Neurodiversity is trending: A commencement speech

For all the graduates, what a beautiful and momentous day! Let’s enjoy it to the fullest, but let’s not forget those less fortunate than us wherever they might live on the planet we share. Please accept my heartfelt congratulations! Graduations are times of intense emotion. I’ve never been to a graduation for myself or anyone else when my eyes didn’t tear up. Graduations are times of intense emotion. (Y.A.L.E. School, Cherry Hill, N.J., June 14, 2018)

Take a moment; take a deep breath and inhale the air at the top of what must have once seemed like a mountain for you and for your families. Today marks an ending and a beginning. An ending of high school and the beginning of a transition to college or vocational training. This next chapter of your lives won’t be easy, but you have everything you need. And what would a commencement speech be like without some quotes from famous people?

You know all too well what Kermit the Frog meant when he said, “It’s not easy being green.” 

You have bounced back over and over with resilience and support and advocacy from your families. You’ve had a good education here at the Y.A.L.E. School guided by the scientific evidence how learning occurs and what makes Neurodiverse young people successful. You’ve had teachers and therapists and administrators who have worked hard and care deeply about you.

Just briefly, Neurodiversity is trending. It’s the notion that conditions like autism, dyslexia, and attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are as naturally occurring cognitive variations with distinctive strengths that have contributed to the evolution of technology and culture rather than mere checklists of deficits and dysfunctions.” Employers, large and small as well as public and private, are realizing the benefits of a diverse workforce including people like you who are graduating today.

The concept of neurodiversity turns previously diagnosed deficits into strengths and advantages. So your different kind of mind also contains your power. For example, while individuals with ASD generally have difficulties socializing, they spend very little time socializing at work. You may have trouble getting the big picture or the gist of something, though you have an intense focus for the details. You may have difficulty with teamwork, yet are good at working independently on a project. There may be difficulties with reading comprehension, but there is a special talent for decoding.

As Temple Grandin put it, “the world needs all kinds of minds.”

Another example is that people with ADHD can excel in many occupations, such as police officers, firefighters, sales, medical professions, mechanics, construction, delivery people, etc.  Accommodations, such as extremely clear instructions, and using preferred methods of communication, are useful for all employees.

What’s good for people with different kinds of minds is usually good for everyone else.

While people with ADHD cannot maintain focus well on one thing, they can focus intensely. Also, they would rather not spend time on details, but they can get the whole picture rather quickly. You may take on too many tasks simultaneously, but have the advantage of being very energetic. You may blurt things out, but are good at brainstorming which is an advantage in teamwork. You might have little interest in non-preferred tasks, but are passionate about things you are interested in. It may be hard to get your attention, but you are good at multitasking.

As Albert Einstein put it, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.”

Undoubtedly you have been hearing that the time is coming for you to advocate for yourselves. Make no mistake about it, if you don’t hand in an assignment on time, your professor will not take kindly to an email from your mom. You will be entitled to reasonable accommodations in post-secondary education or employment, but you will not be guaranteed services. You will have to speak up clearly about the accommodations you may need to be successful, such as extra time for tests or a quiet place to work, etc.

At first, you may think may think you don’t need any help, and that’s not abnormal for a new graduate, but I urge you to think and plan ahead and put in place the supports that you may need in the classroom or the workplace.

For parents, the challenge will be to stay out of your helicopter but remain available when needed. When your graduate does not want your help, try not to take it personally and realize that this is normal human development. It is how we all grow up, but it might be uncomfortable given all the effort it has taken to get to this day.

The journey of parenting is full of pushing and pulling, holding on and letting go. Speaking for myself, everything I have ever let go of had claw marks all over it!

As I have come to know, this lifelong journey that we are all on is truly an Odyssey, like the epic Greek poem, full of twists and turns as well as joys and sorrows, defeats and victories. So have a great day celebrating the victory of your graduation. Let the joy seep in and become a part of conditioning your mind for the struggles and successes that lie ahead. Use the tools that have gotten you here adapted to the challenges you will encounter.

I wish you well in love and work with safety and security every step of the way.

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  1. Perfect graduation message- you hit it out of the park! I couldn’t agree more and have heard this message at professional conferences. This viewpoint needs to be more widely promoted among the lay public.


  2. Dr. Naseef, thank you for sharing this with us – as a parent is it heart filling and as someone dedicated to the value of neurodiversity, i really appreciate that message being explained so clearly! Thank you!! Leslie


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