In recent years, interest in neurodiversity – the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways – has grown, yet most aspects of society are still set up for neurotypical people.
I was fortunate to speak with Dr.Temple Grandin, one of the most lauded academics in the world and an expert in animal behavior. She was also one of the first people to write candidly about being autistic (and the movie about her life starring Claire Danes is a must-see!).
Dr. Grandin is a longtime advocate for neurodiversity, and has written many books and essays on the subject. Her book, Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions, proposes new approaches to educating, parenting, employing, and collaborating with visual thinkers.
Dr. Grandin shared her observations with me about learning beyond academia. No matter what kind of thinker you are, there is much to learn from Dr. Grandin’s expertise.
Ask for what you need
Because our brains work differently, that means that we all learn differently. As a young person, Dr. Grandin – now considered one of the top college professors in the country – struggled to get into college. Even after getting in, she still struggled with algebra and math. When she failed her first math exam, she did what many of us don’t: she asked for help. “When I failed my first math quiz… I got a graduate student to tutor me. I did something about it. I didn’t wait until I failed the class.”
No matter your age or your situation, it isn’t easy to ask for what you need. Dr. Grandin told me that most students – neurodivergent or not – wait too long to ask for help. It could be a special accommodation or understanding a personal issue outside of class; no matter what, don’t wait until it’s too late to ask for what you need. This wisdom extends well beyond our school days and into our professional and personal lives. If you need help, don’t wait until it’s a problem: act quickly to nip it in the bud.
Classes like theater, music, cooking, sewing, woodworking, welding, and auto mechanics are less and less available to young people, and Dr. Grandin is seeing incoming college students who have never used tools like a tape measure or a ruler. Not only does this lack of education have possible workforce implications, it also deprives children of the ability to use their brain in a different way and to experience failure. For example, in home economics, “if you burn the cookies, you burn the cookies. Then you try again.” When I first start working with students, many of them are afraid to try new things either because they fear the unknown or they fear failure. When you start to gain experience and try new things, students can “learn how to make mistakes.”
Learning how to make and tolerate mistakes is key to developing new skills, perspectives and relationships. Trying new things and diving in deeply is how we figure out who we are and what we want. Working with our hands can also open up new career opportunities because many neurodivergent people excel in this type of learning – and careers – but aren’t given the opportunity to explore those skills. Exposure to hands-on learning can benefit all kinds of learners and make failure more tolerable.
Neurodiversity leads to innovation
When we encourage neurodiversity instead of stifling it, innovation is possible and optimal. In her recent New York Times article, Dr. Grandin explained how hands-on education can trickle down into the workforce:
“…the first thing I tell managers is that they need a neurodiverse work force. Complementary skills are the key to successful teams. We need the people who can build our trains and planes and internet, and the people who can make them run. Studies have shown that diverse teams will outperform homogeneous teams. If you’ve ever attended a meeting where nothing gets solved, it may be because there are too many people who think alike.”
No matter how your brain works, the world needs you – the authentic you.
Let’s talk about neurodiversity!
I’m here for you, so if you have questions or ideas for things you’d like me to cover in Unlocking Your Authentic Self, I want to hear from you! Connect with me on LinkedIn and send me a message or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Need some one-on-one guidance on your college admissions journey? Check out Ivy Insight!
- If you’re a neurodivergent young professional, check out these success strategies for the workplace.
- For organizations and neurodivergent leaders on their quest to reach exceptional outcomes, give AsceND Talent a follow.
- For more guidance on how to get into your dream college by being your authentic self, check out my book, Get Real and Get In (St. Martin’s Press).