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STRONGER TOGETHER: Rewriting the Script—Exploring Neurodiversity in Modern Narratives

Last updated:
03/04/2024

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the evolving portrayal of neurodiversity in mainstream media, highlighting both its strides towards inclusivity and the ongoing need for nuanced and respectful representations that move beyond stereotypes.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Storytelling is as old as humanity itself. Throughout history, people have used stories to share knowledge, pass down traditions, and make sense of the world around them. From ancient cave paintings to epic poems and modern movies, storytelling has evolved but remains a fundamental part of human culture. It connects us, teaches us, and helps us understand our past while shaping our future.

In modern storytelling, neurodiversity has begun to emerge from the shadows, painting a more inclusive picture of human experience in mainstream media. This shift towards a broader representation is powerful in shaping public perception and impacting the lives of neurodivergent individuals.

Seeing people like yourself represented in narratives is important for several reasons. It validates one's identity and experiences, fostering a sense of belonging and acceptance. It helps individuals feel seen and understood, reducing feelings of isolation and alienation. Additionally, representation promotes empathy and understanding among diverse audiences, breaking down stereotypes and promoting inclusivity.

Consider the critically acclaimed TV show “Atypical,” which follows the life of Sam, a teenager on the autism spectrum. The show’s portrayal of Sam’s journey towards independence and self-discovery has resonated with many for its heartfelt and authentic depiction. It challenges the stereotype that autistic individuals lack the desire for social connections and personal growth.

At the same time however, the portrayal has faced criticism for oversimplifying and stereotyping autism. The character's obsession with Antarctica, awkward social interactions, and focus on romantic relationships reinforce common stereotypes about autism, failing to capture the diversity and complexity of the autism spectrum.

Similarly, the movie “Rain Man” introduced audiences to an autistic savant, forever changing the landscape of neurodiverse characters in film. While the character of Raymond Babbitt, played by Dustin Hoffman, was based on the real-life savant Kim Peek, it’s important to note that not all autistic individuals possess such extraordinary talents. This portrayal, while groundbreaking, inadvertently set a precedent for the ‘savant stereotype’ that many subsequent films have followed, while downplaying the diversity of experiences within the autism spectrum.

The impact of these representations is twofold. On one hand, they bring neurodiversity to the forefront, fostering empathy and understanding within the community. On the other, they risk reinforcing narrow stereotypes as being either tragic figures or inspirational heroes, rather than as multifaceted individuals with their own unique narratives.

As such, there is an ongoing need for nuanced and respectful portrayals that move beyond stereotypes and capture the full range of experiences within the neurodivergent community. It is essential for content creators to prioritise authenticity and diversity in their portrayals of neurodivergent characters.

Moving forward, the hope is that neurodiversity in media will continue to evolve, reflecting the rich spectrum of human experience. By doing so, it can dismantle harmful stereotypes and empower neurodivergent individuals, allowing them to see themselves not just as characters on a screen, but as protagonists in their own stories.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the pressing issues facing our young people, from the rising tide of mental health challenges to the troubling phenomenon of school avoidance.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

The balancing act of ensuring our children's academic success while nurturing their mental wellbeing is a struggle many parents can relate to. If you've ever found yourself in this complex predicament, rest assured, you're not alone.

In our recent episode of the STRONGER TOGETHER podcast, I had the privilege of sitting down with Vicki Ross, a dedicated guidance officer serving in both primary and secondary schools across the Bundaberg region. Together, we delved into the pressing issues facing our young people, from the rising tide of mental health challenges to the troubling phenomenon of school avoidance. Our conversation highlighted the gravity of these issues, prompting an in-depth discussion on the collaborative efforts needed to support the wellbeing of our youth.

The statistics are sobering. With conditions like anxiety, depression, and ADHD on the rise, alongside an alarming increase in rates of ‘school refusal,’ it's abundantly clear that youth mental health is a matter of urgent national concern. Shockingly, about 1 in 7 children and adolescents in Australia have recently grappled with a mental health disorder, underscoring the pressing need for early identification and intervention.

Mrs. Ross stressed the importance of spotting early signs of mental health issues, highlighting that a staggering 75% of mental health illnesses manifest before the age of 25. This stark reality emphasises the pivotal role that early intervention plays in shaping the lifelong trajectory of our young ones.

Equally troubling are the rates of non-attendance and ‘school refusal’ in Queensland, with overall school attendance rates witnessing a concerning decline in recent years. This phenomenon, exacerbated by a myriad of societal challenges, underscores the imperative of addressing the root causes contributing to school avoidance.

It is a challenging situation. For some families, it's really hard to get their child on the bus or in the car to get them to school and they go, ‘I can't do that today. I just can't have that argument again today. I'll let it go today.’ And then it's the next day, and the next. And before you know it, it's quite an extended absence.

School avoidance is complex and requires a tailored approach that acknowledges the unique needs and circumstances of each individual child and their family. Mrs Ross advocates for a "soft launch" entry back into school, starting with small steps based on each student's needs and interests. This might involve setting weekly goals, identifying supportive individuals ("champion people") within the school community, and gradually increasing involvement in school activities.

Yet, despite our best efforts, an individualised approach may not always yield the desired results. In such cases, exploring alternative education opportunities, such as homeschooling or specialised schools, may be worth considering to prioritise both the child's and the family's wellbeing.

Ultimately, finding an educational setting that fosters growth while supporting mental health is paramount. It's a journey that requires patience, empathy, and unwavering support from all stakeholders involved – parents, educators, and the broader community. Our young people are indeed our future, and they are unequivocally worth every ounce of effort we invest in their wellbeing.

Listen to Episode 9 of IMPACT's STRONGER TOGETHER podcast series "Brighter Minds & Enhancing Mental Wellbeing in the Classroom" here.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This Neurodiversity Celebration Week, Tanya reflects on the challenges faced by neurodivergent women and girls, whose experiences are often overlooked, misdiagnosed, or even dismissed.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

As our understanding of neurodiversity evolves, so does our appreciation for the unique ways our brains function. During Neurodiversity Celebration Week, from March 18 to 24, we celebrate the progress we have made as a community in changing the narrative around neurodiversity through increased acceptance, understanding, and education. However, we also recognise that there is still much work to be done.

There persists a significant gap in understanding, particularly affecting neurodivergent girls and women, whose experiences and obstacles often remain hidden. The diagnostic journey for these women can be fraught with challenges.

Societal biases and diagnostic criteria primarily derived from male presentations of neurodivergent traits contribute to the disparity in diagnosis rates. Neurodivergent females, particularly those with conditions such as autism or ADHD, may exhibit different behavioural patterns compared to males, leading to their symptoms being overlooked, misdiagnosed, or even dismissed.

Moreover, the prevalence of co-occurring conditions like anxiety or depression among neurodivergent females further complicates the diagnostic process, often masking underlying neurodevelopmental differences.

While there has been a notable increase in the identification of girls and women with autism or ADHD, they continue to be significantly underrepresented. Research indicates that by the age of 18, approximately 80% of autistic females remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. For these women and girls, the lack of support, the exhausting effort of masking to appear neurotypical, and missed opportunities to establish accommodating environments can result in severe mental health consequences.

Early and accurate diagnosis is paramount in facilitating appropriate interventions and support services, yet neurodivergent women and girls are frequently left without the resources they need to thrive. The consequences of misdiagnosis or lack of diagnosis can be profound, impacting academic, social, and emotional development.

To bridge this diagnostic gap and ensure equitable access to support and resources, concerted efforts are needed at multiple levels. Firstly, there is a pressing need for increased awareness and education surrounding neurodiversity, particularly in relation to the unique manifestations of neurodivergent traits in females. Healthcare professionals, educators, and policymakers must undergo comprehensive training to recognise and address the specific needs of neurodivergent women and girls.

Additionally, there is a critical need for research focusing on gender-specific presentations of neurodevelopmental conditions. By better understanding the nuances of how these conditions manifest in females, we can refine diagnostic criteria and improve the accuracy of assessments. Moreover, research can also inform the development of targeted interventions and support services tailored to the needs of neurodivergent women and girls.

Creating inclusive and supportive environments is essential for fostering the well-being and success of neurodivergent individuals. This involves not only providing access to appropriate healthcare and educational resources but also challenging societal norms and stereotypes that may contribute to the underrepresentation and marginalisation of neurodivergent females.

As we commemorate Neurodiversity Celebration Week, let us reaffirm our commitment to promoting acceptance, understanding, and inclusion for all neurodivergent individuals, regardless of gender. By recognising and addressing the diagnostic gap faced by neurodivergent women and girls, we can work towards a future where every individual receives the support and recognition they need to thrive. Together, let us strive towards a society that celebrates the diversity of human cognition and values the unique perspectives and contributions of all its members.

In a bustling room filled with colourful toys and the sounds of cheerful laughter, children are blossoming. Their curious minds explore, their tiny hands grasp, and friendships develop, in an environment where every interaction, every discovery, lays the foundation for a lifetime of learning.

The first five years are crucial for child growth and development, and IMPACT Community Services’ innovative Prep Transition Program offers a guiding hand to parents and their little ones, ensuring children get the best possible start in life.

As part of Positive Start Parenting, the Prep Transition Program identifies and addresses potential developmental issues early on, so parents can obtain wrap around support to access the required services to address their children’s needs.

Parents are actively involved from the outset, providing valuable input about their child's strengths, weaknesses, and goals. Through questionnaires and observations during playgroup sessions, parents and program coordinators collaboratively develop tailored plans to support each child's unique needs.

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, a testament to the program's effectiveness in nurturing essential skills crucial for school readiness.

Ms Allen emphasised, “we want our little ones to be as ready as they can be prior to starting school.”

“We support our parents to have their child’s eye, teeth and hearing checks as well doing appropriate referrals to assess any developmental delays so that in the two years prior to starting prep, the children have access to the required therapies needed to improve their transition into school.”

Children identified as needing additional support are seamlessly connected with other vital resources and services, ensuring a holistic approach to their well-being. Whether it's referrals to specialised programs like Bushkids or the NDIS, or even facilitating developmental checks through partnerships with Child Health, every effort is made to provide comprehensive support for families.

But it's not just about the children; parents are also empowered through education and support. Workshops on effective parenting techniques, such as 1,2,3 Magic and Emotion Coaching and Bringing Up Great Kids, equip parents with the tools they need to foster healthy development in their children.

Parents are also encouraged to explore what it may look like for them once their child starts school. Coping with the separation, making new social connections, and possibly taking on some education or employment to enrich their own lives.

In the end, the Positive Start Parenting program isn't just about preparing children for school; it's about setting them on a trajectory for lifelong success. By investing in the crucial early years and empowering families, IMPACT Community Services is truly making a positive impact on the next generation.

To learn more about this program, call 1800 179 233, visit the Parenting Support page, or complete the Contact Us form.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the paradox of modern parenting, where children are physically protected but lack mental resilience, advocating for a recalibration of parenting approaches to foster strength and adaptability in the face of adversity.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

As the sun sets over the horizon, casting a warm glow on the playground, parents gather to watch their children play. The laughter, scraped knees, and impromptu games of tag evoke a sense of nostalgia—a reminder of our own carefree days. But in this idyllic scene, a paradox unfolds—one that demands our attention and reflection.

In our quest to safeguard the well-being of the younger generation, we’ve become adept at cocooning them in layers of protection. Helmets for biking, knee pads for skating, and sanitised play areas—all designed to shield our precious ones from harm. And yet, as we pad their physical world, we inadvertently strip away the very fabric of resilience—the ability to bounce back, adapt, and learn from life’s inevitable tumbles.

Remember the days when we climbed trees, scraped our elbows, and built forts from cardboard boxes? Those minor bruises were badges of honour, tokens of our adventurous spirit. We learned to assess risks, gauge our limits, and discover our inner strength. Today, the playgrounds are softer, the rules stricter, and the safety nets more robust. But what are we sacrificing in the process?

Simultaneously, our children tread a precarious tightrope in the digital realm. The virtual world, with its infinite possibilities, offers both wonder and peril. Social media platforms beckon with promises of connection, validation, and carefully curated identities. Yet, beneath the glossy filters lie hidden pitfalls—comparison, cyberbullying, and the relentless pursuit of perfection.

Our paradox lies here: We cocoon our children in bubble wrap, shielding them from scraped knees, but we expose their minds to unfiltered content. As parents and educators, we must recalibrate our approach. Resilience isn’t built by padding the world—it’s forged in the fires of adversity. It’s the scraped knee that teaches us balance, the failed test that fuels determination, and the broken heart that fosters empathy.

And then there’s the phenomenon of the “Generation Sicknote.” These are the young adults who, despite their digital prowess, struggle to cope with life and its curveballs, missing work due to mental ill health. They’ve mastered the art of crafting witty tweets and Instagram stories, yet when faced with adversity, they crumble. Why? Because resilience isn’t a hashtag.

It’s a poignant reminder of the consequences of neglecting resilience in favour of comfort and convenience. We must resist the temptation to shield our children from every bump and bruise, both physical and emotional. Instead, let’s embrace discomfort as a catalyst for growth. Setbacks are not roadblocks; they are opportunities for learning and self-discovery.

In the end, resilience is not a trait that can be bestowed upon our children; it must be cultivated through experience and practice. So let us step back from our instinct to overprotect and instead, empower our children to face life’s challenges with courage and resilience. After all, it’s in the bumps and bruises of life that true strength is forged, and it’s in the face of adversity that character is revealed.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya reflects on the profound meaning of International Women's Day, while encouraging women to embrace and celebrate their imperfections as sources of strength and uniqueness.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Even when we are broken, we have the chance to rebuild ourselves.

This thought was inspired by Hannah Gadbsy who famously said, “there is nothing stronger, than a woman who has rebuilt herself.”

As we celebrate International Women's Day, it is a great opportunity to pause and reflect on our own personal journey. The pitfalls, the moments of joy, those who have been a source of inspiration and those who have brought us to tears. The lessons, scars, deepening wrinkles, all serving as reminders of the less than perfect—but highly individualised—journey that each of us has taken during our one very precious life.

When I think about my own moments of learning and challenge, I find myself reflecting on the pieces of me that bear the weight of experience. These fragments—sometimes cracked, sometimes shattered—hold stories of vulnerability, resilience, and growth. Perhaps it’s a bruised ego, a dent in self-esteem, or the weariness that accompanies life’s battles. It’s during these times that I recall the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi.

Kintsugi, also known as kintsukuroi, translates to “golden repair.” It’s a practice that transforms broken ceramics or pottery into something extraordinary. Instead of hiding the cracks, artisans mend them with a lacquer infused with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. The result? A piece that bears visible scars—a testament to its history—but now adorned with shimmering veins of precious metal.

The imperfection becomes a focal point, a celebration of resilience and transformation. When light dances across the repaired lines, it reveals a new kind of beauty—one that acknowledges the past while embracing the present.

As women, we carry our own kintsugi stories. Our wrinkles deepen with laughter and worry alike, our hearts bear the weight of love and loss, and our spirits mend after every setback. It’s time to celebrate these unique qualities—the cracks that make us whole, the scars that tell our tales. Just like the kintsugi pottery, we are no longer perfect, but we are infinitely more precious.

This International Women’s Day let’s shift our focus. Instead of dwelling on our broken or missing pieces, let’s celebrate our uniqueness. Bring to life your own version of kintsugi and celebrate the qualities within you and others that may on the outside seem imperfect but provide a beautiful opportunity to inspire inclusion within our workplaces and communities.

So, raise your metaphorical brush. Highlight your imperfections with the gold of self-acceptance and compassion. Let your cracks be a reminder that strength lies not in perfection, but in resilience and authenticity.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the challenges neurodivergent individuals face in the workplace due to a lack of understanding and accommodation, and how employers can create inclusive environments to unlock their full potential.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Imagine walking into a job interview. Your heart is racing. You've prepared thoroughly, you're well-suited for the position, and you're confident you can succeed. But as the interview progresses, you notice the interviewer's puzzled expression, their unease with the extended pauses as you strive to articulate coherent ideas, and their bewilderment at how you match all their criteria on paper. The unfamiliar setting is overwhelming, and you're grappling with sensory overload. Despite your qualifications, you leave the interview feeling disheartened, and like you've already lost the job.

This scenario is all too familiar for many neurodivergent individuals.

Despite increasing recognition of neurodiversity in the workplace, many employers are unaware of the challenges neurodivergent individuals face or how to support them effectively. This lack of awareness perpetuates the cycle of exclusion and underemployment.

Neurodiversity is a concept that recognises and values the diversity of human brains and minds. It encompasses a range of neurological differences, such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and dyspraxia. These differences can present unique challenges and invisible barriers in navigating everyday life and the workplace.

One of the most significant barriers is the lack of understanding and accommodation in the workplace. Neurodivergent individuals may struggle with tasks that require focus, organisation, communication, social skills, or sensory sensitivities, which can affect their performance and well-being. Without proper support and accommodations, they may feel overwhelmed, misunderstood, and excluded.

Employers, however, can play a crucial role in breaking down these barriers, starting with the recruitment stage.

Let’s revisit the interview hypothetical. Now, the interviewer is understanding and empathetic. They recognise that interviews can be overwhelming for some candidates (irrespective of if the candidate is neurodiverse) and suggest alternative methods of assessing your suitability for the role, such as a practical demonstration of your skills or a written assignment.

The interviewer also offers to conduct the interview in a quieter, more comfortable setting to minimise distractions. They reassure you that they are more interested in your abilities and potential than your performance in a high-pressure interview environment.

This approach allows you to showcase your skills and talents in a way that is more comfortable and conducive to your success. You leave the interview feeling valued and hopeful, knowing that you have been given a fair chance to demonstrate your capabilities.

By creating inclusive environments and implementing reasonable accommodations, employers can unlock the full potential of all employees, but especially neurodivergent individuals. Simple adjustments, such as flexible work schedules, quiet workspaces, assistive technologies, clear communication, or even alternatives to the ‘traditional’ interview, can make a world of difference.

Neurodivergent individuals bring a unique set of skills and perspectives that can greatly benefit organisations. For instance, individuals with autism often possess a remarkable attention to detail and an ability to focus on complex tasks for extended periods. This can be invaluable in industries such as software development, quality assurance, and data analysis, where precision and thoroughness are critical.

Similarly, individuals with ADHD may excel in roles where they can use their ability to think outside the box and approach problems from unconventional angles, which can lead to innovative solutions and new approaches to challenges.

Moreover, neurodivergent individuals often exhibit a high level of resilience, having navigated a world that may not always be accommodating to their needs. This resilience can translate into a strong work ethic, adaptability, and the ability to thrive in dynamic and fast-paced environments.

Neurodiversity in the workplace is not a challenge to overcome but an opportunity to embrace. By creating a more inclusive and productive work environment for neurodivergent people, we can enrich our teams, organisations, and communities with diverse and valuable human potential.

IMPACT Community Health Service (ICHS) Discovery Coast hosted its second Health Professionals Network Evening in Agnes Water on Tuesday 23 January 2024, attracting 15 attendees from various health sectors.

The event was an opportunity for health professionals to share their experiences, challenges, and best practices while fostering stronger connections and strengthening the collaboration and coordination of health care services in the region.

ICHS Practice Manager, Pamela Mackie, said, “it’s important for health professionals who often work in isolation in rural environments to have the opportunity to network with other health professionals.”

The event featured presentations by Louise Natusch, Senior Manager Regional Programs (Wide Bay), and Ellen McDermott, Primary Health Coordinator (Wide Bay) from Country to Coast Qld (PHN), who spoke about the rebranding of the PHN and the role of the Integration Team in supporting health providers to deliver quality care to the community.

Prior to the event, Country to Coast Qld representatives toured the newly refurbished ICHS Precinct, where the strategic direction for the precinct and Discovery Coast was discussed.

“IMPACT has strategically prioritised access to health care services in the Discovery Coast undertaking the Discovery Coast Model of Care Project to understand the needs of region and is currently in Stage 2 of the Project developing an Integrated Health Service model with Dr Dani Buchanan joining the IMPACT Community Health Service team,” Mrs Mackie said.

ICHS Discovery Coast offers a range of services such as general practice, community nursing, and allied health, and is committed to improving the health and well-being of the people in the region through innovative and holistic approaches.

IMPACT Community Health Service is committed to improving lives and empowering people through its range of services and programs. To make an appointment or find out more, visit https://ichs.org.au/.

Insights from Outstanding Leadership Awards Finalist, Tanya O’Shea

This morning, Tanya O’Shea, the Managing Director of IMPACT Community Services, engaged in a conversation with David Dowsett on ABC Wide Bay Breakfast. The discussion centred around her recent nomination for the Outstanding Leadership Awards and the unique challenges faced by individuals in high-pressure leadership roles.

One critical topic explored was leadership burnout” and its potential impact on prominent leaders who have recently stepped down from their positions. Notable figures like Queensland Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk, Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll, and Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci were cited as examples.

The conversation also delved into the effects of recent challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, cost-of-living crises, and the relentless pressures of social media on leaders already navigating demanding roles.

Tanya, drawing from her experience, shared valuable insights into effective strategies for self-care and burnout prevention.

For those interested, the full interview recording is available below.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the importance of embracing neurodiversity, advocating for a deeper understanding and acceptance of diverse cognitive perspectives.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

“The Year I Met My Brain” is probably not the typical book that most people would be looking for at their local bookstore.  I say this not because of the author – award-winning social media reporter and presenter for The Guardian, Matilda Boseley (who is amazing by the way) – but more because Matilda wrote the book after receiving an ADHD diagnosis and pitched it as a travel companion for other adults who have also found out they have ADHD.

The reality is that the worldwide percentage of adults with this learning difference is 2.5, with males three times more likely to be diagnosed than females. This book is therefore a rare find when it comes to understanding ADHD in adults, particularly females, and is an absolute treasure for those keen to navigate and enjoy life as an ADHD adult.

The term ADHD is widely used, and therefore I have jumped in and used the abbreviated term straight up on the assumption that most of the population who know about and use the term, understand what it means. But here’s a quick refresh for those who need it.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be described as presenting in three different ways – primarily hyperactive/impulsive (ADHD-H), primarily inattentive (ADHD-I) and combined (ADHD-C). If someone speaks about ADHD generally and you asked them to describe the behaviours associated with ADHD, run of the mill responses would normally refer to children, and use terms such as disruptive in the classroom, fidgety, unable to sit still, impatient, speaks over the top of you, and is often bouncing off the walls.

What we do know however is that ADHD presents in different ways for different people, and it is not just limited to children. We also know that the medicalised model of treatment should be supported by opportunities to educate and advance our understanding of how to create cultural acceptance within our society of accommodating brains that work differently.

To this end, I would like to wrap up this article with a very clear call to action.

Neurodiversity, a term originally coined by sociologist Judy Singer in the 1990’s, is used widely to encourage a deeper conversation about how we accommodate the different ways that the brain works, specifically in people with ADHD, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia and dyspraxia.

Even though the term can be contentious, Matilda uses neurodivergent unashamedly throughout her book. She wants us to elevate our thinking away from this antiquated idea of normal or healthy brains, to embracing the notion that those who identify as neurodivergent require our understanding.

Moving away from the idea that an individual’s brain, reasoning, or logic needs to be fixed or cured, and instead acknowledging the difference and specialness that they bring to everyday neurotypical perspectives. Acknowledging their uniqueness and celebrate the insights that us ‘typical’ brained folk will never understand or experience.

IMPACT Community Services is calling for volunteers in Mount Perry and Biggenden to join its Aged Care Volunteer Visitors Scheme (ACVVS), a friendship program that connects volunteers with older people who may be experiencing social isolation or loneliness.

The ACVVS, which has been running for over 30 years, provides regular visits to older people living in aged care facilities or at home that provide companionship, support, and meaningful connections that can improve the quality of life and well-being of the older people.

The program currently services the Bundaberg and North Burnett regions but has recently received requests from areas that have never had volunteers, including Biggenden and Mount Perry.

IMPACT is looking for volunteers who live in these areas or are willing to travel there to visit older people who need a friend.

ACVVS Program Manager, Heather Hinsbey, said the ACVVS was a valuable program that made a positive difference in the lives of both the volunteers and the older people.

“Our volunteers are compassionate, caring, and dedicated people who love spending time with the older people and brightening their day,” she said.

“We will match you with an older person who is experiencing social isolation, so you can make regular visits in their home or facility. It’s a wonderful opportunity to make a real difference in someone else’s life, and both the visitors and older people can benefit from each other’s life experiences and wisdom,” she said.

All volunteers are provided with training and support to ensure they are comfortable with their role.

“We provide orientation, police checks, ongoing training, and regular contact and feedback to our volunteers,” she said.

Ms Hinsbey encouraged anyone who was interested in volunteering with the ACVVS to contact IMPACT and find out more.

“If you have some spare time and a big heart, and you want to make a difference in someone’s life, we would love to hear from you,” she said.

To find out more about the ACVVS or to apply as a volunteer, visit IMPACT’s website, or call 07 4153 4233.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the human attention span, and the ultimate "cost" of the sheer volume of information we receive on a daily basis.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

In a world where the buzz of notifications competes with the quiet hum of our thoughts, the analogy of a human attention span equalling that of a goldfish—just 8 seconds—has gained traction. But how did we arrive at comparing the complexity of the human brain to that of a small aquatic creature?

Let’s park the analogy about the goldfish for a minute and consider where this view has stemmed from. The simple reality is that between new technology and social media consumption, the sheer volume of information that we are receiving is expanding way beyond our brains capacity to process it. Our thirst for knowledge far exceeds our ability to digest it, and we therefore skim content as we switch between apps or respond to a new text or email.

Imagine the blast of water that you get from a fire hose compared to the trickle that comes from a garden hose. That ‘blast’ is the daily 333.2 billion emails or the 23 billion text messages that are sent, or the content we consume through various social media channels.

Thankfully, the human brain is plastic and built to learn and adjust to the changing world and the information that we get during our daily ‘blast’. We learn to tune out the unimportant and refine our focus and attention to things that matter. Or do we? Even if we think that we are good at filtering out all of that ‘noisy’ unhelpful information, there is a cost that comes with having to undertake this daily practice.

Herbert A Simon, esteemed American social scientist, Nobel Prize Winner for Economics in 1978 and best known for his work on decision-making theory, summed it up best when he said, ‘A wealth of information creates poverty of attention.’

Today, we are rich in information, yet poor when it comes to attention and focus. We are fatigued, as our brains consume simultaneous streams of inputs from our external environment. Our brain relies on patterns – the neural superhighways that we create that enable us to form habits and undertake daily tasks – yet is challenged by the continual switching of attention back and forth between tasks. This damages our focus and erodes our productivity, leaving us with an empty tank when it comes to mental energy. Unfortunately pushing through the neural fatigue and running on empty has become the norm for many in today’s society.

Ironically, the very devices and apps designed to enhance our connectivity and productivity often serve as the primary sources of distraction, pulling us away from the present moment and fragmenting our concentration.

And while the concept of multitasking may be hailed as a coveted skill, research consistently underscores the inefficacy of dividing our cognitive resources across multiple tasks simultaneously. It’s like juggling flaming torches while riding a unicycle— an impressive spectacle, to be sure, but scarcely sustainable in the long run.

The good news is, however, neurologically, our attention spans haven’t drastically changed. It’s the environment that hijacks our focus. And as technology’s evolution continues to progress at speed, it is evident that we are eroding the focus required to solve our society and our planet’s most complex problems.

This isn't merely about exhaustion, fatigue, and burnout; it's about jeopardising our ability to solve human challenges thoughtfully. In this hyperconnected era, reclaiming our attention and fostering deep focus isn't just a personal pursuit; it's an imperative for collective progress.

When you walk into the reception area of the newly refurbished IMPACT Community Health Service (ICHS) at Agnes Water, you might feel like you have stepped into a different world. A large wall mural of the Paperbark Forest, a local tourist attraction, greets you with its serene beauty and calming effect. The mural is the work of Kim Cooke, a local photographer and artist.

Kim was approached by ICHS Practice Manager Pamela Mackie to create a feature wall for the reception area as part of a $150,000 major refurbishment project funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care. Ms Mackie wanted something that reflected the local area and surrounding environment. She also wanted a positive and relaxing space for the patients and staff, with staff identifying the beauty of the paperbark forest and Ms Cooke’s photography talents. Kim immediately agreed to the idea of the Paperbark Forest. “The Paperbark Forest images symbolise our environment and what we are about. Giving feeling in my imagery is so important,” she said.

Kim is no stranger to the Paperbark Forest. She has been taking photos there for years, capturing its charm and atmosphere. She said the forest was one of her favourite places to photograph, as well as a popular spot for portraits. “The Paperbark Forest is such an iconic tourist attraction in our town. It is such a beautiful spot and has a special feel to it. You have to experience it to understand,” she said.

Kim selected one of her photos of the forest and enlarged it to fit the wall. She also added some effects to make it look more realistic and immersive. She said she wanted to convey a sense of calmness and well-being through the image, as well as a connection to nature. “For me, the Paperbark Forest symbolises health and wellness. It is part of nature and our landscape, which is calming and makes us feel good. Just walking through the forest is therapeutic,” she said.

The feature wall was installed a few weeks ago, and it has received positive reviews from patients and staff alike. Kim has been overwhelmed by the response. “When I was taking photos the other day, a patient walked in, and her reaction was priceless. She said it made her feel like she was really there and that it made the room so inviting. She said we need to add stepping stones across the floor which then carry on into the image.”

Kim said she was honoured and privileged to have been asked to supply a photographic image of her work as a major feature and talking point in town.

About Kim Cooke

Kim’s passion for photography started when she was a child, and she has been pursuing it ever since. She has a corporate graphic design background, which gives her an edge on being more creative with her images. She also incorporates her art into her photography, creating stunning effects and textures. Her motto is “Photography is my Passion. Creating is my Reward.” Learn more about Kim and her work by visiting her website here.

About IMPACT Community Health Services

ICHS is located at 2 Rafting Ground Road, Agnes Water. Offering a range of GP, community health and allied health services that respond to the evolving healthcare needs of the growing Discovery Coast region, the service is ready to welcome new patients looking for high-quality and integrated healthcare. Find out more on the website here.

“STRONGER TOGETHER” is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses comparative suffering, and how continually comparing our life experiences to others can make it difficult to feel, acknowledge and effectively resolve our own emotions.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

I have been dreading this day but knew that it would eventually come. Getting my front tooth knocked out playing basketball as a teenager has resulted in a range of procedures and restorations, the most recent being a crown that has lasted almost 14 years. A couple of weeks ago, the post supporting the crowned tooth cracked, and it started to wobble. With my tooth hanging on by a thread, the dentist confirmed that there was no quick fix. Treatment options were discussed, with an initial appointment scheduled for four weeks’ time, along with the parting words ‘tread gently with your tooth in the meantime’.

Unfortunately, ‘treading gently’ was unrealistic and by Saturday morning that tooth had fallen out. My immediate reaction was to retreat into lock down, mortified by my new look. Catastrophising, withdrawing from my normal routine, feeling fear and vulnerability slowly rising within me as I contemplated the next month without a front tooth.

By day two, a more ‘enlightened’ perspective had started to emerge and my heightened negativity about the situation had started to soften. “Losing a front tooth is nothing compared to what others are going through”, I kept dutifully reminding myself, finding an odd sense of comfort from diminishing my own feelings and emotions, and instead focusing on the ‘greater’ pain being experienced by others. Ranking our suffering, also known as comparative suffering, is a normal response for many of us when faced with a challenging or difficult situation. Sometimes, we even refrain from discussing certain topics or experiences because we fear reactions from others, who might think that we couldn’t possibly understand what they are going through.  

Continually comparing our life experiences to others can make it difficult to feel, acknowledge, and effectively resolve our own emotions and suffering. It can also detrimentally affect our mental health and wellbeing. Therefore, regardless of what other people are going through, it is important to gain perspective and validate our own experience. My reality when losing that tooth was that it left me feeling exposed, insecure, vulnerable, judged, inadequate and unprofessional. Those feelings were real for me, and resulted in a sense of struggle, therefore they should not be diminished or disregarded as unimportant.  

When preparing for this column, I contemplated the topic carefully, considering that it may come across as shallow or written by someone too privileged to understand the real challenges that people are facing today.  I do, however, hope that you see past the missing tooth and consider the bigger message. The reminder that we each have nuances that make us unique, incredibly special, and different. We each have experiences that generate a range of feelings, emotions and suffering that deserve our attention, validation, and curiosity.

The next time you find yourself comparing your situation to others, I encourage you to pause.

Take notice of the feelings and emotions that are coming up.

If you like to write, journal what happened and reflect on it later to see if it makes more sense. If you are a talker, find a trusted colleague, friend, or family member to debrief with. If you are finding it difficult to talk about, are deliberately suppressing feelings or trying to ignore whatever is going on, perhaps it is time to seek out some professional support. No one is immune to life’s challenges, and working with a therapist can help you to learn coping strategies, recognise unhelpful thinking patterns and identify different ways to manage your behaviour and response towards yourself and others.

Emotions and feelings will not simply go away because we believe that they are inappropriate or don’t rank high enough on the suffering scale. They are valid and deserve your attention; when we ignore them, they burrow deep down into our being. Researcher Brene Brown aptly reminds us that empathy is a vulnerable choice, one that allows us to connect not only with others but also with the depths of our own emotions. By choosing empathy, we can connect with ourselves and others. And that connection is the secret because it is where genuine healing and change can begin.

IMPACT Community Health Service’s (ICHS) new GP-led Integrated Health Service is off to a promising start since its launch on Monday, November 13, 2023.

Offering a range of GP, community health and allied health services that respond to the evolving healthcare needs of the growing Discovery Coast region, the service is ready to welcome new patients looking for high-quality and integrated healthcare.

Dr Dani Buchanan, a proud Agnes Water local with extensive experience in rural healthcare and emergency medicine, is thrilled with the progress of the service and the “great team” at ICHS.

“It’s going really well. We have a great clinic here with some very talented staff. The first couple of weeks were a steep learning curve, but we have been really well supported by the community,” he said.

“We’ve seen a mix of holidaymakers and locals, but as time is going on it’s becoming more locals as they come back for further appointments and news gets out there about what we offer. The last few weeks have been busier than I expected we would be. We still have room to grow and capacity to take on more patients.”

“The team is fabulous. We have a good morale and everyone wants to learn and get better. I’m looking forward to the project growing over the next couple of years into something that is really valuable for the community,” he added.

Pamela Mackie, ICHS Practice Manager

ICHS Practice Manager, Pamela Mackie said, “We are delighted with the response from the community and the outcomes we have achieved so far.”

“The convenience and accessibility of having a GP within the community healthcare service is a game-changer. This holistic approach to healthcare integrates GP services with nursing and allied health, providing a one-stop solution for all healthcare needs.  Our community nursing and allied health services are available to support everyone in the community and referrals are accepted from any GP.”

Mrs Mackie also said the interior renovations of ICHS Building 1 were now complete. “The health service now boasts a modern new look and design that enhances the overall patient experience,” she said.

“The feedback so far has been so positive. People are loving the changes and the artwork on the wall is getting so many comments. I’ve been surprised by how many people want to go up and touch it,” said receptionist Veronica Daniel.

Nurse Kirsten James also praised Dr Dani Buchanan for his leadership and mentorship. “With Dr Dani it’s proving to be a really good opportunity to build my experience. He is so knowledgeable and happy to share what he knows. I’m learning every day. I love working with him and the rest of the team here,” she said.

IMPACT Community Health Service is committed to improving lives and empowering people through its range of services and programs. To make an appointment or find out more, visit https://ichs.org.au/

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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