May 2022

Rosie’s story: creativity and neurodivergence make beautiful music together

Top class training in classical music. A diagnosis of dyscalculia, dyspraxia, and ADHD. Rosie’s brought all of this to her psychology practice – supporting neurodivergent children to thrive.

The LEGO Foundation

One term you might have heard more of lately is ‘neurodivergent’. It’s an umbrella term for a range of ways in which some people think differently – for example, if they have an autism spectrum disorder or ADHD.

In general, we’re getting better at celebrating the diversity of thinking and skills people bring to their lives and work. Education systems are also adapting to better include and support neurodivergent children. But there’s still a way to go to before we get to a level of understanding, awareness, and acceptance that translates into real inclusion for all.

At the LEGO Foundation, we’ve launched the Play for All accelerator to support organisations who are designing learning through play programmes for neurodivergent children. In order to do so, we work in partnership with consultants who offer lived experience, which helps us design the programme and mentor the organisations who apply for funding. One of our educational needs and disability consultants, Rosie, was diagnosed with dyscalculia, dyspraxia, and ADHD in her early 20s. We asked her about her experiences, and what we can do to unlock every child’s potential.

Rosie's story

“Rosie just does things differently, in her own way”

That’s what grown ups around me would say. At school, teachers noticed that I quickly ‘got’ subjects in class, but they couldn’t always see the evidence in my homework. I felt what I now call an ‘invisible screen’ around me. Other people couldn’t see it, but it was very clear to me! And so I approached tasks in my own time and with my own process, which sometimes meant it took longer to hit milestones.

Lessons with numbers were the toughest - it was like looking at a blank page. As a teen, I struggled to keep track of deadlines and exam dates, so some teachers assumed I was disorganised. In fact, as an adult I’d discover I was working three times as hard as some of my peers, having learned to mask my neurodivergence to try and fit in.

Creativity helped me unlock my greatest strengths

As a little girl, I couldn’t resist a sparkly fairy princess. I loved all things magic – always telling stories, drawing costumes, or playing dress-up. So of course I signed up for plays and choir, pouring energy into my artistic passions. It helped develop my confidence, too.

When teachers recognised my artistic abilities, I felt more supported and understood. Once I found a way to express myself, I built resilience and better understood how to navigate challenges. Imagination and art were very helpful for emotional regulation and developing my sense of self-identity.

We all have superpowers. We just need the opportunity to express them

While I was studying at Guildhall School of Music and Drama I learned about my own neurodivergence. Suddenly a lot of things made more sense: my anxiety attacks and burnout came from having information overload, hyperfocus, and a need to be constantly busy.

I could finally be kinder to myself, and acknowledge my own strengths: a deeply attuned sense of empathy, and strong values of compassion and connection. That led me to what I do today. I’m working towards a doctorate in counselling psychology, researching neurodiversity, education, and mental health in young people.

Just as creativity helped me find my voice, I use music, plays, and songs to help children express emotions in counselling. There are many ways to communicate other than speech, so I might also bring in movement, dance, drawing, writing, and play.

We can bring out any child’s potential with empathy and informed support

The key to inclusion is putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, through empathy and relatability. If we acknowledge children’s strengths and we’re mindful of their individual processes, we can offer opportunities for them to develop autonomy and resilience. That’s essential for every child.

These days we also have widely available technology, like apps for meditation, emotional regulation, and wellbeing. Using them in the classroom can foster learning and life skills that children carry with them out of school.

Most of all, for both neurodivergent children and the adults supporting them, it’s fundamentally important that we trust in their abilities. We need to tell them: “other people may do it differently and there may be challenges - but know the value of your uniqueness.”

Accelerating big ideas, so they benefit neurodivergent children faster

At The LEGO Foundation, we want to open every possible door for children to play. That's why we launched the Play For All Accelerator. The Accelerator is giving out a total of USD$20 million in grants to up to 25 start-ups, NGOs and social enterprises to develop innovation that supports neurodivergent children.

More about the Accelerator