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Understanding Cognitive Differences: Neurodiversity (as it appeared in

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A neuro diverse community

Although I see that this question could be applied to all types of people, in all walks of life, in today's complex working environments, I have been asked to address its effects on those who fall into the neuro-diverse community - those people with special needs and abilities.

I am the founder and director of Prep to Step-Up, a post-secondary education and communication program for neuro-diverse adults. This is a pioneer project that attempts to fill a niche, as there are few continuing education opportunities available to these inspiring adults. It is located near Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and is in the middle of its third year. We include academia, social and communication skills, self-empowerment and independence, music therapy through drum circles, and work skills.

We talk of 'time and space' and the 'clients' agree that giving them a little more time to absorb information, process it and respond, and allowing them space to think things through at their own pace, will help them feel more inclusive and confident.

Slowing things down

Is this not what we all expect in a new employment opportunity? I would suggest that, in our current fast-paced society, we could all take a hint and slow things down!

Slowing down is a skill that 'typical' people can learn from the neuro-diverse. We would listen to each other better, take more time with each other, and resolve differences in a more compromising way, with 'time and space'.

Present treatment and future worries

We teach from the heart, seeking out our client's primary skills and abilities, allowing them to feel safe and empowered, enhancing any and all opportunities they feel they would like to try - even if it's slicing an apple or planting a garden in a bowl; skills that have been denied them to date because of safety or behaviour.

We speak to them as adults. They struggle sometimes to break away from their 'schooldays' and enter a more social and employable time in their lives; treating them as the adults they are is important.

We see their parents and families as brave and courageous as they struggle and contend with the question, "What is going to happen to my son/daughter if and when I pass on?" Most clients are not in employment, and as the neuro-diverse community increases alarmingly, governments seem to budget for everyday care but not always in the stability of their futures.

Entrepreneurship and special needs

There are many examples of people with special needs and abilities starting their own business; a walking messenger service in downtown New York, bakeries and cookie shops like Collettey's Cookies, The Famous Peoples' Players Theatre and Restaurant, garden nurseries, and The Lunchbox Cafe in Milton, Ontario.

All these, like any other employment opportunity, have one thing in common - support from 'typical' people: friends, brothers and sisters, and parents. All who believe in the success and positive future resulting from a brave first step! A step that came after many employment rejections and struggles for further self-improvements. Have we not ALL been there?

Life skills for all

I respectfully admire the three-year program in England at The Special Needs Hotel:

  • Work skills learned to become engaged in many employment opportunities that the tourist industry can provide,

  • Leaving home and living independently,

  • Improving family relationships from child and parent, to adult and parent,

  • Comprehending their behaviours and improving on them to become more social and inclusive,

  • Acquiring the ability to speak independently and with more confidence

Are not all of these life-skills what we would encourage in all of our children, no matter their ability? The neuro-diverse, people with special needs and abilities, and who are willing, able and want to be employed, just need a little more 'time and space' to get to where they want to be.

Never ignore the possible

I believe, as an educator and a parent to three sons, it is our responsibility as all humans born on this Earth to always be available to each other and have a productive life, no matter what our abilities. To me, this means always being open to learning about everything in new ways; never limiting oneself to a single idea like corporate policy or financial constraints.

Our mission at Prep to Step-Up is "Never Ignore a Possible". The next time you look into the eyes of any person new in your life, employable or not, will you be able to see the possible? Be mindful of all the possibilities. They can only compliment the possibilities in you!

Doreen McCall, Founder and Director of Prep to Step Up, Mother of 3 grown up boys


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