. Trauma almost defined me, the unresolved trauma of not being good enough. The impact of learning that all these years of feeling inadequate could be explained by a diagnosis of dyslexia was an epiphany.

Neurodiversity: A taboo word, rarely discussed. Should I just admit defeat, admit I’m slow to learn, not gifted, just a ‘plain Jane’ ? Must I bow to the constraints of suppression; own my working class and migrant BAME status, shy away from being seen, validated, or celebrated? My Neurodiversity, now it has been revealed it proudly, begs for change. A change for the good, to bring awareness and acknowledge the newly enlightened whole person. My responsibility; my acceptance of being different, to deconstruct the stigma, and give myself permission to be different was invigorating. My lived experiences gave me an opportunity to thrive  and ‘be’. I could believe in the process, the change. My instinct begged for change; to change the powerlessness, to bring awareness to the whole person. I was able to fully embrace Neurodiversity; embrace and understand the difference, to drive and deliver changes for myself and others, to reflect, monitor, and adapt.

Now I see myself as a dynamic trailblazer, having paved the ways for the girls behind me in the family line to have an education, they did not need to fight for the right to study, to have a career or drive a car. My own journey continues; a qualified psychotherapist , a clinical supervisor, a mentor and a coach, a wife, a mother, a sister, and a traveller.


Written by: Tahirah Yasin, founder