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I like to think I was a considerate colleague when I worked in an office. I paid attention to cultural and gender differences. I made an effort to run inclusive meetings and write inclusive articles.
But for all my attention to diversity, I didn’t pay attention to one crucial form of difference: the way people think.
It took my autistic son to wake me up to the truth. For many years, I struggled with my son, who had been variously labeled “oppositional,” “difficult” or…well, there are words that we can’t put in a newspaper. We had hourly conflicts, and he had near-daily meltdowns.
It wasn’t until he received his first formal diagnosis—initially for ADHD, rather than autism—that I realized his brain was just wired differently from mine. I was able to recognize how often I was asking him to do something he couldn’t do, rather than something he wouldn’t do. Even more important, I started to see the connection between his wiring and his talents, like his mathematical ability and his extraordinary vocabulary.
Once I recognized those distinctions as a mom, I started seeing them in my professional relationships, too. Just as my son had a learning and communications style of his own—and strengths that came along with it—my colleagues and I each had our own distinctive wiring that shaped how we approached the world. Recognizing that, and learning to deal with each other’s ways of thinking, makes for stronger understanding and smoother communication. And better business.