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18 Apr 2024

Guest blog: We all need the right conditions to bloom

Guest blog: We all need the right conditions to bloom
Abbie Smith, Nursery Manager at Just Imagine Day Nursery, shares some valuable insights into what she has learned from working with neurodivergent team members.

Having been a Nursery Manager for 10 years, I have worked with many teams and individuals. When first starting as a manager, I was quite naive to the struggles people might face and especially how they present themselves or come across, often mistaking someone for not having a good attitude or being forgetful – thinking that it was a choice.

As the years have gone on and with more training under my belt, as well as more lived experience managing people, it became apparent that often people don’t recognise not only their own mental health but also potential learning difficulties and neurodivergence. Sadly, this is something not always picked up in school, and if the person lives in a family with other neurodivergent members, it can also be missed due to it being how a parent also presents.

I became interested in neurodivergence while working in my current position as Nursery Manager at Just Imagine Day Nursery in Colchester. A majority of my team are neurodivergent – some diagnosed, some not, and some currently going through diagnosis.

I was completing a supervision with a previous staff member and trying to put a plan together to help her reach her targets, as she was continually unable to do this. After a while, she came to me and said that she thought she had ADHD and Autism. I will admit I was shocked as I had no experience with this before and, like many people, associated it with hyperactive boys. I went home and researched both in females and how someone might present. Almost everything I read was describing this staff member. Not only this but it was describing other staff members too, and also myself!

Ever since then, to be able to get the best out of my team, I have had to tweak how I manage this setting and make sure I am supporting the team in a way that meets their needs. I know they will forget things; I know I may have to tell them things more than once and still chase them up; I know they can jump from one topic to another halfway through a conversation; I know a lot of them struggle with eye contact, struggle to stay focussed and have many other struggles over and above what I see.

However, I also know that they want to do well and always have the best intentions. They are creative, silly and fun. They think outside the box, create solutions to problems, think about things from different angles and are the most genuine, friendly, true to themselves team I have had the pleasure of managing.

It was recently Neurodiversity Celebration Week and I wanted to share a snippet of a situation that happened during this week. It started with a visit from our LA Education Partner, and on her walk round we spoke about communication friendly spaces. She suggested that a home corner doesn’t need to be a ‘corner’ and much more communication can be seen when it’s an ‘island’. Naturally I loved the idea and shared it with the team, but I did not expect what happened next. What I had thought was a lovely idea, with meaning and intent, turned into something that ended with me having to provide welfare support to two team members. There were disagreements, tears, fleeting eye contact, and changes in mood and body language for the rest of the day. 

I had not seen one of the team members act in this way before, and it would have been easy to say that she was being rude and disrespectful. However, I paused and took time to think about why she might be reacting like this. It dawned on me that it was a period of dysregulation, and she was distressed. So, I changed my approach and asked if she was okay. She replied: "It’s just so claustrophobic now, there’s just stuff everywhere and my head doesn’t feel clear." I asked her if she could label what this felt like, and she agreed that she was dysregulated, which I am so proud she recognised and allowed me to support her through.

I just wanted to share this because sometimes without tracking back the ‘why’, it would have been very easy for someone to think that she needed to be spoken to about her behaviour – when really, just like we would with children, she just needed support.



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