Updated: May 16
We at Neurodiverse Sport are very excited to introduce our sixth neurodivergent athlete, and second video interviewee - Sarah Hope!
Sarah is an ex- GB Wheelchair Basketball player and current International Para Ice Hockey player, she has autism, and she spoke to us about her experiences of being a neurodivergent athlete; how her neurodivergent support needs compare to her physical support needs; and whether they have been met by the sports teams and organisations she has represented.
Watch the interview highlights below:
About the Interview
Sarah has many unique strengths that she believes are a result of her autism, yet she has only been able to identify them in hindsight, and during her career as a wheelchair basketball player she didn't have this understanding or the ability to advocate for herself, and therefore to get the best out of herself as an athlete. It took Sarah her entire basketball career, and gaining an 'official' diagnosis to develop and understanding of her unique strengths and differences, and to feel able to communicate these with the people around her.
During her career, she was told she "didn't have the mindset to be an elite athlete" - this is despite overcoming losing the use of her legs, not being able to run anymore (which was her passion), and dealing with her neurodivergence as well as her physical disability... I hear this type of statement too often in regards to neurodivergent athletes: how their neurodivergence comes across, what they can't say, or how they react to constantly feeling misunderstood and having to mask are all misinterpreted as weakness. If coaches and support staff were more aware of what neurodivergence is and how it presents, maybe these misguided and ultimately confidence shattering statements would be made on a less frequent basis...
Despite the lack of understanding and support she received during her early sporting career, Sarah did eventually grow to understand herself, which in turn gave her the ability to take her learnings to a second sporting career as a para ice hockey player... But should it take each individual neurodivergent athlete 8-10 years to develop the self-understanding they need to maximise their own performance? Should the onus be on them to go on this journey on their own whilst battling the extra challenges they face navigating environments that aren't created for them or supportive of them?
Should neurodivergent athletes not have access to the help and support that their fellow neurotypical athletes receive from coaches, doctors, sports psychologists and lifestyle advisors? But they do don't they?
I would argue not. Yes - they have access to these professionals, but if these professionals don't have an understanding of neurodivergence or how to help, do the neurodivergent athletes really have access to effective help and support?
In The Meantime
Sarah offered GB Wheelchair Basketball a free mentoring service for both neurodivergent and neurotypical athletes, but her offer was declined.
Even so, after 'going public' about her autism and receiving numerous messages of thanks and requests for advice and support from other athletes with autism, Sarah has set up a support group called 'The Collective' to try and make a difference where she can. This is a real testament to Sarah being brave enough to speak up, and approachable enough to encourage others to reach out.
We will definitely be keeping track of Sarah's progress, and even plan on watching her play in April!!! 💪💪💪