As a child, Sandhya Menon struggled with autism and ADHD – conditions that result in attention difficulty and challenges in learning.
“I was always told I was very sensitive – too sensitive in fact,” she tells Indian Link. “I knew that I felt things that nobody else felt, or seemed to understand conversations and social interactions in completely a different way.”
The Melbourne-based writer of Indian-origin is a child psychologist and a writer today. She was diagnosed with ADHD and autism only when she turned 32. Now 35, Menon is on a path to offer ideas to people about what they can do to create more inclusive environments for others like her.
Her latest book, The Rainbow Brain, released in May 2023 is a gentle introduction to the world of autistic and ADHD children. It offers an affirming way of looking at brains that are wired differently and gives children strength-based language when talking about disabilities.
“People usually think of ADHD as ‘disordered’, and the kid who can’t sit still, and predict that they’ll never grow up to do well,” she shares. “In fact, 50% of entrepreneurs are ADHDers. We’re the entrepreneurs, the travellers, the risk-takers, and so much else needed in society.”
Menon lives in Melbourne with her husband and two children. While her grandparents are from Kerala, she and her father were born in Singapore. Menon moved to Australia at age 19, with a dream of becoming a psychologist. “I wasn’t satisfied with how emotionally conservative Singapore was in talking about mental health and wanted to live in a country where they did speak about it, did seek help and understand things from their perspective of what society could look like.”
Menon, who has a masters degree in Educational and Developmental Psychology, says that the best thing a parent can do for their Autistic-ADHD child is to learn that they are different “rather than forcing them to be the same as everyone else”.
“When you look at neuro-imaging scans of autistic and ADHDer brains, our brains are literally wired differently. It’s not bad, but it is important that we understand what that different brain needs. Go to workshops, find other people going through the same journey together and look up ‘neuro-affirming practice’ when you look at allied health to support you.”
She wants society to be more inclusive to accommodate autistic-ADHD individuals. “A societal barrier for autistics is crowds and bright lighting. If shopping malls would reduce their lighting, have sensory friendly quiet spaces, establish maps and understand different ways of communicating, this would vastly reduce the extent that an autistic person is disabled.”
The idea to write The Rainbow Brain (illustrated by Kushla Ross) came to her after she published The Brain Forest last year.
“The Brain Forest talks about all the different types of brains in society. Many neurodivergent children were drawn to it, triumphantly coming out of the book announcing they had a ‘Rainbow Brain’ because they related to so many different types, like Autism, ADHD, and dyslexia.”
The Rainbow Brain, on the other hand, talks about the marriage of autism and ADHD. “It addresses the idea of identity for children to understand their diagnosis better, and the fact that as a society, even 10 years after we allowed for both diagnosis to be concurrent, we don’t talk about what it’s like to have both.”
Menon wants people to rid the biggest misconception that having autism-ADHD is something to be ashamed of.
“The best way we can overcome stigma is to truly listen to people who are autistic/ADHDers themselves to learn more about how they feel.”
The Rainbow Brain is not just an insightful book to understand the brain of an autistic-ADHDer person, it is also a reminder to celebrate all the ‘rainbow brains’.