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    Neurodiversity: a lived experience by TSgt Erik Taylor

    Neurodiversity: a lived experience by TSgt Erik Taylor

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Jesenia Landaverde | U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Erik Taylor, left, 352nd Special Operations Wing command...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Jesenia Landaverde 

    100th Air Refueling Wing   

    ROYAL AIR FORCE MILDENHALL, England. -- Neurodiversity is akin to a rich tapestry, woven from the myriad threads of human cognition. Picture a canvas splattered with a kaleidoscope of colors, each representing a unique way of perceiving, processing, and interacting with the world. Within this diverse spectrum lie individuals whose brains function in ways that deviate from the so-called "neurotypical" norm.

    By virtue of his lived experience, Tech. Sgt. Erik Taylor, an Arkansas native and 352nd Special Operation Wing executive assistant, shares his story as a diagnosed member with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), major depressive disorder and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

    “My diagnoses were eye opening,” said Taylor. “It was liberating to have a name to call the problems I was facing. I did a lot of research into what ADHD was and how it manifested in people. I was also diagnosed with major depressive disorder alongside of it, so there was a lot of work I had to do.”

    Taylor sought professional medical help through behavioral health in the Air Force, leading to diagnoses of ADHD and depression two years ago. Through ongoing therapy, a year later, he was also diagnosed with autism.

    “I went in with no expectations or understanding of what I could have even been diagnosed with; I just went in for help,” said Taylor. “I needed an expert to help me identify what was causing my problems. Over these last two and a half years, I've been working with the medical group. I got my prescription dosage, and I finally feel like I can do things that I really couldn't do very well before.”

    ADHD is a condition that affects people’s behavior which includes symptoms such as being restless and having a short attention span. Depression is a low mood that can last for weeks or months which includes symptoms of feeling unhappy, low self-esteem and finding no pleasure in things people usually enjoy. Autism is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain which can affect learning.

    People with autism can sometimes suffer from executive function disorder, leading to difficulties managing time, completing tasks and making what may be thought of as a simple task, very complicated or seemingly impossible.

    “I always struggled with memory,” said Taylor. "I used to rely heavily on writing things down and maintaining a strict agenda, yet I still found myself forgetting tasks. Sometimes, if I didn't jot down instructions clearly enough or revisited them later, they became unclear to me, despite being clear when I initially wrote them. This often led to seeking clarification, only to face ridicule, trapping me in a frustrating cycle."

    Taylor identifies the beginnings of his challenges to his early years, growing up in the public schools of Conway, Arkansas.

    “There was a lot of confusion growing up,” said Taylor. “I often had a bad temper and random emotional outbursts, even with my friends in school. There are various things that I had to learn the hard way. I asked my mom why this happens, like why are people telling me to stop doing things I like to do. It didn’t make sense to me why I felt so different.”

    Erik was nurtured by his mother, Jamie Sue Hightower, alongside his stepfather, in the loving company of his brother, Ryan Taylor.

    “My mom understood me, and that’s all I needed,” said Taylor. “My mom was my biggest champion and friend growing up. She and I are the same person, so I never noticed that I was different until my teenage years.”

    Jamie, Erik's mother, passed away on December 13, 2004, leaving a profound impact on him.

    After his mother's passing, he became acutely aware of his difficulty in coping with and mourning her death, which ultimately led to a sense of depression at 14 years old.

    “I never really mourned my mom because I took on her roles around the house to help my stepfather and brother mourn,” said Taylor. “I carried that with me for a long time. Once I joined, I kept struggling with her death. Additionally, I started struggling performing at work and getting distracted, but it all felt more accentuated based off what I was doing for my job. It was then that I recognized the need for help. Fortunately, the Air Force offers resources and solutions for issues I hadn't even considered seeking help for."

    Erik joined the U.S. Air Force on March 13, 2013. He enlisted as a client system technician, aspiring to build a better life beyond Arkansas.

    “What I love about the Air Force is the structure,” said Taylor. “It takes a lot of strain off my mental process since we have [Air Force Instructions] that dictate various aspects of how our job functions. I also love therapy. I’ve been grateful and fortunate to have great therapists along the way who’ve helped me validate things, help me understand myself better and teach me how I can approach things differently to change my cognition.”

    Implementing structured frameworks and routines can assist individuals diagnosed with ASD or ADHD in managing their variability in behavior, also known as consistent inconsistency.

    “Learning how to do my job was difficult because the environment was less than supportive of my needs simply by consequence, not really any true fault to their own,” said Taylor. "My diagnoses and finding the right dosage have truly empowered me to accomplish feats I never thought possible, enabling me to excel in my job. Thanks to my keen attention to detail and the unique way my brain processes information, I often spot things others miss and can come up with solutions, sometimes even impacting operations Air Force-wide."

    In the Air Force, protecting our nation’s cyberspace enables the mission and protects data from foreign threats. Cybersecurity can be fast-paced and complex, so having people with neurodiversity can bring various outlooks and solutions to a workplace.

    “Diversity, as a whole, is always good to have different thought processes, different viewpoints,” said Master Sgt. Kevonda Erving, 100th Air Refueling Wing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility chief. "In certain communities, such as cyber and intelligence circles, the capacity for hyper-focus and performing repetitive tasks can be invaluable. While some individuals may find these tasks boring, for others, they thrive on the precision and depth of concentration required.”

    Taylor has participated as both an advocate and panel member in vital discussions surrounding neurodiversity at Royal Air Force Mildenhall. Through sharing his personal journey, he hopes to foster understanding and provide a platform for Airmen to openly exchange their own experiences.

    “Honestly, I'm incredibly proud – I mean, really proud,” said Erving. “I believe it's crucial for people to gain understanding about this topic. During our important conversation on neurodiversity, his courage in openly discussing his experiences allowed others in the audience, who were going through similar situations, to open up too. It was surprising for me to realize that there were other individuals in the room facing neurodiversity challenges, all resonating with his story. His willingness to share inspired others to feel safe in sharing their own experiences. It truly takes a brave soul to step forward and say, 'Hey, I want to talk about this and educate others about it.'"

    The U.S. Air Force prioritizes diversity and inclusion, fostering a supportive environment for all service members, including those with autism. The Air Force participates in activities to raise awareness and provides resources and accommodations to ensure individuals with autism can thrive in their roles.

    "It's odd to me why there's such stigma against ADHD or ASD,” said Taylor. “I've always supported and advocated for seeking help when needed. Specialists are there to assist, so why suffer? We don't have to fight it; understanding allows us to work alongside it. This understanding can alleviate much of the self-hate that we experience from battling ourselves. I'm open to answering questions and offering support to anyone who comes across my story."



    Date Taken: 04.24.2024
    Date Posted: 04.24.2024 09:30
    Story ID: 469355

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