Valuing neurodiversity in light of the Australian election campaign

As per the old saying, prevention is better than cure. If someone is able to spot something in advance and “head off trouble at the pass” to quote the ol’ western movies, you’d think that would always be a valued quality. The ability of people such as myself who identify with the neuroprocessing trait of highly sensitive person (HSP) to see things in greater length, depth and breadth as I summarise it is a strength in myself that I prize. Sadly, it seems this Australian election campaign, along with other experiences in my life, shows a dysfunctional opposite.

Let’s back up a bit. Neuroprocessing refers in part to how the human brain processes information and that there are variations in how that happens. For example, some people have a tendency to want to process information by themselves (introversion) rather than bouncing off other people (extraversion). (We all have bits of both and therefore, to some degree, are all ambiverts). That’s a form of neuroprocessing.

The HSP trait refers to a human with a particularly high measure of sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) is a temperamental or personality trait involving "an increased sensitivity of the central nervous system and a deeper cognitive processing of physical, social and emotional stimuli."

While there is enough to write about the failings and shortcomings of the current Australian election campaign to fill a new internet, another sad part has been the subtle ridicule of neurodivergence and expectations of “neurotypicality.” I feel appalled by the implications that because a person can’t memorise a statistic and recite it in robot/parrot-like fashion somehow means they are not a leader.


Following the televised leader’s “debate” on 8 May 2022, Katherine Murphy of Guardian Australia wrote “Albanese’s brain processes far too slowly to be glib in 60-second slivers. Morrison is a glib grand master…” Regardless of any party-political leanings, this shows a bias towards one form of neuroprocessing. I wonder if people who do process things deeply are put off from leadership and management roles because of things like this.

For myself, I’ve at least been able to fight off these limiting ideas about leadership and neuroprocessing and aim to live an authentic life. In January 2020, when presenting a narrative comedy piece (One Pan Cooking) in Melbourne’s queer arts festival Midsumma, a week out I hit the panic button. What if I couldn’t remember everything? So, following advice from neurodivergent comedy friends,  I used a script – and made a line out of the issue too. “If I’m going to make the show neuro-friendly for guests I’ll make it friendly for me. It’ll probably upset the comedy purists [who demand memorising lines] ...seems I’ve been upsetting gay and lesbian purists for 25 years now…so what the heck?” Perhaps a well-known media organisation that promotes free talks online might need to take note of this idea of not having to memorise lines?

Sadly, I have faced blatant discrimination and bullying (being ostracised) over HSP in supposedly inclusive working environments and arrogant abusive managers made no effort to do reasonable adjustment (in breach of anti-discrimination laws) and modify their own destructive behaviours. I’ve been told I’m a “complainer” for seeing greater detail.  I’ve been told in a Tammy Faye Baker evangelist type of voice by someone I thought was a trusted friend that I had “a negative attitude and should be spreading messages of hope” because I offered a different perspective. It’s easy with hindsight to say “their loss;” it still caused damage at the time.

What actions can come out of this? Be more aware of different styles of neuroprocessing for starters and don’t assume “faster is better.” Give HSPs and others quiet space and time to work – most are self-starting and diligent and will meet deadlines – don’t badger e. g. send constant emails prior to an agreed deadline and micromanage them (I’m yet to meet anyone who enjoys being micromanaged for that matter).

When we really value diversity, everyone benefits in the end: employees, managers, economy, society and who knows…maybe even federal Parliament.

Reference: Pity Australia’s voters: awful leaders’ debate cursed by absurd format and incoherent hectoring. Katherine Murphy 8/5/2022 2340