Just Imagine…Neurodiversity and the Contributions of a Wandering Mind

November 3, 2022

Photo by Tara Winstead, via Pixels

Mike had been a concern to his parents ever since he started school. His teachers were constantly mentioning his lack of attention. Even with his attention issues, Mike generally had the best grades of his classmates. In fact, the times when Mike was best able to focus were when he was helping tutor other students.

Mike’s parents resisted getting him tested for his attention issues since he was able to get by. In high school, his attention issues continued but he was fortunate to have teachers who developed some accommodations and found ways to turn his wandering mind to meet his learning needs.

College was an interesting experience for Mike. Faculty found out early on that he had a way of thinking outside the box. While working in labs, he came up with ideas that he could convert into promising research proposals. However, Mike would lose interest in his own ideas and move on to other thoughts for new research directions. Mike’s grades were adequate, but he barely passed classes where he was afforded only limited use of his imagination.

When Mike graduated, he struggled finding a job. He just did not come across very well in interviews. His mind would wander and his answers were often a meandering journey of seemingly disconnected responses. His breakthrough came when his former mentor and academic advisor reached out to another former student who was running an innovative company.

Two years later, the academic advisor got a call from the former student who hired Mike. At first he was dreading what he would hear when he answered the call, but then his former student said:

“I want to tell you that Mike really saved my company. You were right in your assessment of his value. He came up with ideas for three more products that have become our major revenue producers. You were also right about Mike quickly losing interest in his creations. But that’s fine. We have lots of product developers. What we don’t have are those who can create new ideas. I’ve given Mike a blank portfolio. He’s free to do his thing. Again, thanks for urging me to hire someone who probably wouldn’t pass our normal hiring criteria.”

Just imagine the human talent that is lost when we are looking for “cookie cutter candidates” who meet a predetermined set of criteria. Minds think differently, and this may seem like a problem at first. But what if those different minds can provide the talent that is missing in our organizations? We often don’t do justice to those who are neurodiverse, but they can play a special role in our society, in our workplaces, and in our schools. Just imagine how creating spaces that are more inclusive of neurodiverse individuals would benefit not only those individuals but all of society.

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“Neurodiverse individuals are often wired with characteristics that enable them to succeed in areas where others fail.”– Kathy Bernhardt, consultant and disability inclusion trainer

This is part of our “Just Imagine” series of occasional posts, inviting you to join us in imagining positive possibilities for a citizen-centered democracy.

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