Neurodiversity in Tech and Why We Should Care About It, with Parul Singh

Parul Singh (00:00):
A story from a friend, which I did write about in my newsletter. She was in the workplace and somebody who was in a senior leadership position kept telling her like, "Oh, you're ADHD? It's a superpower. It's a superpower." But then when she started to encounter the challenges conveniently associated with having ADHD, it was like the complete opposite reaction.

Alex Booker (00:21):
That was Parul Singh, a tech careers and neurodiversity consultant who used to work as a tech recruiter. In a previous episode, we learned a ton from Parul about what recruiters look for in developers and how you can stand out to increase your prospects. I wanted to speak with Parul again because she's an empathetic expert on neurodiversity in tech whose perspective is rooted in her own lived experience with ADHD and autism. Neurodiversity in tech is fairly prominent. A lot of developers are neurodivergent.

In this episode, you'll learn more about what exactly that means so that we can understand and work together more effectively. Even more than that, hearing someone like Parul talk about their experience and so eloquently describe their feelings and the way they tick might help you understand yourself a little bit better and become more effective in whatever you want to do. If you've listened to the previous episode of Parul, you will know that she is a super inspiring, eloquent, and motivating speaker. So I know you're going to enjoy this episode and you're going to take a lot of insights away from it as well. I'm your host, Alex Booker. You are listening to the Scrimba podcast. Parul, welcome to the show. I know since last time you were on, there's been a few changes. What's new in your world?

Parul Singh (01:38):
Feels like only a few weeks have passed, but a lot has changed since the last time you had me on and I actually quit my job about less than two months ago, and I am just about to, at time of recordings, launch my own business focused on neurodiversity consultancy and training in the workplace. So I have been an employee for almost the last six years, so it's really scary, but a really exciting new venture and I'm just so excited to get started because it really feels like the right move for me and I think it allows me to really follow my passion for new diversity advocacy in the workplace.

Alex Booker (02:22):
In a past life, you're a recruiter and our previous episode was all about advice for new developers breaking into tech, and we've got some wonderful insights about how to stand out, navigate the job process, and we even spoke a little bit on salary and negotiation and things like that, one of my favorite episodes in recent times. And then towards the end we started talking a little bit about neurodiversity because I know it's a big part of your story and clearly now it's an area in which you're focusing further as you build a business around it. I was hoping we could learn a bit more about neurodiversity and I thought perhaps a good place to start would be with some definitions to help frame our conversation.

Parul Singh (03:00):
Yeah, definitions is always a really, really good place to start and there are actually so many in this area, so we are just going to focus on the key ones. So someone who is neurodivergent is someone who has a neurodivergent condition like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, Tourette's, and someone who's neurodivergent will see process and experience the world in a different way. The inverse of this is neurotypical and I do believe that there is no such thing as a typical brain, but for argument's sake, neurotypical just means somebody who doesn't have a neurodivergent condition. And then the other main one is neurodiversity. If you don't know a lot about this, the way that I like to explain it is kind of like biodiversity. So if you are looking at an ecosystem and you're describing it as biodiversity, that means that there are so many different types of species within that. So neurodiversity is the infinite variations of the human brain.

Alex Booker (04:00):
The naming is almost a bit ... it's kind of unfortunate. You could say that typical sounds like a good thing and divergent sounds like a bad thing, but I like the way you frame it. It's not necessarily good or bad, it's just different.

Parul Singh (04:13):
The difficult thing as well with that is a lot of the conditions have disorder and it's very kind of like the medical model, it's very sort of deficit focused. So it's like you are missing this thing, you can't do this thing and I really like the way that you explained it. It's a different way of thinking and that's what makes them different to mental health conditions because mental health conditions, in fact, they are deficits of something. Like if you have clinical depression, you're missing the serotonin in your brain, for example.

They are very different and I think that's where some of the challenge actually comes from. The perception that it's a bad thing and I don't know how many people actually know this, but scientists have actually deduced that dyslexic people were critical for the survival and evolution of the human species. There is actually a theory of evolution called complimentary cognition. It basically boils down to the sum of our parts. So somebody with dyslexia, this is somebody without dyslexia or basically the sum of their parts, and you can use that for all of the conditions.

Alex Booker (05:23):
I feel like I have complicated feelings about it and it's literally what you said, this idea that typical suggests people think the same and they are the same. No two brains are alike, first of all, and if everybody's brain was alike, that probably isn't very conducive to evolution or a successful business or tech function, for example. I do think there's some education missing here around it's very vast, isn't it? And we talk about different types of conditions from ADHD to autism to dyslexia.

We look at certain individuals who identify or are diagnosed with these conditions and we could say that they are disabled, but then there are other people who thrive and function very well in a kind of professional environment, for example. I don't know, I guess there's a part here, which is something to do with scale. Maybe it's not so binary. Maybe these conditions take on different severities or different forms. I don't know if spectrum would be the right word or a range or something like that. Could you talk a little bit more about the range of severity to do with these conditions and people's perception of them versus what is really the case?

Parul Singh (06:29):
Yeah, I think stereotypes play a really, really big part in those. A lot of the diagnostic criteria is heavily biased. There's a distinct lack of research done on not even just women but even girls as well. A lot of it is done on young boys and then also ethnic minorities who are impacted differently. We have these stereotypes in our head and people who are neurodivergent are not immune to these as well, by the way.

Just because you have a condition doesn't mean that you don't still have ... And we call this internalized ableism, which is something that I never actually really understood was a thing. It's like, how could I be ableist? I'm disabled. Because of these sort of stereotypes. People think that you don't really struggle with things and like you said, it's so not binary. It can depend on the situation, it can depend on the environment, it can depend on the day, something which I think they're currently doing a little bit more research around it, but nobody checked how the menstrual cycle impacts the effect of ADHD medication in women.

So it can even depend on where you are in terms of your cycle. So I have really good days and I have really bad days. I have days where something impacts me where it just categorically wouldn't have actually happened another day and it's very fluid. For example, if you join a new job, you're probably going to be overcompensating as a neurodivergent person. You're probably going to be masking even if you've disclosed and you are telling people you don't really know how people are going to perceive you. So then you set this expectation in your colleagues and your teammates head of what, for example, being autistic means for you.

And then you feel like you have to keep that up and it's really difficult. Masking is so exhausting and I realize I've mentioned that a few times and maybe not sort of explained it. So if anybody listening who isn't familiar with masking, the way that I like to explain it is kind of like camouflage for animals like predators and prey. So prey will camouflage themselves as a survival tactic. So it's very, very similar. So masking is using coping mechanisms and camouflaging techniques to fit in basically. It's trying to suppress. You can never get rid of them, you can never hide them completely, but it's using enormous amounts of energy to suppress your traits. And that happens because of a fear of how you might be perceived.

Alex Booker (09:02):
Are autism and ADHD another neurodivergent conditions, are they categorized as disabilities?

Parul Singh (09:09):
Yeah, not every neurodivergent person will class themselves as being disabled. Again, that's sort of stereotype that disabilities are only physical disabilities. You have to be in a wheelchair or missing a limb. But despite some people not considering themselves to be disabled, they are very likely to meet the legal definition of disability, which in the UK, and I think there are equivalents, I think it's like the ADA in America, but in the UK, it's called the Equality Act 2010. And something else which people don't always know is that you are also given protection by association. So if you have a child that is disabled that requires additional medical care, something that might mean that you need more flexibility or you might get called out to pick up your child from school as a result of their disability or the condition you are protected from discrimination, victimization and harassment just as somebody with that condition would be.

Alex Booker (10:08):
The word disability is interesting because there's a subreddit dedicated to programming of ADHD with millions of visitors, and this is clearly a very important topic in our industry and we can talk about why that might be in a second. But nevertheless, when we use the word disability is interesting because some people call things like ADHD a superpower. One trait of ADHD, as I understand it, is that you could become hyper-focused and time blind, which imagine if you're on a coding task, someone could look with envy and say, "Wow, I wish I could be so focused."

Parul Singh (10:41):
I don't really like it. I think it's a lot of toxic positivity. Yes, on one hand, it is empowering trying to take something which society perceives as being a negative, but you know it brings some good things. It's really empowering to reclaim that for yourself. And I think it's something which is potentially really powerful to use in younger children after being diagnosed. I think that's very important to them. But I think the other side of it is how this can be misconstrued and how it can be actually weaponized. So people who are neurodivergent come with a set of strengths and they can be different strengths to potentially the neurotypical people in their team, but they will always, always come coupled with their own set of challenges. You cannot get one without the other. So when people will only accept the strengths but refuse to accept and accommodate the challenges, that is where the problems happen.

So that's why personally, I don't like the use of superpower and a story from a friend, which I did write about in my newsletter, which you can link if anybody wants to read it, but she was in the [inaudible 00:11:53] and somebody who was in a senior leadership position kept telling her like, "Oh, you're ADHD. It's a superpower. It's a superpower." And that was all sunshines and daisies, whatever the saying goes. But then when she started to encounter the challenges conveniently associated with having ADHD, it was the complete opposite reaction.

And then that's why when we're talking about neurodiversity and the way it plays and why is it important and everything, I'll admit I used to talk a lot about the business sense behind it. We build better products and all these sorts of things, but there is that danger really, and I just think we deserve to exist. We deserve to have the same level of mental wellbeing as everybody else. We deserve the same opportunities and we deserve to be able to thrive. Putting disabled people on the pedestal, I don't think it helps anybody.

Alex Booker (12:43):
What are some of the challenges and the downsides that an employer would have to understand in order to also benefit from things like the creativity, the amazing creativity that can come when you see the world in a different way?

Parul Singh (12:54):
Every neurodivergent person is different, but I think it's even just the perception of what a downside is actually. Is this thing really a bad thing? One of the examples being autistic is I need clarity and I need to know the why. Example, joined the team, manager asked to do something, and I'm trying to get the clarity around it instead of just diving in and also need to understand the why because that's when it clicks in my head and then I can go full throttle. I can hyper focus on all those sorts of things. That can be perceived as questioning somebody's authority, but then I think that is just more of a problem to do with how somebody perceives things. Why are you seeing it as questioning authority? This is a very good thing. It's been shown, and I know just from friends like personal experiences, having autistic people in your team who will question the why, you will see the most innovation. Reframing what you think a downside really is, I think is very important for an individual on their journey, but also a business on the journey.

Alex Booker (14:01):
How many people working in tech are neurodivergent?

Parul Singh (14:04):
The most recent large-ish scale study was by BIMA, which I think said about like 28%, but this was almost five years ago. And we know that a lot has changed since then and there's a lot more awareness, women getting diagnosed like myself a little bit later in life. Currently, the figure for the general population is somewhere between 15 to 20%. I think the percentage in tech personally is closer to 35 to 40, and a lot of people would potentially disagree from what you say. If we say it's almost like double, that's really interesting. Do you have any theories around why that might be, Alex?

Alex Booker (14:48):
Yeah, I do actually. Neurodivergent people can be very creative. Coding and tech can be quite a creative field. I think there is something about even, let's just use the example you gave and it's only one example, wanting to know why. Perhaps even more than that, tech is a bit more forward-thinking and accepting and accommodating. As long as your outcome is good, as long as you get the work done, as long as you're successful, it doesn't really matter how you got that.

Parul Singh (15:12):
Yeah. Do you know what? You took the words out of my mouth. That is exactly what I would say. I think sometimes the nature of the work, we still have work to do. There will probably always be work to do, but when you look at different industries ... See, I forget sometimes I admit sometimes I'm in my little echo chamber because I work in tech, I've worked in tech my entire career, all of my friends work in tech. But every now and then you'd talk to somebody outside of the industry and you're like, "Wow." In comparison, we are very progressive. I'm really active in the tech community.

I go into community ops and while sort of networks and it really fills me with so much hope and I talk to people and they will, by their owner's mission, say that, "I don't really know a lot about this and I'm ashamed to say, but we're just not doing anywhere anything around this. We are right at the beginning of our journey, but we really want to know where to start." And a lot of people are in that position. If somebody's mind is made up, it's made up. If they're like, "Okay, neurodivergent people are too difficult, I can't deal with that. It's too fast-paced. Not my circus, not my monkeys." But I think that's really not the case for a lot of companies here. I think people are genuinely so open-minded and just so willing to learn because the reality is that you've probably been working and managing a ton of divergent people. You just maybe didn't explicitly know it.

Alex Booker (16:34):
Can we talk a little bit about masking in this context? Because in many industries, and probably society, people expect you to behave a certain way, but asking everyone to behave the same way isn't really reflective of how people's brains work. Really, we're all a bit different. We have different experiences. So when you go into the workplace and people expect you to behave a certain way and you kind of adapt to that way of things and you don't really want to ... I think you said something like might be perceived as too fussy or too much hard work to work with someone neurodivergent, and it's all just coming together for me a little bit. It's like if you feel that way, of course, you're going to be very reluctant to show that to the outside world.

Parul Singh (17:16):
I think this is why it's really important to give a platform for people's personal stories. So that's why I do a lot of it on my platforms and my newsletter because sometimes people aren't comfortable talking about it, and that's why sometimes maybe you think that things are a little bit further ahead than potentially like they are. I'm going to give an example, which is specific to tech and software engineers. So I'm sure you're familiar with paired programming and mobbing and all those sorts of things. And probably a lot of the listeners are with this being the Scrimba podcast, but there are some companies, there's a few which actually just do all of their coding in a pairing or a mobbing sort of environment. Personally, that is my idea of hell.

Alex Booker (17:57):

Parul Singh (17:57):
But some people really like it. I think that's absolutely okay. The company is defined how they work, and as long as you're not hiding it from people until the moment they join and they're like, "Basically you're going to be in a pairing sessions with five, seven hours a day." You're like, "Oh, good God, I've made a mistake here." That's fine. That's absolutely your prerogative. But there might be people who might not really know that the neuro divergent. An example where my friends was asking for a little bit of advice, "How do you collaborate with people whose thought process isn't as quick as yours? How should the discussion be handled?"

And saying that she works with some people who have been diagnosed or displaying neurodivergent traits and she said she could find it quite difficult keeping up with them when they're working together. And they were doing a TDD exercise in a mob and there's a guy who dominated the conversation and coding because he was just really excited to do it, which was great because his brain's obviously ... everything's fallen together and it's like, "Oh, I need to get it out." But there's other people in that situation. And she said they had a conversation about it.

And he was really, really apologetic. She said, "There wasn't a situation where I could just say, 'I just need you to pause for a second.'" Because he was maybe just so caught up in it. And you know what? Hearing that I could not relate more. I just get lost in the sauce. Sometimes I just go a little bit too quick, especially if it's something which is maybe a special interest of mine or when things start to fall into place and I get really, really excited and I'll admit, I do forget that I maybe need to slow down for other people a little bit. Those situations can be very difficult for different neuro types and different ways of communicating, even just introverts and extroverts. So you can nip that in the bud or even prevent it from happening by laying out the rules of engagement before you start these sorts of sessions.

So this is great for workshops, it's great for pairing sessions, it's great for mobbing sessions, presentations, like you name it. So if you would've said that, "Okay, this is loosely the way that we're probably going to operate here, just so you know, we might have to stop you if you are dominating a little bit, we want to make it fair." Because that makes it less awkward for other people because the fact that this guy was apologizing profusely, my heart breaks for him because I know how it feels. I know how it's like, "Oh my God, I've done this, I've got lost in the sauce." And at the end of the day, nobody does it intentionally. Nobody wants to dominate, nobody wants to prevent other people from contributing. But I think that situation probably happens quite a lot and I think the solution can be quite simple or maybe a little bit like less formal.

If you do notice something is maybe sort of bringing it up. So one thing which I find very difficult, which I later realize is part of autism is not being able to read cues. So not knowing when it's sort of my turn to talk or reading somebody's facial expression that, "Oh, you're going on a little bit or get to the point or let somebody else speak," I will not pick that up a lot of the time, which just makes it so difficult because I think it kind of creates the sense of resentment almost. And because that conversation's not really happening out in the open, I think that just kind of accumulates. And this is why people who are neurodivergent working in teams who kind of lack the understanding, they will really, really struggle because it creates this sense of separation. It's sort of falls in them. And have you heard of the double empathy problem?

What it boils down to is that when people have different experiences of the world and they interact with one another, they will struggle to empathize. I think we have to accept that there's going to be a gap there. Somebody who is autistic interacting with somebody who is holistic, which is the term without autism, I'm not always going to see eye to eye a lot of the time. I think sometimes we just unfortunately have to accept that. And the more that we try to understand that in the workplace, I think that's when you have neurodiverse teams which will work together more cohesively. And I think part of this is the role of technical leaders.

Alex Booker (22:09):
I agree. What I struggle with is the kind of reality of the workplace sometimes. I understand people with ADHD can sometimes put off really hard tasks if they're not motivated to do it, compared to if they find it extremely interesting, they might get consumed by it. Another trait of ADHD might be that you are inattentive to detail, or it could be that you struggle to manage priorities and tasks and timelines. The advantage there is you can get so enthusiastic about it that you produce something that's incredibly productive. But what I think is not accepted is that managers want estimations. Companies want deadlines, they want predictability sometimes. And I feel that tension there and I think it's kind of frustrating because that is kind of the way of the world a little bit as it is today.

Parul Singh (22:55):
I think it's just kind of like, unfortunately, it's just modern corporate culture. I was in a breakfast round table a couple of weeks ago when we were talking about something sort of unrelated and a phrase which kept coming up was delivery pressure. And I said, "Okay, I understand if there is actually something which has to be delivered or very bad thing happens or client sort of deadlines. But aside from that, how much of this urgency is actually real?" We don't work in A&E and nobody really questions it, and then that's what your neurodivergent people don't necessarily understand. So if there's a deadline, but why is that the deadline? If there's no reason behind it, you might potentially not take it seriously? If there is a justification, then you need to tell that person. And it's kind of looking at the bigger picture a little bit.

And yes, there is a disconnect between corporate metrics like ROI and deadlines and milestones and tickets and all of those sorts of things. And having your divergent person actually views doing things in the workplace. It's really interesting. I think it's something that I would love to look into a little bit more from a technical perspective. So if there's divergent people listening to this and you're like, "Oh, do you know what? Yeah, I've got an experience with that, I'd love to hear about it."

At the end of the day, productivity is very subjective. You can't always measure your productivity by the number of tickets that you've completed by the end of the day, by the end of the week. I've also become really obsessed with productivity sometimes to my detriment. And it's also how I overcompensated being undiagnosed ADHD. Because I created all these systems and I lean so heavily on them, like my productivity systems and my strategies. So when they weren't there, then that's sort of where I really struggled. I think I need to be a little bit more in control, which is why I think the self-employment side probably works really well for me. There's an overwhelming number of people who are neurodivergent who do end up going self-employed for this exact reason.

Alex Booker (24:56):
We're talking about neurodiversity in the workplace, and I don't know if you agree, but I feel like in the last few years, yeah, since the pandemic, for some reason, that feels like a good timeline to me, people have been talking about this a lot more and they've been a lot more considered with the language. And people often have these lived experiences and they feel bad for them. They feel bad for not fitting in and fitting in not in a social sense necessarily, but more in the expectations of them do not align with them being natural with themselves. And it's leading a lot of people to start to wonder, "Oh, maybe I do have ADHD or maybe I am neurodivergent." I know that you had diagnosed a little bit later in life, I think you mentioned last time you were 25. Tell me a bit about how your diagnosis came about and was it a surprise to you?

Parul Singh (25:41):
I mean, it got to a point where it wasn't really a surprise because everything just sort of started adding up. So I was diagnosed almost exactly three years ago, and that was because I had hit such a wall and just nothing that I was trying to do to cope with daily life was working. There is evidence from my school reports with clear evidence of me having ADHD. I had gone to a virtual tech meetup actually in the middle of COVID and there were technical talks and there's one about neurodiversity and there's a lady called Rachel Morgan Trimmer who I owe a lot to, and she was talking about it and I was like, "Oh, the penny just dropped." I put a request into my GP the next morning and fortunately within a few months I had my diagnosis. It just wasn't really like a surprise. But I do carry a lot of resentment because it was clearly there throughout school.

I was misdiagnosed with depression. I was on antidepressants, so I was told that I had anxiety, and I think I still do have the anxiety, but that's more of as a result of being neurodivergent in a neurotypical society actually. There are three main reasons why I think my diagnosis was missed. I'm actually also autistic. Though autism and ADHD categorically don't cancel each other out. They can mask each other very, very well because also, ironically, some of my special interests as an autistic person are productivity and systems and efficiency and all those sorts of things and organization. So people look at me and be like, "How on earth are you ADHD?" Do you want to see my notion? It's just like heaven. And I'm also really fascinated by psychology. So when people look at me in social interactions, all of how I interact with people, especially in big group settings, is a learned behavior.

So I've learned that and I mimic it. A lot of it does not come naturally. The small talk, knowing what questions to ask people, how to be polite, how to be really that conversational. I've learned all of those. People don't think autistic people are sociable people. They can be. So that was one of them, sort of them masking each other. And then the other one is like I'm naturally really smart, found some more of my school reports actually because I was looking for autistic specific stuff, but there was one which said that at the age of, I think it was like five, my reading age was like nine. That's almost double. So I was reading far ahead and I always did really, really well in school, but I never used to revise, but never reaching sort of my potential. People think that being neurodivergent means that you are not smart, which is categorically not true.

Alex Booker (28:11):
That's so wild to me.

Parul Singh (28:13):
It's crazy. And then I think the final one, which I think is one of the biggest ones is, and this is a quote by I think a lady, she was on one of the news breakfast mornings, but she said that you are diagnosed based on how much you inconvenience other people. I'll say that again. You are diagnosed based on how much you inconvenience other people, not yourself. So when you are a woman or a girl and you internalize your symptoms, I've also got more inattentive ADHD as opposed to hyperactive. You internalize your symptoms and you mask them very well. You're not inconveniencing other people. You are having a detrimental impact on yourself, your mental wellbeing, your burnout, your sleep, every aspect of your life, but it's not inconveniencing anybody else, so nobody cares. It's a really, really common experience and I went through quite a long period actually after my diagnosis, which was just ... It's like the stages of grief to be honest.

I had denial I guess at myself for six months actually after my ADHD diagnosis. And then there's the anger and the resentment. There's what could have been, how would my life have been different? I would've been so much more confident as a child. I would've had so much more self-esteem. I wouldn't be carrying all of this baggage in the workplace and my relationships and my friendships. I think it's really normal to actually feel that way, and I think I've mostly moved past it, but I still carry a little bit of that and I think that's really important to call out when you are around people who are potentially late diagnosed. We're a little bit angry about the whole situation sometimes.

Alex Booker (29:42):
It's not really fair, is it?

Parul Singh (29:44):
No. It doesn't feel like it's fair, but I think part of my journey has been focusing on not trying to look back and just looking into the future. So since the diagnosis, I think my life has changed monumentally, and a huge part of that is the self-acceptance, the self-compassion. You just have to accept that you can't do things in the same way that other people can do them. Sometimes you may not be able to do certain things at all. They might always be hard. It doesn't matter how many strategies and coping mechanisms and coaching, you could have all of that in the world. You probably going to find that more difficult, but you're going to be great at all this stuff. But it's that self-acceptance, it's finding the balance, the medication part of it as well.

Alex Booker (30:26):
Is that the idea, you get diagnosed, now you get access to medication. Is that the point or?

Parul Singh (30:30):
Yeah, the perfect intersection for me anyway, and a lot of people is managing with medication and it doesn't make you neurotypical. It doesn't make it go away, and this is just ADHD by the way, because the other ones don't generally have medication.

Alex Booker (30:42):
It's not going to be like a magic pill, I don't think. I think you have to accompany it with some behavioral changes, but maybe you're not able to make those changes about the medicine.

Parul Singh (30:51):
I think it's like an individual's choice and they were studies that showed ADHD increases your chances of dementia or Alzheimer's, but managing ADHD with medication brings that chance of Alzheimer's and/or dementia down to normal. Autistic people, people with ADHD also unfortunately have shortened lifespans.

Alex Booker (31:13):
Maybe because they're so stressed all the time. You maintain the peace outside you, but your internal peace isn't there because you're always managing yourself.

Parul Singh (31:23):
You pour enormous amounts of energy into masking and appearing normal. Then you're people pleasing because you're used to being reprimanded as a child because of your condition, so you people please to overcompensate. People with ADHD are more likely to struggle with substance abuse like alcohol and drugs. They're more likely to die from accidental injury.

Alex Booker (31:48):
They're self-medicating almost in a way, isn't it? Yeah.

Parul Singh (31:48):
They're not symptoms, they're not traits, but there's strong correlations between these and I know that there's a ... I think he's psychotherapist or something, [inaudible 00:31:59]. I personally don't agree with his views on ADHD because he believes that it's purely caused by trauma, and I don't think that is actually true because it's a neurodevelopmental condition. A trauma can't change the brain, but there's significant overlap in neurodivergent people, autistic people and people with Tourette's who have trauma as a result of living in a society that is just not built for us, and this is also compounded if you are multiply marginalized.

So I'm a woman, I'm a woman of color. I'm a first generation immigrant, so growing up in this country, being younger with immigrant parents who have grown up in a different country in a mostly white school and area, it's enough to make somebody feel like an outsider, but then you throw all these other things in there as well and they think that that really compounds somebody's experience of being a neurodivergent person of color is going to be different to somebody who is not of an ethnic minority. I think intersectionality is really important when we actually talk about this because unfortunately, and people are not going to want to hear this, but a lot of when we talk about neurodiversity in the workplace, it's very white male centered and that's a problem because not everybody who is neurodivergent is a white male.

Alex Booker (33:16):
How do you not present that?

Parul Singh (33:18):
Personally, I think some of it's just not intentional. I think sometimes people just get comfortable with talking about what they know. It's like somebody who is white delivering anti-racism training. I have lived experience, but that's only my lived experience, so everything that I do and I talk about, I make sure that I'm using other people's lived experiences and bringing those to the table to really bring this to life, but some people, they might not know people of color who are neurodivergent. I've attracted a really diverse neurodivergent community around me, I think, just sort of naturally, which I think is really fortunate. If you don't have that, I think you have to look for it and it has to be intentional. It has to be for the right reasons because it's just so multifaceted and without doing that, you're basically excluding a large proportion of the community that you're supposed to be helping.

Alex Booker (34:10):
Yeah. Can I ask you a question about something you said earlier, which is around learning social skills basically? Does everybody have to do that? Nobody comes out of the womb socially adept necessarily.

Parul Singh (34:23):
Yeah. I think it's a good question, but let me ask you something. When you brush your teeth in the morning and the evening, do you think about that when you do it?

Alex Booker (34:30):
The habit?

Parul Singh (34:32):
Is it on the list? Is it a habit?

Alex Booker (34:34):
It's habitual.

Parul Singh (34:34):
You just do it without thinking? So I am 28 years old. It's still part of a list. It's a conscious every single day. It has to be somewhere. It has to be like a reminder, and you would think after brushing my teeth at least twice a day for 28 years, it would become habitual. It's not. Every single decision I make in a day to drink water, to feed myself, to shower, to get dressed, to brush my teeth, the basic human necessities is a conscious thought, so things that are absolutely learned behaviors for everybody, but for some people that they are not always possible to be completely habitual. They might be people like me and you have to think about brushing your teeth. It's on my routine, on my app, and it's on the list, which sounds like crazy to some people.

How could you forget to brush your teeth? I'm like, "I will. I will, because there's multiple things that I have to do in that morning routine, that evening routine. If I don't have it there, I will literally forget something even if I've done it for every day for the past 10 years," which again, it does sound like crazy to some people, but I think that's actually what makes me really good at things. I really like routines, but I also have flexibility and adaptability within those.

I think I'm a very versatile person. I have been consistently told that I always manage to find the best and most efficient way of doing something because I don't really like inefficiencies and I can spot them very easily and who doesn't really want that in a team because when I see one way of doing things, the versatile aspect of my brain is like, "Oh, well, maybe I do it a little bit that way." So yes, I might have to remind myself to brush my teeth in the morning and it's like twice a day. Come on. That's quite a lot, isn't it? I've got an electric toothbrush, which also tells me that it's been two minutes, which makes it a lot easier.

Alex Booker (36:23):
You know what strikes me about you, Parul, is that you're talking about this unique challenge, brushing your teeth, and yet you have the most brilliantly white smile I've ever seen, so it's a good example maybe of the challenge with the benefit.

Parul Singh (36:41):
I have to be really honest. I do whiten my teeth, so that might be a little bit why.

Alex Booker (36:45):
I respect your dedication to transparency to the very end.

Parul Singh (36:49):
Thank you so much. Well, I think that's really, really important, and I did have braces while I was younger, so swings and roundabouts. Just relating back to what you're saying, I think it's not invalidating it actually. Because I think that's a part of growing up and that's learning how to do things in the workplace and how things operate, but for some people, it'll just click like that. That's something that I found quite difficult. I know that other people found quite difficult is the unspoken and unwritten rules in the workplace.

Alex Booker (37:22):
I have a follow-up question there, and it's a little bit to do with the self-diagnosis side of this as well. Unfortunately, you won't have time to get into self-diagnosis and what that means to your rights and stuff, but that is a very fascinating topic. It's just the kind of theme here really, which is that as we develop our vocabulary for things like ADHD and as we understand more of the attributes both to sympathize or better empathize with people, we also recognize some of those things in ourselves. What do you think about people, they hear something and they're identifying with ADHD, and maybe it's a good thing because it helps people go down that path of diagnosis. Maybe it's also a bad thing because it can cheapen in quotes, the kind of real experience that some people go through every day.

Parul Singh (38:02):
Yeah, I think that's a really, really good point and something to I think definitely call attention to because yes, people without ADHD will show ADHD traits. That doesn't mean that you have it. Same as dyslexia. Sometimes I maybe get a little bit lost on the page or I jumble up my words when I'm reading out loud. I categorically know that I'm not dyslexic. It's the same as saying that, "Oh, my arm hurts sometimes, but it's not broken though." To be diagnosed, you have to meet a certain threshold for all of the conditions in different areas. I can't remember. There's specific numbers, but it's very difficult because you do a form, but then you go into your assessment and I remember looking back at it, so obviously, it's very holistic. I look back at it and I thought, "I filled this in from me masking perspective."

I'm like, "This is much worse than it actually is." I obviously, I definitely hit the thresholds, but I was like a fascinating, yes, people do show the traits sometimes, but all I will say is if there is an overwhelming amount of evidence which points towards having a neurodivergent condition, it's worth exploring. It's a self-diagnosis like [inaudible 00:39:18]. If you are in the UK, you will know that the wait list for any specialist in NHS is horrific, but particularly bad for neurodivergent conditions and in some areas ADHD is like five plus years and a private diagnosis is not accessible to everybody, and then you actually have to pay for private medication until you are titrated, which is basically code word for stable on medication. Then maybe your GP will accept a shared care agreement. Only at that point you can get NHS prescriptions, but they might still reject it.

There'll be thousands and thousands of pounds worth off, which not everybody can actually afford. I have a medical ADHD diagnosis. I'm self-diagnosed autistic because I realized that about six months ago, I gaslit myself for a year and I'm waiting for my assessment and I'm very comfortable saying I'm self-diagnosed. I know there's people who are going to hear that and they're going to roll their eyes. They're going to be like, "Oh, you're spending too much time on the TikTok and everybody is self-diagnosed and everybody wants to be autistic." I'm like, do you know what? With all due respect, I don't really care at this point because I know myself and I've done enough. I'm starting my own business. I don't have money to throw around on a private diagnosis. A lot of people don't. What that self-diagnosis of autism has meant for me is that same sort of self-acceptance, but it's really strange is that weight lifted off my shoulders for self-acceptance and self-compassion feels greater after the autism thing as opposed to the ADHD thing.

I'm not really sure what it is. From my personal perspective is my autism has been more stereotyped and more misconceived, and it's actually really exhausting to mask it. It's a lot of it is less socially acceptable perhaps, let's say, and I've been very comfortable unmasking and I can't do that without the self-diagnosis. Yes, I will get that diagnosis eventually and it'll be a piece of paper, but it doesn't change it. I was always autistic and I always will be, and I really encourage people to change their perceptions on, you still have legal perception in the workplace if you are self-diagnosed. You still have access to a government grant, which is called Access to Work, which we won't have time to go into, but I will link that. You can still get that grant with being even the government know people can't actually get a self-diagnosis.

Alex Booker (41:34):
I was going to offer, not a counter point of view, but I resonate with a lot of traits of ADHD, and one thing I understand about a diagnosis as well is that sometimes they'll interview someone who knows you or they'll look at your childhood like reports and stuff like that, but I don't want to know. I don't want an official, even if that was the case, I don't want, because I think a lot of my success has happened because of those things, not in spite of them, if that makes sense.

Parul Singh (42:02):
No, I think that's really good. I think it's always really good to hear the other perspective of it. We're two different people. We have different experiences. It's been really potentially really, really important for me, but maybe recognizing that the reasons behind that might be because it impacts us in different ways. And this is not about you or invalidating your experience at all, but we know that women of color in the workplace are held to higher standards. You have to be polite, you have to be forthcoming, you have to be agreeable, you have to be all of these things because if you're not, then the outcomes are quite detrimental. Being held back from promotions, not getting pay reviews, poor performance reviews, bias feedback.

Alex Booker (42:48):
Fantastic point.

Parul Singh (42:49):
There's so much research around this that actually shows, and I'm not saying that you haven't experienced that and that you probably have, who hasn't, but the repercussions of not being diagnosed and not disclosing for people from minority groups is maybe a little bit different. And maybe that's why for some people it might be more important to pursue a diagnosis, but I completely respect you for not wanting to do it as well. I think that's so important and I think it's really nice that you know what you want and nobody else should be able to tell you otherwise.

Alex Booker (43:29):
Yeah. I love that. Parul, we're almost out time, unfortunately, but is there anything else you wanted to share before we go?

Parul Singh (43:33):
The thing that I wanted to share is that I'm really grateful for you for giving me this platform to have this conversation. I'm really grateful for everybody listening to this because you might not even be neurodivergent yourself, but you are being curious and I think asking the questions and sort the conversation, which sometimes people are a little bit scared about, it can make a monumental difference in people's lives, like people like me, so I really commend you for that, and thank you so much for having me back on today.

Alex Booker (44:08):
It was a pleasure. Thank you so much. I think the benefit of an episode like this is apart from understanding yourself a little better, maybe being a bit gentler with yourself, loving yourself a bit more, maybe pursuing a diagnosis if that's what you want to do, even if it doesn't relate to you at all, you're like, "I don't relate to any of this," but then maybe you get a bit more of an understanding of the people you work with or that you collaborate or interact with every day. I think the world's a little bit better if we understand each other and sympathize or empathize with each other, so yeah, really appreciate that.

Parul Singh (44:40):
Thank you so much, and thank you so much for everybody for listening, and if you do relate to anything that I've said or you have any questions, I know that you usually put the LinkedIn and everything in the description of the podcast site, please do feel free to reach out, and I'm always more than happy to chat.

Alex Booker (44:55):
Thank you so much.

Jan Arsenovic (44:57):
That was the Scrimba podcast, episode 152. Make sure to check out the show notes for the resources mentioned in this interview, as well as all the ways to connect with Parul. If you're enjoying our show, the best thing you can do to support us is to tell somebody about it. You can do it in person, in your favorite Discord community or on social media, and as long as your Twitter and LinkedIn posts contain the words Scrimba and podcast, we will find them, and you might get a shout-out right here on the show. The Scrimba podcast is hosted by Alex Booker and produced by me, Jan Arsenovic. Keep coding and we'll see you next time.

Neurodiversity in Tech and Why We Should Care About It, with Parul Singh
Broadcast by