At the British Science Association (BSA), we believe that for science to remain innovative, it should be relevant, representative, and connected to society. However, many communities are still underrepresented in and underserved by science, not least those who are neurodivergent. 

Research from the ICAEW reveals that up to 20% of the UK population are neurodivergent, with learning difficulties and styles like dyslexia and dyspraxia that deviate from conventional ‘norms’. As better diagnostic processes and awareness of different learning styles improves, this percentage will continue to increase. 

While we don’t have specific data about how many people in STEM jobs or studying STEM subjects today are neurodivergent, they certainly exist. This includes some of the most brilliant scientists of our time such as Stephen Hawkins, Dame Sally Davies and Bill Gates.

For Neurodiversity Celebration Week (18 to 24 March), we’re speaking to André Skepple, Founder & CEO of FullSpektrum who, despite experiencing challenges in his education, has developed an app to identify neurodivergent learning styles in education. Andre also has a really successful career in science under his belt, and features in our Smashing Stereotypes campaign this year.

We sat down with him to dig deeper into his thoughts around neurodiversity within the STEM sector.

Check out his Smashing Stereotypes profile

First of all, can you tell us about your experience being neurodivergent while navigating a career as a scientist? 

From my own experiences of growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, neurodevelopmental conditions like dyslexia and dyspraxia weren't widely understood. Despite my passion for science, and aspirations to pursue a career in medicine, I encountered challenges during sixth form where my learning difficulties became apparent. 

Dyslexia hindered my performance in exams, revealing my struggles with reading and writing. I also struggled with dyspraxia which was also not well-recognised at the time.

Fortunately during school, I did receive support with learning, but I found myself retaking exams multiple times. Nonetheless, I never gave up and eventually pursued a degree in human biology at Kingston University in London.

Throughout my degree, I continued to find exams challenging but I excelled in practical assessments. Eventually, I enrolled in a fully funded master's program in medical microbiology, furthering my journey in science despite the obstacles I faced.

Do you think that recognising your neurodiversity influenced your approach to STEM?

Throughout my career I’ve learnt that, as a neurodivergent person, my approach to STEM differs from that of my neurotypical peers.

And so, identifying and understanding my strengths and weaknesses has been crucial for me to succeed. For instance, my strengths lie in analysing data, but I struggle with tasks requiring coordination, such as laboratory work. So, during my scientific career I learnt to delegate those tasks to someone else who does shine in that area. That way everyone in a team is working to their strengths to complete a project successfully.

How do you believe neurodiversity contributes to innovation and creativity in STEM? 

Neurodivergent scientists bring unique perspectives to STEM. In subjects like science, tech, engineering and maths, we need diverse perspectives to look at problems from different angles, think of new ways to create solutions and continue making progress.

Being curious and thinking outside the box is essential in STEM! It’s what helps us advance our learning. If we all thought in the same way, then I don’t think we would have as much progress as we do today.

Take for instance, renowned mathematician, Alan Turing, who struggled academically and socially during school. His ingenuity cracked the infamous ‘enigma’ code employed by the Germans, which significantly shortened World War II and saved countless lives as a result.

A more contemporary example would be Bill Gates who is one of the most famous men in the world, suffering from ADHD. Without his visionary thinking, we wouldn’t have user-friendly computers and laptops that are so integral to modern life today.

Why do you think Neurodiversity Celebration Week is important, specifically in STEM? 

Neurodiversity Celebration Week is really important because it affords us the time, and gives us the platform, to help us understand, appreciate and acknowledge the unique strengths that neurodivergent people bring to science.

I think STEM is becoming more inclusive of neurodiversity as more people, in STEM and in the wider workforce, are realising they are neurodivergent. Many people in STEM might have always been neurodivergent, but they’ve just not been formally diagnosed.  

I have seen senior leaders in research institutions, organisations, and STEM businesses begin to realise the importance of supporting neurodivergent people in the workplace. This is essential to creating a welcoming and inclusive culture across the STEM environment. However, even though we’re seeing this progress, we still have a long way to go. We need to keep striving for better inclusivity and support for neurodiversity in the workplace so neurodiverse people want to keep contributing their ideas and innovations!

What changes do you believe are necessary to further promote neurodiversity in the workplace, particularly within STEM?

To promote neurodiversity and inclusion in the workplace there are several important things that could be changed. Neurodiversity cannot be treated as a box-ticking exercise. Simply acknowledging diversity is not enough. We need to actively implement measures and strategies to address people’s differences effectively. 

To do this, we should improve how we screen and profile individuals to understand their unique needs. This could be carried out at many levels, from education (which is what FullSpektrum is working on) as well as in the workplace by employers. This would help teachers, employers, colleagues and others recognise the differences in neurodiverse people, and set them up to provide more personalised support strategies for their learning and development.

It's important we match individuals with the right roles, resources, and environments to enable their success. This creates a fair and inclusive environment where everyone can thrive based on their unique abilities.