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Project description

One in ten youth in the United Kingdom are neurodivergent with a diagnosis of autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and other neurocognitive conditions. Neurodivergent youth are more likely to experience physical and mental health challenges compared to their peers. 

Primary participants

Principal Investigators:

Dr. Patrick Jachyra, Assistant Professor, Department of Sport & Exercise Sciences,

This project will examine the interconnections between neurodivergence, mental health and physical health. Drawing on bio-medical and humanities perspectives, it examines how physical activity, biology, and health inequalities woven into the structures of society, impact overall health. The aim is to develop tailored supports, policy recommendations and societal change to enable neurodivergent people to flourish to their full potential.

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One in ten youth in the United Kingdom (UK) are neurodivergent with a diagnosis of autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and other neurocognitive conditions. Being neurodivergent can contribute to many strengths. However, numerous health challenges have also been noted such as an increased likelihood for mental (depression, suicidality) and physical health (cardiovascular disease, diabetes) challenges compared to their peers in the general population. The largest onset of these challenges occurs during adolescence (13-24 years) where mental health concerns often first emerge, and engagement in modifiable health behaviours such as physical activity (PA) participation  is met with a steep decline. The onset of these health challenges is amplified by health inequalities in the UK where neurodivergent youth experience significant barriers accessing timely and appropriate supports that meet their healthcare needs. As a result of these barriers, neurodivergent people are positioned to die up to 30 years earlier compared to individuals in the general population. This is a grave concern in need of urgent attention and support, particularly during adolescence where the greatest onset of health challenges occurs during this critical development period.

One of the barriers to support, care and thriving of neurodivergent people is that physical and mental health have been studied and treated in health and social care as separate and unrelated constructs. Given this siloed approach, little is known about how neurodivergence, physical health and mental health are interconnected. Moreover, even less research has examined how these interconnections impact the overall health and thriving of neurodivergent youth. As a result of these gaps in knowledge, the health and social care needs of neurodivergent persons are unclear and often are unmet. These gaps in knowledge in turn perpetuate health inequalities, and limit the ability of neurodivergent people to thrive and flourish to their full potential.  

Purpose: With a lack of knowledge regarding the interconnections of PA participation, mental and physical health with neurodivergent youth, this project will assemble an interdisciplinary group of stakeholders seeking to bridge the physical health and mental health divide. This project is novel as it will open new perspectives by incorporating biomedical and social scientific (disability studies/critical neurodiversity) understandings of neurodivergent health which heretofore have been absent. This project will be the first of its kind in the UK.