Member View: Annie Frederick on Neurodiversity in Racing

June 26, 2024 | WiR Features

My name is Annie Frederick, founder of The Athletes House, a sports management and marketing agency dedicated to transforming neurodiversity in the industry. A little over a year ago, I embarked on this journey, driven by my personal experiences and the belief in a more inclusive future. Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with AuDHD, a revelation that has profoundly helped me understand myself and my life better. AuDHD is the abbreviation for autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder combined.

About Annie

Since I was six, I have been passionate about equestrian sports and horse riding. My journey in the racing world includes riding out for trainer Chris Gordon, working at Whitsbury Manor Racing Yard & Stud, and attending the Royal Ascot for the past three years. Last year, I had the incredible opportunity to work at the Kentucky Derby for World Horse Racing. The behind-the-scenes stories in racing, the intense emotions, and the meticulous preparation fascinate me.

As a neurodivergent woman, I found peace and solace at the yard, immersing myself in caring for and training horses, socialising with friends, and consuming information about bloodstock, grooming tips, and training programs. Equestrian sports captured my imagination at a young age, nothing was more exhilarating and a cause of focus than preparing for a day’s trail hunting or competing at a local show.

Before founding The Athletes House, I worked as a physiologist, supporting athletes in their physical preparation for sporting events. Transitioning into a more commercial role, I remain committed to supporting athletes. My experiences have equipped me with the knowledge to advance safeguarding practices and advocate for the needs of neurodivergent individuals in sports. I am passionate about creating awareness campaigns and consulting with event organisers to foster truly inclusive environments.

Raising the profile of female athletes and jockeys is crucial for inspiring the next generation of women in sport. Highlighting their achievements not only provides them with deserved recognition but also challenges stereotypes and paves the way for greater participation and success.

Hiding behind the hat – Female Neurodiversity

I attended Ladies’ Day at Royal Ascot, a day synonymous with elegance, grandeur, and the quintessential British hat. Yet, beneath these stylish headpieces, many women are hiding their neurodivergence. I spoke to numerous women about their experiences with neurodiversity, a term encompassing conditions including ADHD, dyslexia, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Attention Deficit Disorder among others.

Neurodiversity refers to the wide range of differences in individual brain function and behavioural traits, all considered part of the normal variation within the human population. Despite this, many neurodivergent women feel compelled to mask their differences to fit in socially. Masking involves altering behaviour to conform to societal expectations, a strategy that can lead to exhaustion and a diminished sense of self.

Unmasking, on the other hand, is the process of letting one’s guard down. For neurodivergent women, this requires a safe and supportive environment. The essence of true inclusion isn’t just extending an invitation but ensuring that everyone feels genuinely welcomed and free to express their authentic selves. A lady in attendance articulated it as “The most important
thing [about inclusion] isn’t always inviting someone to the party, it is asking them to dance.”

Historically a male condition

Neurodivergence was predominantly associated with men and boys, leading to the underdiagnosis and misdiagnosis of women and girls. Neurodivergent women present differently to men, hence all the established signs of neurodiversity are those which are associated with men and boys. Fortunately, this is changing. Increasingly, women are discovering their neurodivergence later in life, finding validation and relief in their diagnoses.

These diagnoses bring a crucial understanding: thinking differently can be a strength if viewed through the right lens.
Many neurodivergent women shared that they received their diagnoses late and they have developed strategies to navigate daily challenges. They emphasised the importance of raising awareness about neurodiversity and fostering supportive networks. People are often more understanding and adaptable than we might assume, especially when made aware of the
unique challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals.

As a neurodivergent person myself, I recognise the difficulty in articulating these experiences and the fear of misconceptions. However, knowing your needs and advocating for them is essential. It is this self-advocacy that allows us to break through invisible barriers, achieve our goals, and make meaningful contributions to society.

Ultimately, neurodivergent women should be free to be their true selves. Their unedited contributions are invaluable, and the world benefits greatly when they are encouraged to shine. It’s time to stop hiding behind the hat and embrace the full spectrum of neurodiversity. Racing already has commendable initiatives like sensory rooms and autism-friendly race days. However, I am motivated to elevate neurodiversity awareness further and embed inclusion practices deeply into the mainstream.

Thank you Annie from sharing your thoughts. Watch this space!