Scientist and psychiatrist Lawrence Fung, MD, Ph.D., discusses what neurodiversity is and how increased awareness and support benefits not only neurodiverse individuals but the global population as a whole. He outlines the Strengths-Based Model of Neurodiversity and presents the newly implemented Stanford initiatives for neurodiverse student and employment support.
In this presentation:
25:04 – Focusing on individual strengths
26:11 – Implementing individualized, long-term strategies
5:42 – Holistic intelligence assessments
27:25 – Identifying meaningful development goals
“Neurodiversity is a concept that regards individuals with differences in brain function and behavioral traits as part of normal variation in the human population.” (2:40). Conditions including autism, dyslexia, and AD/HD, are discussed.
Neurodivergent individuals make up the largest minority group in the United States but have yet to receive proper support in most social and professional settings. To address this issue, Fung asserts that employers and educators must adopt approaches based on the strengths of neurodiverse individuals instead of their “disabilities.”
The Strengths-Based Model of Neurodiversity (21:55) employs four main components (24:18):
- Positive Psychology (25:04) Focused on individual strength, satisfaction, and growth
- Positive Psychiatry (26:11) Implementing long-term solutions based on strengths, well-being, and growth
- Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) (5:42) Tests for musical-rhythmic intelligence, inter/intrapersonal intelligence, etc. and serves as a more inclusive and holistic test for intelligence than IQ.
- Chickering’s Seven Vectors of Development (27:25) Development goals based on self-awareness and interdependence
These strengths-based elements allow for the growth and development of neurodivergent traits, which, when given proper support, may provide a “competitive advantage.” (13:19). In fact, (according to the presenter) many neurodivergent individuals have changed the course of history, like Alan Turing (13:22), Temple Grandin, Charles Darwin, and Andy Warhol, to name a few.
Stanford University has implemented support initiatives based on the Strengths-Based Model. They aim to support neurodiverse students during their higher education and their transition to employment and independent living. Their Neurodiversity Student Support Program (NSSP) (33:53) has seen great success already, with a jump from 5 to 17 student participants in one year, despite the pandemic. Beyond this, the Neurodiversity at Work Program (NaWP) (36:35) helps neurodiverse students with job placement and partners with corporations and hospitals to train employers on neurodiverse-friendly environments and onboarding processes.
The overall objective of the Strengths-Based Model and the Stanford programs is to maximize the potential of neurodiversity “not only for neurodiverse individuals but for all of us because neurodiverse individuals can bring so much to the table.” (31:46)
Lawrence Fung, MD, PhD, is a scientist and psychiatrist specialized in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and the father of a neurodiverse teenager with ASD. He is the director of the Stanford Neurodiversity Project, which strives to uncover the strengths of neurodiverse individuals and utilize their talents to increase innovation and productivity of the society as a whole. He directs the Neurodiverse Student Support Program, Neurodiversity at Work Program (recently funded by Autism Speaks), and Adult Neurodevelopment Clinic at Stanford. Dr. Fung is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. His lab advances the understanding of neural bases of human socio-communicative and cognitive functions by using novel neuroimaging and technologies. His team devise and implement novel interventions to improve the lives of neurodiverse individuals by maximizing their potential and productivity.
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