The Latent Potential of People who Think and Learn Differently and the Cost to Society of Ignoring

By Sharon Morrison Ed.D.

Individuals, such as many of Morrison School students, who tend to think, to learn and to perceive the world a bit differently than others are actually the potential mover and shakers of society.  But their influence can either be significantly positive or significantly negative depending upon the early guidance and intervention they receive in their lives.  Take for example these folks: Alexander Graham Bell, Walt Disney, John Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson, George Patton, George Washington, Carol Greider (molecular biologist and 2009 Nobel Prize winner), and Paul MacCready (considered the most outstanding engineer of the 20th century).  What do they have in common- great achievers, changed the world in some form or fashion, and are diagnosed or would be diagnosed in today’s world as dyslexic (which is reading disabled).

And then consider the folks in this next group:  Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Leonardo de Vinci, Emily Dickinson, Ben Franklin, Napoleon Bonaparte, Mozart, Winston Churchill, Stephen Hawkings, Abraham Lincoln, Beethoven, John Lennon, Robin Williams, the Wright Brothers, and Eleanor Roosevelt.  Also, great achievers and world changers, as well considered today to be either ADHD or on the autism spectrum- or both, since these conditions are now so interchangeable.  As they say, “ADHD people have more thoughts before breakfast than the rest of us have all day long”.  And then there is the grandfather of all “different” thinkers and doers: Albert Einstein, who early on was thought to be mentally retarded because of his odd habits and difficulties in school.  Today, Einstein would very likely fall into the diagnostic category of dyslexic as well as high functioning autism.

These as well as many other notable people, past and present, were or are, wired in some way differently than the ordinary person.  However, despite their differences, and in many cases because of those differences, all of these people made or are making a substantial contribution to society-all positive except for one.

Of course we are all different and our differences take many forms- our physical appearance, our special talents or lack of them, our specific abilities or inabilities, our manner of relating to people and interpreting social cues, our ability to discipline our way of thinking, behaving and learning.  And, sometimes, depending on exactly how our differences manifest, we find ourselves woefully out of step with society- and society is for the most part extremely unforgiving of anyone who doesn’t march in lock step with it. As a result, people who choose to march to their own drum beat or, try as they may, cannot pick up on the rhythm of society’s may suffer personally and socially all their lives, and all too often they do not realize whatever their potential may be- great or ordinary- which is a loss to them and, of course, in many ways to society.

Strange as it may seem to you when considering someone who has accomplished great things, such people can still be filled with self-doubt and lacking in a sense of self-worth.  Why?  Because as social beings, an intrinsic need of humans is to be accepted, included, appreciated and considered by others as having worth.  Take this away, especially in the early years, and you have an individual who struggles lifelong to feel whole.  And certainly many of those high achievers I mentioned suffered in their personal lives to a greater or less degree despite their enormous achievements, because that sense of doubt that’s implanted at an early age in the very soul cannot be completely wiped away by any amount of success later in life.

At Morrison School we teach students to turn that voice of doubt into a positive voice of self-encouragement and of encouragement to others.  We teach them to replace the all too frequent “can’t do” with not only “can do” but “will do”.  We teach them not to fall back on their “weaknesses” as an excuse for failure but to challenge themselves to succeed despite those weaknesses.  We teach them that the word “unfair” is simply an excuse to not try and, therefore, an argument against success, whereas words like determination, persistence, hard work, dependability, responsibility, courtesy and consideration are keys to success.

We teach them that although they may or they may not have the highest IQ, be the best reader or mathematician, or plumber, or sales person, or computer techie in the world, if they can’t get to work on time, take and follow instruction, respect authority, abide by rules, get along with their fellow workers and bosses, complete a task accurately and on time, show kindness, and in general show respect for and tolerance of all people, they will NOT be successful or happy people in the complete and full meaning of the words success and happiness.

We teach our students to get outside themselves and take a look at the world around them and feel great gratitude for the blessings that have been bestowed upon them rather than anger and resentment over blessings others have and they do not.

And along with all of that, we also do teach our students to read, write, compute, think, analyze, problem solve and to appreciate the brilliant light and awesome power that comes with knowledge and the mastery of language-because it is these that separate us from all other living things on earth.

The mission of Morrison School is to level the playing field for these folks and, thereby, give them as individuals a fair chance at career success and personal happiness, AND in so doing to give society a fair chance to benefit from their considerable abilities and talents.  With the professional and personal contributions of many dedicated people over our 38 year history, our school has been very successful in accomplishing that mission despite the many and significant obstacles in the way of success for us as a school and for the students who come to us for help.
However, we have to remember that despite their often gifted abilities and wonderful personal attributes, these young people are tragically at high risk of poor outcomes as adults- tragic for them, tragic for society.

Since, success in any front, is so very illusive to these folks, they more often than others end up unemployed or underemployed, and therefore, they make up a large percentage of those receiving unemployment benefits, which comes out of your taxes and mine.

They have ongoing medical and psychological needs, and therefore, tend to make up a large percentage of those who ultimately receive ongoing disability benefits, which comes out of your taxes and mine.

These folks are far more likely to be involved in criminal activity as young adults than others.  And that’s why 25% of the country’s prison population is identified as having ADHD/LD with an extremely high recidivism rate.  This maintenance comes out of your taxes and mine.

Because they don’t provide successful models for their children, they often create a cycle of failure that follows on down the line and negatively impacts the lives of generations to come, the support of these folks comes out of your taxes and mine.

Proper intervention can change the course of these lives and, thereby, have an enormously positive impact on society.  And the earlier this intervention begins, the more positive, enduring, and long reaching the results.

So, as business people, consider the enormous cost to society of ignoring or underestimating the significance of these young people.  And then consider the positive impact on society if we could solve the paradox that these remarkable young people present.  And as caring people, consider as I do every day of my life, the heartbreaking personal cost to these individuals over a lifetime of often tormented struggle-a struggle that goes on within them even when they may have found outward success.

Our school not only applies the knowledge and therapeutic interventions we know about today, but in the course of our daily work, we are committed to finding new and even more successful strategies that will effectively change the course of the lives of our students.