About the Author

  • Thomas_armstrong_photo_cropped
    Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. is the author of fourteen books including the forthcoming Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Brain Differences. His other books include: In Their Own Way, 7 Kinds of Smart, Awakening Your Child's Natural Genius, Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, The Myth of the A.D.D. Child, and The Radiant Child. His books have been translated into 25 languages including Spanish, Hebrew, Chinese, Danish, and Russian. He has taught at several San Francisco Bay Area graduate schools including the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, and the California Institute of Integral Studies. He has written for Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle, Parenting (where he was a regularly featured columnist), The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, and many other journals and periodicals. He has appeared on The Today Show, CBS This Morning, CNN, the BBC, and The Voice of America. Articles featuring his work have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Investor's Business Daily, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and hundreds of other magazines and newspapers. He has given over 800 keynotes, workshops, and lectures in 42 states and 16 countries. His clients have included Sesame Street, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Republic of Singapore, Hasbro Toys, and the European Council of International Schools. He is currently working on a novel about the disappearance of childhood. For more information about his work, go to www.thomasarmstrong.com.
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01/01/2010

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Janet Purcell

I'm reminded of a conversation I had with a parent of a student experiencing autism who was getting ready to transition to high school. I was speaking of the student's outstanding vocabulary knowledge and ability to apply it. "This will serve her well in high school English classes," I said. Her mother said something to the effect of, "Yes, but she can't take care of her own basic physical needs without help." "That may be," I replied, "but her needs in one area do not erase her strengths in another." "Really?" her mother asked. "Really, will people be able to see those capabilities or will they be unable to get past the things she can't do?" Since then, I've really been thinking about this concept.

I agree completely that the language and approach of special education is in desperate need of change. Deficit thinking and labeling and subsequent grouping and segregating is so defeating for students and their families. Our own family experienced a tremendous shift in thinking when we replaced our local early intervention program (deficit model) with a strength-based program in the area. What a burden lifted! We were encouraged to focus on activities our very young son enjoyed doing and making sure he got a chance to be engaged in those things often. Through that engagement, we were assured, he would develop skills that were important to him. He was not assigned a "developmental age", we were not told that he needed to "catch up", nor were arbitrary benchmarks goals set. Very different from the "therapy" we had been experiencing. Had I not been immersed in both approaches myself, I'm not sure I would understand how deeply this paradigm shift we are discussing here affects those involved. Nothing short of revolutionary.

Peter Guerin

I've stumbled upon this page while doing a Google search on neurodiversity and all I can say is "It's about time!"

I'm a product of the failed, broken Special Education programs of the 1970s and 1980s. I was placed in the program due to ADD. I think the system is broken and not people like me. Why do I say this? Because back then the teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, parents, other students, etc. had very low expectations for people like me. Back then they didn't think people like me could hack it in college or in a "real" job so they steered many of us to menial jobs like pushing brooms or flipping burgers--if we were lucky. Rather intrestingly enough I applied for jobs at McDonald's and Burger King but wasn't hired due to my ADD (remember back then there was no ADA).

I think the biggest problem for people like me, though, was the bullying we had to endure from "normal" students--the teasing, the beatings, etc. And if we had the audacity to stand up and fight for our rights, we wound up getting punished worse than those who picked on us.

After dealing with the system as it was back then, is it any surprise that many like me either wound up getting menial jobs or wound up on public assistance?

I think what needs to be done are the following:

1. Stop the assumption that people in Special Education are only good to do menial grunt work and steer more of us to college and good-paying jobs.

2. Strengthen the ADA to end discrimination against persons with ADD (and other mental disabilities) in hiring and on the job.

3. Crack down on bullying of Special Education students in school; to that end whoever bullies people with ADD should receive double the punishment that would normally be doled out in this case because it would be considered a "hate crime". Also to that end Special Education students should not be punished for standing up and defending their rights if it was clear that they were not the aggressors in the incident. For very severe cases criminal charges should be pursued and the parents of the victims can sue for damages against the bully and school district.

4. All school clubs and sprots teams must establish an affirmative action-like program to admit Special Education students in their organizations; I especially want to see the post of "Special Education Representative" created for Student Government. This also should apply to proms, class reunions, etc.

5. I know some board of education have a student representative; there should be a Special Education representative on there as well.

For far too long people like me have been excluded from the debate about what's best for us. As it's been said in other disability movements "Nothing about us without us". We deserve a place at the table.

You've said what's been on my mind for years, and I thank you for it.

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