Class of 2024 achievements: Ella Thomson on neurodiversity

Graduate Equality Plus Student

Ella Thomson is a final year English student who’s due to graduate in July 2024. This year, Ella was awarded the Neurodiversity Champion award at the University’s Equality+ Awards.

We recently caught up with Ella about this incredible achievement and Ella’s plans for life beyond graduation.

What’s been your Uni highlight?

The best part of university has been working on my dissertation. Being able to research autism and sociolinguistics was incredibly interesting, but also rewarding in a sense that these are the first steps in the long path to equality.

I’ve always thought that the language surrounding neurodiversity is too clinical, and when researching these topics throughout my degree, I’ve found that this is a result of the sparsity of research on neurodiversity in society.

Of course, there are plenty of studies covering these topics, however, you seldom find them in humanities journals, therefore I enjoyed being able to bridge this gap.

What do you plan to do after graduation?

I’ll be applying for a MRes to study more about autism, sociology, and linguistics.

In ten years, I’m hoping to be working towards a PhD. Ultimately, I want to pursue academia and education. I want to dedicate my research towards creating a more accepting society.

You were awarded the Neurodiversity Champion award. Can you tell us more about this:

I was surprised when I won the award. In my second year I pitched an idea for a podcast that celebrates neurodiversity, allowing neurodiverse voices to share their experiences and offer advice to others within our community. While the podcast was never completed it’s rewarding to know this kind of work is acknowledged, and I’m hoping to branch into some form of content creation on neurodiversity in the next few years.

The actions I have taken in neurodiversity acceptance involved putting myself out there mostly. I’m proud to be autistic, and it’s not something I will shy away from. While I am in a privileged position with my condition, I hope my actions can inspire others to be unapologetically neurodiverse, or to support those they know have some conditions – whether that involves mental health or neurodiversity.

We’re at a time where more and more autistic women are speaking out, and I would like to be a part of the conversation.

In 10 years, what one thing do you hope will have changed in relation to equality, diversity and inclusion?

In ten years, the one thing I would hope to have changed would be the medical stigma around diagnosing girls. This is not just an autistic issue; every woman I know has faced some unfortunate misdiagnoses or denial of a diagnosis because of her gender, and it’s incredibly disheartening. I have faced this myself. It took two years for me to get diagnosed with autism because I’m a woman. Hearing “it could just be hormones”, or “it’s probably just anxiety” is incredibly insulting to be quite honest, but I am tenacious and I did keep trying.

I hope that in the future, no woman will have to fight for medical equality, and that we are taken seriously when we know we have something like autism.

Ella’s message to the Class of 2024:

I would like to wish everyone the best of luck with their futures, and to never stop pushing back against inequality. No matter how big or small something may seem, it’s important to fight injustice because it means so much for those who cannot speak out against their struggles.

Ella’s advice:

If I could tell a large group of people anything, it would be a Butthole Surfer’s lyric: ‘You never know how just how you look through other people’s eyes.’

Ultimately, I think it’s important to acknowledge that nobody can experience the exact same thing, whether that’s as simple as looking at a certain colour. We all experience things differently, so it’s extremely important that we approach everybody with a degree of empathy and understanding – especially when we know these people are vulnerable to something in life. This can be anything from systemic inequality to social exclusion, when somebody is part of a minority group, it’s important to try to understand their experiences.

What advice would you give your younger self?

In my first year of university, I was diagnosed with autism.

The only thing I could imagine telling myself during that time would be to not bring myself down over it. My diagnosis didn’t necessarily change who I was, but it helped me find myself.

I spent a lot of time ruminating on how being autistic would completely change my reality, getting stuck in the teenage trap of believing nobody would like me because of it, or that I’d fail in life because of it. It was late nights of staring at the ceiling thinking about how I could ignore my diagnosis and completely change who I was. I wish I could just go back and encourage myself to be more accepting of who I am.

Ella’s recommended resources:

  • Temple Grandin’s ‘The World Needs All Kinds of Minds’ TED Talk. It was the first video I had ever seen on autism acceptance, and it is an important opener in the neurodiverse discussion.
  • ​Lennard J. Davis’ ‘Enforcing Normalcy’, which is an essay discussing disability acceptance for both physical and mental conditions.
  • Stuart Murray’s ‘Autism’ is another book which was very inspiring for my research and advocacy for the neurodiverse movement.
  • I also have found some very interesting Instagram accounts that advocate for neurodiversity acceptance, such as neuro_divers, neuro.dinosaur and wellmeaningneurotypicals

Ella’s final words:

I would like to thank my partner, Jack Thompson. He has been the most important person in my life throughout university. He is the most supportive and inspiring person I’ve ever met, and I am incredibly proud to have him with me in my life.

I would also like to thank Dr. Alex Broadhead for being such an amazing academic advisor, dissertation supervisor and tutor throughout my time at university—especially in my final year. His support has been immeasurable and I think if it wasn’t for him, I would not know how valuable my research can be.