Her speech, entitled “Blood, Sweat and Glitter: The Story of a Neurodivergent Girl Living in a Neurotypical World”, covered her journey through the harsh Melbourne lockdowns to discovering the difficulties the system places on people living with neurological conditions.
It’s a wildly affecting speech, much of which we’ve got below with respect to your time but also to the power of Rusicano’s words and message. She spoke about her “profoundly changed” core beliefs that came with her diagnosis, why it has taken 41 years of her life to have her condition recognised and understood, and what needs to change about mental health care in the country.
She also touched upon her own fears for her 10-year-old daughter who has also been diagnosed with ADHD, as well as her son who has autism.
“The reason that I eventually agreed to give you this speech was because I wanted to make sure that all of you here today and everyone watching from wherever you are … that you get it, that more people get it,” she said.
“Don’t treat them like there’s something wrong with them. Be bigger than that, be better than that, be kinder.”
For context, ADHD or ‘attention deficit hyperactivity disorder‘, is a type of neurological condition that affects thinking, emotional processing, and environmental navigation.
While it’s typically associated with children, as Rusciano points out, it can be diagnosed in adults too, although this is made much more difficult when “all of our systems” are built around the assumption that “everyone is a heterosexual white man.”
Visibly nervous on approach to the mic, Rusciano quickly fell into her self-deprecating, sparkly routine, cracking jokes left and right while rocking a red velvet blazer and a psychedelic-print shirt. She charted her own journey as follows:
“I found the absence of my usual routine and structure [during lockdown] led to my mental health completely unravelling. I was exhausted all of the time. And it wasn’t physical exhaustion. It was a tiredness that crept into my bones and settled there.
“No amount of sleep or rest could rid me of it and, suddenly, completing the simplest tasks became nearly impossible. It felt like my brain had been bleached of all its magic and I felt completely overwhelmed by life.
“I just didn’t understand why I was so tired because I literally slowed down to half the pace of life I was living before the pandemic.
“I hoped that when we came out of locky D, and life resumed some form of normality, I would feel like my old self again. But, as 2020 came to an end and the world began to slowly turn once more, I found myself unable to join in.
“It felt like I was watching everyone else board a train and speed off into the distance and I was stuck on the platform too tired and confused to join them. So in February 2021, I finally took myself off to see my doctor and told him how I was feeling”.
While it took the shakeup of lockdown for symptoms of Rusciano’s condition to emerge to the point she investigated them, she notes that the traits of ADHD have always been there.
“Throughout my life, it has been joked that I may have ADHD because of my relentless ambition, my fast brain, my impulsivity, my rubbish memory, my inability to regulate my emotions, my complete lack of organisational skills, and my inability to speak at a normal pace,” she said.
“It’s something I never took seriously, because I’d always associated ADHD with hyperactive 10-year-old boys who should avoid red cordial, or they’ll bounce off the walls, certainly not with 42-year-old anxiety-ridden adult women who are chronically exhausted all of the time.
“But what I’ve since learned is that women and assigned-female-at-birth people with undiagnosed ADHD experience anxiety and depression at a higher rate than the rest of the population. Why? Because of the shame that consumes them when they can’t keep up with what society expects of them. We spend a lot of time overcompensating, trying and mostly failing to do it all, which is an exhausting concept for anyone.
“For once in my life, I really aced a test. I got a near-perfect score in the ADHD exam. I even missed answering a few questions because I got distracted”.
Gaining her diagnosis, Rusciano explains, was not the end of the journey but the beginning of a whole new one.
“Since joining the neurodivergent community, I have learned that the concept of neurodiversity is a really complex one. Those who believe in it feel that neurological differences should be recognized and respected as a social category, like ethnicity or sexual orientation. That being neurodivergent is part of who a person is and not something to be fixed or cured,” she said.
ADHD as a condition is a little more difficult to define. It’s also suggested that the condition has been over-diagnosed in certain people, particularly children, and Rusciano says that her own diagnosis was met with disbelief, even from close friends.
“It’s actually made up of a long list of complex traits that are much bigger than being easily distracted. I feel like the name grossly minimizes our lived experience,” she said.
Speaking to the medical institutions designed to diagnose the condition, Rusciano notes that “I could have given a whole other speech about how broken our mental health system is.”
“ADHD testing and therapy is wildly expensive. The cost of supporting and treating a young child with ADHD is, on average, almost $2200 a year. And for adults with ADHD who have a child with ADHD, that figure can be as high as $6600 annually. This is out of reach for many Australian families”.
“There needs to be a whole makeover of the diagnostic process. And also we need better access to getting a diagnosis. There needs to be funding for schools to help them to better support and understand neurodivergent students across the whole spectrum from autism to ADHD. There also needs to be a total cultural and attitude attitudinal shift within the wider community.
“That’s why I’m here today. The message should not be that the neurodivergent community are lacking or less than, but that we are different and equally worthy. Specifically, in relation to ADHD, the judgment from neurotypical people needs to just get in the bin.
“When we’re not forced to try and fit into a framework and societal structure that was built for people who aren’t like us, we can be pretty impressive. But at the moment, in most cases, when we send a kid with ADHD to school, it’s like sending them to play baseball with a golf club”.
If anything that Rusicano has said has made you go ‘huh, maybe I have ADHD…’ there are a number of self assessment quizzes online you can do.
As always though, it’s best to speak to a doctor if you’re concerned about the possibility of having ADHD or any other mental health disorder.