Welcome to My Different Minded World
My journey into neurodiversity
Posted April 2, 2019
My understanding of neurodiversity began in a large warehouse store when, at the age of 29, I was crushed by a stack of 18 conference tables and sustained a traumatic brain injury. After the accident, my mother told me it was like I died and another person inhabited my body; for a long time, I was that different. I had lost most of the qualities that used to define my identity; favorite colors, foods, clothing preferences, personality, had all changed. In fact, my sensory system was so different, confused, and over-stimulated that I could not function; and my organization and focusing skills fell apart as I lost my rote verbal memory and sequencing abilities. Within a year, I started having seizures. But as bad as the injury was, during the weeks and months that followed I also began dreaming in three-dimensional pictures! This happened for the first time a week to the day after my accident. It was as if I could see in my mind, for the very first time, complex, 3-dimensional, visual-spatial systems that were in perpetual motion.
Prior to my injury, I worked as a private practice school psychologist with an emphasis on neuropsychological assessment. With that training, and the ability to internally sense the changes that were happening in my own brain, I began to “sense” and “see” certain things pertaining to intelligence and cognition more clearly. As I witnessed the effects of my own injury, I also learned that I could more fully understand the inner workings and relationships between intelligence, cognition, and sensory processing in others. I realized that even though my brain had never worked this way before, for many of those I worked with, theirs always had. Before my injury, my strengths were in the language, verbal sequencing, and verbal memory, and although I saw pictures in my mind, these were almost always flat and unmoving.
Years later, I still can’t put most of my 3-D systems and pictures into words, but I finally have come to understand how these images forever changed my overall thinking about cognition and the assessment tools we use to measure learning and intelligence. From my new perspective, I now understand that some pictures are simply much too complex for words. I also recognize that having complex pictures within one’s cognitive landscape slows processing speed. Additionally, I came to see that both the “what” and the “how” of standardized intelligence tests lack the needed sophistication to properly evaluate these deeply spatial and perceptual abilities. Finally, for the few subtests that minimally scratch the surface on these skills, the element of timing them along with the standardized “ceiling rules” used to determine which items we as evaluators administer, negates our ability to truly understand and recognize these skills.
It has now been two decades since my accident, and although I never returned to my “old self,” I was thankfully able to keep working. In the years since the accident, I completed psycho-educational evaluations for approximately 3,500 kids. I also reviewed records for another 1,000-1,500 clients and in doing so, I believe I have been able to pull a lot of pieces together about cognition and diversity in learning that I have never seen written anywhere else. I have also been able to detail some of the complex relationships between language and visual information processing and describe the ways that sensory processing, intellectual performance, and differences in cognition all interact with one another. More specifically, I learned that sensory processing requires a lot of cognitive energy. When that energy is tied up filtering incoming information, this impedes some higher-order thinking, such as socialization and language efficiency. But, as sensory sensitivity and awareness increases, visual and kinesthetic channels also open in the brain and these allow one to think more clearly in pictures and within multi-sensory experiences. While this negatively affects language and language-based processing, in time, it improves visualization, visual information processing and even changes one’s spatial and perceptual intelligence.
My story doesn’t end with a brain injury though; as there is at least one more chapter. Eight years ago, I had a seizure while driving that caused a serious auto accident in which I broke my neck and partially severed my spinal cord. As a result, I had to spend the better part of a year in rehabilitation hospitals and physical therapy clinics. It was then that I made the decision to go back to school, and this time I had a specific research purpose. I wanted to deeply explore what had become my greatest passion in life up to that point: the topic of cognitive neurodiversity. With the intent of studying difference across the autism spectrum, I formed a new cognitive-behavioral theory that I believe more fully explains autism. Drawn from the first-person accounts of those diagnosed, the book Autism is the Future: The Evolution of a Different Type of Intelligence is the result of that research.
I hope you will join me as I write more about my experiences, share my theories on intelligence and cognition, and tell the stories of the many brilliant and insightfully neuro-diverse individuals that have shaped who I am today. Welcome to my world, where understanding, explaining, and supporting “different minds” has become my life’s most significant calling.