In March this year, LinkedIn added “dyslexic thinking” to its skills options to add to profiles. LinkedIn has worked with the charity Made By Dyslexia whose research shows that people with dyslexia excel in creativity, problem solving and leadership.
This decision has sparked an important discussion about reframing neurodiversity as an asset rather than a hindrance, and is part of a growing movement to better support the neurodivergent community. Neurodiverse conditions include, but are not limited to, dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, and ADHD. According to a recent Deloitte analysis of several sources, approximately 10-20% of the world’s population suffers from neurodivergence.
With creativity being a core skill for many neurodivergent people, it’s no wonder fashion is at the forefront of the movement. A number of independent designers have spoken about their experience of neurodivergence and produced designs that reflect the lives of those who are not neurotypical.
Jake Posner is a dyslexic fashion designer whose label No One True Anything tries to share his way of seeing the world with his design. For example, the brand’s “DEB-UT” collection features embroidered words separated by hyphens to represent how Posner views words when reading and writing.
“I’ve always screamed about my dyslexia because I feel like it makes me unique,” Posner says. “I don’t want other people, especially younger people, to feel like they can’t talk about it and share it because they’re embarrassed or because they think it might stop them from find a job in the future. I truly believe that neurodivergence is a gift because it gives you this different way of thinking.
Leanne Maskell, ADHD consultant, coach, model and author of ADHD: An A to Z, agrees: “If you’re neurodivergent, your brain is wired differently than ‘most’ people, which is a good thing. ! You think outside the box and ask “why” instead of following orders. As an ADHD coach, I see extremely high levels of creativity in all of my clients because we have an interest-based nervous system. If something interests us, we can concentrate for hours and produce work of exceptional quality.
Posner says the tension between the perfection of the luxury fashion sphere and the imperfection of her dyslexia creates an interesting dynamic in her work. “Everything that comes from fashion, especially in the high-end luxury sector, is perfection. I want to be able to make sure my pieces are as perfect as possible, while striking a slightly imperfect balance. The materials and production would be 100% perfect, but the design might be a little obscure, maybe a little off, maybe a little off in order to create something people think about.
For Simon Whitehouse, founder of EBIT, fashion is a creative outlet to provoke dialogue and empathy around mental health, including neurodivergence. EBIT creates projects in the fields of music and the arts, but has just launched a collection of digital sneakers, with 10% of the profits going to the National Autistic Society.
The collection explores the similarity between changing narratives of neurological conditions and footwear. Whitehouse explains: “100 years ago if you had a mental health problem the label was ‘you’re crazy’, 20 years ago patients were labeled with an individual illness (schizophrenia or depression or autism) Fast forward to today, patients are placed on a spectrum where elements of conditions overlap.
“In a strange parallel, the same thing happened in fashion shoe design. 150 years ago, sneakers weren’t even invented. Twenty years ago, it was an industry of individual classification strict: one shoe, one boot, one heel, one sneaker. Now in modern footwear, everything is hybrid. We found that fascinating, and a beautiful and unusual parallel to draw to subtly raise awareness in the creative community.
Whitehouse’s passion for tackling this issue comes from her brother who suffers from schizophrenia. “He’s not ‘sick’. His brain just works in a very different and unique way. I have faith that one day science or medicine or philosophy will create the society he won’t be in. judged with the stigma and prejudice that it is now.
Doyenne, a female-led skate brand, has teamed up with Hart Club, an organization that champions neurodiversity in the arts, to create a collection with two of their artists. The collection includes t-shirts with messages such as a pun “Discomfort” and “You don’t see what I see”. A portion of the proceeds goes to The Hart School which provides free and accessible education to those who are typically excluded from these spaces.
A spokesperson for the Doyenne team says: “We are a brand dedicated to inclusivity and we felt that sometimes certain identities are overlooked in this discourse, including disabilities and neurodiversity, so it was important for us to make a project involving neurodivergent people, artists, and organizations. »
The brand is releasing a short film this summer featuring neurodivergent skaters recounting their experiences and wants to ensure that the clothing is accessible to as many people as possible. “In general, we would like the design to also consider neurodivergent bodies who might struggle with certain color, material and wearability choices. We are currently collecting stories and feedback to incorporate into our apparel,” the spokesperson said.
Maskell applauds the rise in collaborations with neurodivergent talent but warns brands to treat collaborators fairly. “It is obviously difficult for brands to present neurodivergent conditions because they are invisible, so working with neurodivergent talent is a great way to raise awareness and acceptance. However, it is important to say that neurodivergent talent should be compensated for their work.
Maskell was among a group of models and brands who took part in a UK parliamentary inquiry into body image. “We found that models with disabilities were paid less or expected to work for free by brands, compared to models without disabilities,” she says.
Indie brands like No One True Anything, EBIT and Doyenne are leading the way in fashion to better embrace neurodivergence. Big brands also have a role to play in the conversation, but they need to be careful how they approach it.
Doyenne’s spokesperson says, “We hope the conversation about neurodivergence continues, so that we can all have a more authentic understanding of it, leaving behind stereotypes, outdated theories and offensive media portrayals.” More importantly, we hope that neurodivergent voices will be part of these conversations rather than just topical study.