Published on: 18 March 2024

As part of Neurodiversity Celebration Week (18 – 24 March 2024), an annual awareness week that celebrates and challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences, Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has spoken with a research nurse at the Trust about his experience of being neurodiverse.

Around 15-20% of the UK population has a neurological difference. It is important to highlight the positives surrounding neurodiverse people and celebrate the unique strengths, talents and perspectives that come from thinking differently.

Graham Spencer, Community Psychiatric Nurse with the Early Interventions in Psychosis Team and Schwartz Round Clinical lead at Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, shares his experience of having Autism Spectrum Disorder and the impact this has had on him throughout the years.

Graham said: “I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 50. This came as no great surprise as it’s something I have suspected for many years and both of my children are autistic. Hearing those words was a huge relief in many ways and I’m very comfortable with it.

“I am also proud to work in an organisation that embraces bringing our whole selves to work and I’m very aware my approach might be a little unconventional at times. I do believe, though, that our differences can make us stronger as a team. My mind often feels chaotic, and I have suspected ADHD, which I await further assessment for.”

People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience core difficulties which are common across the spectrum. These may include:

  • Difficulty interpreting the behaviour and intentions of other people
  • Intense interests
  • A tendency for compulsive or repetitive behaviours
  • Finding relationships challenging
  • Finding changes to routines difficult
  • Having trouble describing emotions
  • Having difficulty with back-and-forth conversation.

Graham said: “Processing visual information can be difficult for me sometimes, but I don’t feel it adversely affects my work and I work in a very supportive team who know me well. I am hopeful that my communication skills have grown over the years through the work we do, but I have struggled with social communication in the past.

“Since diagnosis I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy as it’s a key skill for mental health care professionals. Responding to the emotions of others is an important part of our work and it’s often said that people with autism struggle with it. I’m not entirely sure, but I think for me it’s probably just a different way of experiencing things.”

Those with autism offer a unique perspective on the world, which can often provide valuable insights and ideas, making autistic people extremely helpful when contributing ideas within their area of interest.

Graham has always been interested in Schwartz Rounds – a group reflective forum on the emotional and social aspects of working in healthcare, which is held regularly for Trust colleagues to attend.

He said: “I find myself fascinated by strong emotions which probably explains why I felt so intensely drawn towards Schwartz Rounds. They’ve helped me better understand some of the things I struggle with, and I’ve grown as a person through being a part of them.” 

Lee Doyle, Interim Director of Operations at Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are very grateful to Graham for sharing his experiences, both with colleagues and the public, as part of our efforts to raise awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder and neurodiversity more generally. We would encourage people across Derby and Derbyshire to find out more and speak to those with lived experience of neurodiversity, so they feel more confident about giving their support and allyship – whether that’s at home, at work, or in other parts of everyday life.

“For those who believe they may be autistic, we hope that they will talk to a healthcare professional and explore this further. Although it can take some time to receive an assessment for Autism Spectrum Disorder, due to the large increase in demand for assessments in recent years, it is still important to come forward as there is a lot of information and support available, to help you and your loved ones.”   

For more information on neurodevelopmental services and how local people can receive support through the service, please visit the Derbyshire Healthcare website.