Actually Education Neurodiversity Stories – Charis Pavely

Actually Education are committed to sharing and spreading great advice and stories from the world of neurodiversity. As a part of our discussions with the community, and our research, we hope to also share our conversations with fascinating individuals we meet along the way.

Charis Pavely has just signed her first contract in professional cricket off the back of playing for England in the Under-19’s World Cup. It was a tournament where England reached the final and finished runners-up. Charis played six matches there and scored 93 runs including an impressive 45 against Zimbabwe.

Charis was 16 when she was diagnosed with ADHD, a process where she got the full support of her club, Central Sparks. Now aged 19 she has her professional contract with Sparks and also plays for Worcestershire County Cricket and Birmingham Phoenix as well as England at youth level. On top of all that, Charis is a cricket coach and has the excellent goal to “help coach the kids no one else wants to coach”. We are delighted to bring you the following interview about her ADHD journey and cricket career to date with our Non-Executive Director, Peter Davis.

Thanks so much for telling us about your career and story so far Charis, could you tell us a bit about how you got involved in cricket in the first place?

I dropped out of school at 16 after completing my GCSE’s which wasn’t the wisest move but one I felt I had to take. I didn’t enjoy school, the process of the school system and being pushed into different routes based on a day structure. When I dropped out of school I was lucky enough to be on the Central Sparks Academy and by not going to school they suggested that I go to professional training in the daytime and not many people did that. With them seeing me more I was competing for a spot in that team and made my debut last Summer and I was offered a contract this Winter.

I don’t regret any of the journey that I’ve taken, if it wasn’t for dropping out of school I wouldn’t have gone to the World Cup in January as I wouldn’t have been training as much.

Were you already interested in cricket before that?

Yeah, I started playing at 13 which is quite late but I was fast tracked onto the Sparks Academy, before that I did professional gymnastics and once I left that I didn’t look back.

Do you think your ADHD was a reason for leaving school early and not enjoying that?

100%, it’s not their fault as they didn’t realise the support I needed there as I wasn’t diagnosed. I was probably masking around people, I wasn’t going to lessons and it really was a case of ‘What are you doing?’

How did you come to the decision to get a formal diagnosis?

My diagnosis came though Sparks, the physio at the time (Jill Chapman) noticed some other key signs. I’m beyond grateful to her. She suggested a diagnosis, she said ‘I’ve no doubt what it will come back and say but I think you should know!’ That was very much our relationship at the time and it was great that she was able to say that to me. It’s a costly process but they were willing to pay for it as it would help my cricket and I can’t thank them enough for the things they’ve done for my ADHD. I got diagnosed and it came back with a score of 52 out of 54 symptoms which my physiatrist said was the joint highest he’d ever seen in 27 years.

Charis Pavely batting

I didn’t realise how bad it was, I get quite emotional talking about it because I was not nice to some people especially my mum. She’s the person I was closest to and I thought I could get away with it around her, she’s a saint! I don’t really know how she did it to be honest.

Has it helped your mum to know about your ADHD?

In her words, I’m a completely different person now. Having that diagnosis I had nothing to lose finding out what it could be and by finally having the label it allowed me to get the help I needed.

How has understanding that influenced your approach to everyday life as well as sports?

It now gives me the thinking time that I didn’t have before. I understand why I acted in certain ways. You can talk about triggers and different environments where my symptoms are going to be naturally worse. Now I know that, I can avoid certain situations. One of my main triggers is injustice and when my time is not used efficiently. If I know that I’m going to get annoyed with someone having an hour batting and someone else having ten minutes, I need to find ways that I don’t see that so if that’s happening I won’t be there.

In everyday life I can’t be running late, I’ll be snappy at people and so I give myself more time than I need.

Are your coaches and colleagues aware of your need for space and time to handle these things?

They are fully aware of all my triggers and have helped me to figure some of them out. The main thing for me in cricket when I’m fielding I want everything to be perfect. If you are fielding 100 times a game it won’t be perfect every time so we’ve worked a lot on how to move on from that, you can’t let that affect what you do and when I wasn’t diagnosed it was affecting me.

Interesting, so when you make mistakes as any sportsperson will do does that have a larger effect specifically on you?

I think I’ve learned to control my frustration and that was the biggest thing holding me back, I could have played for the seniors earlier but I wasn’t in a position with my ADHD to take a risk on. That’s something I needed to get sorted first. I probably have the same expectancies but I have come to understand that people are not making mistakes on purpose which is how I viewed it before which was almost like ‘Why are they doing this to me? I wouldn’t do it to them’

You mentioned before your struggles with anger and frustration before your diagnosis, are these the ways you’ve learned to adapt?

Yes, it’s been about giving myself the thinking time. Without the medication, my reaction time to things was so impulsive, I never thought about the consequences of what I did. You are sitting around after thinking about why you did that. I manage it better now, obviously there’s still times I don’t. I call them blips of the old me. That’s something I’ll always have to deal with.

It must be hard, neurodiversity aside, in sport you get sportspeople getting angry with one another for making mistakes. It must be hard to have a line between “OK I’m actually annoyed here” and it being something that’s come about due to your ADHD? The same back at you too sometimes, is it hard to draw those lines?

Charis Pavely bowling

We are all still human and we all still get angry with each other in normal ways. One of my issues is using the ADHD card too often. I think you can go two ways when you get diagnosed where you use it as an excuse for everything or not. You can still make mistakes and that’s nothing to do with ADHD.

More broadly, what’s your take on neurodiversity within professional sport?

It’s getting better, more people are willing to talk about it and there’s more role models coming forward. People relate to things that they are hearing and don’t want to say anything, that’s also OK. It’s a very individual journey. I’m quite an open person, being open about it is helping my teammates in a team sport, the more they can understand it the better we will be as a team.

I also understand why people don’t want to come forward and show that side of themselves. Take a tennis player for example, if they came out and said they have ADHD then you are giving your opponent something to work with, if you annoy me so much I’ll make mistakes. I do understand people’s privacy around it. If you are willing to share, that’s great and if you are not willing to share then please learn about it because everyone else around you has some form of neurodiversity.

When I went to the psychiatrist he said I could have been diagnosed at one and a half it was that obvious. That’s where I feel a bit let down by education that they didn’t tell me. I could have found a way to do both things maybe.

What are your thoughts on masking?

I didn’t realise how much I did it before. It explains a lot of things, I was so tired of pretending to be fine and be normal, it was exhausting. It is a very real thing, I don’t surround myself with people that I have to mask around. I didn’t know I was masking as I didn’t know what it was back then.

A little background on how it’s been dealt with for yourself in terms of support, where does that come from?

I’m lucky enough that Central Sparks got me my diagnosis. In cricket you have to get something called a TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) which means you can take medication and it’s OK on a drug test. It’s a costly process but Sparks do pay for all of that. We actually have a neurodiversity session today so there is more being done.

Do you think more could be done to help?

From my point of view, they’ve done everything they could with me. Raising awareness they could always do more but we have the environment as a team where anyone can go to anyone with anything.

That’s great that you are in a position where you feel you’ve had fantastic support! If you personally had unlimited resources what would you do to promote neurodiversity and inclusivity in sport?

If we are talking totally unlimited, I’d probably get everyone screened and then it’s up to them if they want to know or not. The access and costs associated with screening are a big issue so the more people that have access to that the more people we are helping.

Some great insights here, thank you Charis for sharing so openly with us and of course the best of luck with your career that’s already off to such a great start!