Chief Executive, Angie Balmer, reflects on the principles and inspirations that underpin and shape the Society for Neurodiversity.
The origins of the Society for Neurodiversity (S4Nd) grew out of my special interest in the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS). I was incredibly inspired by this group, founded in the 1970s, that created the Social Model of Disability, from the principles of which grew the Independent Living Movement (ILM).
Where we came from
The peer support approach was influenced by the human and civil rights movements in the 1960s and ’70s and by the ILM, which was driven by people with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities. UPIAS and the ILM saw disability as the result of physical, attitudinal and social barriers, rather than the consequences of deficits within individuals with impairments.
In the 1970s, peer support was informal and unstructured. People met in private homes, community centres, and libraries. Today, in S4Nd, we meet on-line and in the community in café’s and bars. Partly as times have changed, but also because we want to be part of society, not separated from it. While peer support has political roots, it is also an interpersonal process with the goal of promoting healing and growth in the context of community. And community is one of S4Nd’s guiding principles.
What we are
One thing I am committed to is that our organisation will always be led by neurodivergent peers and will have, as much as possible, a flat structure. There will always, of course, be challenges along the way. A lot of thought goes into the wording we use. We want to be clear about what S4Nd is and what it’s not. If everyone understands we are a peer support group, that means we can get on with building a community, making friends and helping one another. The issue of advice is a tricky one, S4Nd definitely does provide information and generalist advocacy (we are still building these services), but we don’t give advice. Citizens Advice, solicitors and other organisations, such as Step Change, give advice. S4Nd gives information to help people make their own mind up. If someone needs specific advice, such as help with housing, or debts they are signposted and supported to access to other, appropriate organisations.
The peer support S4Nd provides can include individual 1:1 support to help people through hard times. I like to call myself a professional best friend because of the support I’ve given to people over the years. And that’s how I see S4Nd too. That’s what peer support is, it’s lending a hand and being there when people need you. However, S4Nd is not a counselling or therapy service. What we can, and do, do is put people in touch with mental health services if they need them.
Where we are going
S4Nd was founded just over 12 months ago. The core team is small but incredibly dedicated to creating something special. I frequently remind myself that we are in the early stages of development and we are not going to get everything right. We evaluate everything we do and feedback is really important to us. Getting good feedback is really nice but what I find most helpful is feedback that tells us how to do things better. So lets get critical!
It’s also important for us all to get involved and become society members. The more members we have, the more we can do and create real change and improvement for us as a growing member-led organisation and as individuals.
We look forward to getting to know you.