Episode 27 – The Undeniable Value of Neurodiversity – with Theo Smith
In this thought-provoking episode you’ll hear from neurodiversity advocate Theo Smith. We dive into his experiences with the education system, the shift in messaging around neurodivergence, and the importance of language in fostering inclusivity. Don't miss this enlightening conversation on caring for neuroatypical individuals and creating thriving neuro-inclusive work environments.
Theo Smith is a neurodiversity and inclusive recruitment advocate, co-founder of Neurodiversity at Work Ltd and Neurodiversity World, and top voice on LinkedIn. He is the award-winning co-author of “Neurodiversity at Work: Drive Innovation, Performance, and Productivity with a Neurodiverse Workforce”, and hosts the podcast “Neurodiversity with Theo Smith”. He was a professional actor before becoming a leading expert in recruitment. Now, utilizing his thespian skills he inspires organization and champions the idea that neurodiversity is not only the future of work but extends far beyond.
00:06:33 Journey to advocacy
00:22:05 Toxic choices
00:28:00 ADHD and autism take off on Tiktok
00:29:00 Profiting off ADHD
00:34:03 The language of neurodiversity
00:50:04 Where to connect with Theo
IMAGE CREDITS (see images on Youtube video)
Amanda Kirby headshot - credit Amanda Kirby
Michael Kirton - credit KAI Foundation
Learn more about and follow Theo:
Highly sensitive executive coach and productivity catalyst, Clare Kumar, explores the intersection of productivity and inclusivity continually asking how can we invite the richest contribution from all. She coaches individuals in sidestepping burnout and cultivating sustainable performance, and inspires leaders to design inclusive performance thereby inviting teams to reach their full potential. As a speaker, Clare mic-drops “thought balms” in keynotes and workshops, whether virtual or in-person. She invites connection through her online community committed to designing sustainable and inclusive performance, the Happy Space Pod. Why? Because everyone deserves a Happy Space.
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Audio and Video Editing: To Be Reel
Production Assistant: Luis Rodriguez
Song Credit: Cali by WatR. from Pixabay
Theo Smith: It is actually about the world that we live in and the risk that we put at the planet when we eliminate certain brain types, certain thinking types out of society. These people are going to challenge the status quo, these people are going to challenge politicians…
Clare Kumar: You're listening to episode 27 of the Happy Space Podcast. And today, we're looking at the undeniable value of neurodiversity with Neurodiversity Advocate, Theo Smith.
Welcome to the Happy Space Podcast, where productivity meets inclusivity, and everyone gets things done. Hello, I'm Clare Kumar, Highly Sensitive Executive Coach, Speaker, and your host.
Studies show that diversity leads to better business outcomes. So doesn't it make sense to invite everyone's richest contribution? Yet, too many people are invited to burn out or opt-out, and we are squandering talent. On this show, we'll explore a two-part solution. Part one, Cultivating sustainable performance, the individual design of work and life to preserve our energy so we can keep contributing. And two, designing inclusive performance, the design of spaces, cultures, products, and services, which invite the richest participation.
I hope you enjoy these conversations and find inspiration and encouragement. ADHD has become a hot topic in recent months with growing awareness and hopefully understanding of what it can mean. I've had experience with this through close family members, through clients over the years, and through study, through my affiliation with organizing associations such as the Institute for Challenging Disorganization and also the National Association of Productivity. And organizing professionals and professional organizers in Canada. It comes up a lot as we found clients struggling with chronic disorganization. Sometimes there were executive function challenges as well. A whole lot of reasons why that happens. Anyway, that's a sidebar. I've been looking at it for a long time.
I see the immense value of the ADHD mind. For example, look at episode 19 with Peter Shankman who wrote “The Boy with the Faster Brain”, and also the struggles. You know, the world is not designed and the systems of education and policies and government, all kinds of places are not designed for the ADHD mind to thrive. I learned about Theo Smith through his work with Amanda Kirby and their book, “Neurodiversity at Work”. I'm showing it right here if you're watching on YouTube and if you want to actually always have some extra audiovisual input to go along with the podcast, definitely check out our channel on YouTube where you can find every episode and the video treatment where you get to meet the guest a little more intimately.
And also you see some of the images and footage we add in to support the show. Okay. Sidebar, definitely sidebar. Clearly I'm feeling like my brain is firing and going in lots of different directions. But coming back to Theo and why I'm so happy to have a conversation with him. So not only did he create this incredible robust reference tool for neurodiversity at work with Amanda Kirby, I've been paying attention to what Theo says ever since. You can hear him on LinkedIn. You could listen to his podcast, which is Neurodiversity: Eliminating Kryptonite and Enabling Superheroes altogether. Again, looking at the strengths and what gets in our way. He is the founder as well of Neurodiversity at Work which you'll find at neurodiversityworld.com He is advocating in a strong place of advocacy for a better world for those with neurodivergent minds. He's a real proponent of the value of neurodiversity, and that is what we are talking about today. We had a really animated conversation about what brought him to this place of advocacy for ADHD and neurodiversity in general and why it's so very necessary.
Tune in to find out what role his parents played, how Theo suggests we think about language in this space around neurodiversity, and in general, I love his lessons here, his insights. And hey, what should we take away from the fact that the Mexican tetrafish evolved to lose its eyes. You're going to love this one and meeting Theo. Enjoy!
Theo Smith, what a pleasure to have you joining me. I've been following your work for a long time. And as you can see behind me, your book “Neurodiversity at Work”. lives there because I think it's such a powerful, powerful work and invitation for people to consider neurodiversity at work. I mean, if we're neurodivergent, we're everywhere. So thank you for joining me first and feel welcome.
Theo Smith: I feel really welcome. Thank you. It's been a lovely introduction. And thank you so much for mentioning the book. I mean, we can talk a bit more about it, but ultimately, for somebody who failed or was failed by the education system, to be able to create something like that, I can't even explain to you. It's an out-of-body experience for many reasons but a privilege to have been able to experience it with somebody incredible like you Amanda Kirby as well.
Clare Kumar: The two of you, a powerful combination. Absolutely. I wanted to begin with an understanding of how you came to be in such a position of privilege as part of it and being able to manage, you know, and be successful navigating with ADHD.
But what drives you now to be an advocate in this space for a greater understanding of neurodiversity in the world?
Theo Smith: So it's a long story that I will try and keep super short to keep people's attention. Ultimately I struggled in school and I failed in many instances I was dropping out of school and also I, you know, I barely took any qualifications. I didn't turn up for exams. I'd already excluded myself from that environment because I didn't fit in and I struggled academically. However, this is the interesting thing. Maybe this is why I now see so much potential and opportunity for individuals who've been marginalized or system-impacted just because of the way their brain works.
I was succeeding. Outside of school, my mom worried about the trouble that I was getting into. Both of my parents went to university in later life, both of them came from very working-class backgrounds, both lost family members at a very young age that impacted their lives. So their view and perception of the world, and they are huge activists for others.
So there is some evidence there in terms of the way that I grew up, the people who sat around the table my dad was a chairman for the anti-apartheid movement in South Wales. So like the types of people I used to have sitting around what was a very humble table in a house from a very early age allowed me to get an experience of people who really, really cared about the work that they did.
And when I talk about work, I'm not talking about the job that you go and do to get paid for. I'm talking about the work that you do to support others. Work that you do to enable people's rights to work, to create equality in a world that is not equal, and to find equity where there is often none.
So that started from a very, very early age for me. So even though I was failing at school, even though I had problems with drink and drugs and everything else, my base was one of activism. My base was one of highly academically brilliant minds. I say academically, they may as well, not always have been academically in the sense that they had the qualifications or paper, they had the respect of the community that they served, which I put far more value on.
So those early experiences, even though I was lost for a while, ultimately, I was privileged and lucky enough to have come from a foundation of care, passion and of social conscience and therefore, when I finally realized that my life was in a critically negative point. I, at that point, was just near to turning 21.
And because the success I'd had outside of school was in drama, it was like my therapy. So my mum got me involved in community drama because I was having trouble with speech and language and writing. I couldn't write, I couldn't spell. I was going to, I extracted even a young age from class, whether stuff like baking while other kids were doing the maths.
And so you know, that became very difficult, but the drama became this space of therapy where I could express these thoughts, these feelings, this aggression, this feeling of exclusion when nobody was judging me, actually. People were revering and respecting my approach and my work because of what I brought to the table was not like anybody else.
I was maybe odd. I was strange. I had these views and this level of aggression and frustration that came through in a way that was very interesting for other people on this, something they wanted to see more of, and therefore that gave me this, a root. That allowed me to become the representative of Wales at National Association of Youth Theatres.
This is at the same time, I'm not turning up at school. Wow. I'm representing youth theatres across the whole of the United Kingdom of Wales. I'm, I was, I was performing to royalty, going to London, all these things. You, you see this kind of disconnection between this troubled young boy who won't turn up and won't do what he's told to and is not accessing education.
To this other person who's doing very well. And at the point where I at 21 wonder what I was doing with my life, I applied to universities as a mature student and didn't need the qualifications I didn't have because I was a mature student. And therefore I could get in on that basis as somebody who's underprivileged, who was struggling for someone to live and everything and all that gave me access to go to university to study grammar. That was a moment of transformation in my life.
Clare Kumar: I thank you so much for sharing that. There are so many things to pick up on in that I want to just give a nod to this incubation in an environment of activism, because I've been looking a lot at, you know, the neurodivergent community notices a lot, but not everybody is comfortable speaking up.
And I've been looking into that. I'm going to interview somebody else and just got a book coming up in October, speak up culture to see if we can't incubate a bit more of this. And I think it has to do with what you see modeled and, you know, being brave enough to find your voice. And I'm hoping that listeners are hearing that when you feel passionately about something, It's a perfectly wonderful place to be.
It comes with its challenges, which we could probably talk about too, but you stick your neck out and you've got to be a bit brave to do it. But I think this incubation, I feel blessed too. My parents were both speak-up people and my dad, I just learned recently talking to my mom a couple of weeks ago that my dad when he was a doctor in England and I'm, I was born in England by the way, so we'll have a UK connection going on.
He noticed that doctors were in serial days on call 24 hours at a time. And he believed that it was dangerous for the patients. He spoke up. He was fired. He ended up leaving England because of race issues and so on, feeling like he was excluded from the system.
So I like that you also said, you know, you were failing at school or the school system failed you as it is failing many, many students in many, many ways. Even at the junior level and post-secondary as well. So I'd love to pick up on this point. It's not on my list of questions, but I love this conversation. As you were navigating and finding a path back to education there's ADHD in my family as well. So I've witnessed a student journey. To some extent, and the research that I've seen says that the ADHD brain develops cognitive executive function, emotional regulation, all of these things lag compared to the average mind and what struck me about what you were saying, I was able to go later in life. The requirements were less, how do you think you were more ready and did that have a factor to play? And being really ready to learn and dive into this area that you were open, or was it just, you just found the right thing and age and maturity wouldn't have mattered. What do you think?
Theo Smith: Right. This is fascinating. This is a rabbit hole of a conversation, but a good one. So, my mind is going to race off here, but there's a few things that I want to call out. One that's really important is co-occurrence and that, so my daughter, after five years of I say fighting because that's what it feels like, because to get a diagnosis here in the UK, you go through the NHS, the National Health Service, and there's a process and there's lots of and it took us four years to get my daughter's ADHD.
Autism diagnosis came first. We saw the ADHD first. We didn't see the autism, but that's because even me, somebody who's involved in it so much, we, I'm still thinking of lining up cars and, and knowing all the names of planets. And so I'm thinking of the male view and perception, because that's what the forms say.
They've got all these lists of like, does your child do this? Well, no, they don't. Do they do that? No, they don't. However, when you start to really, and it's difficult for a mind like mine, because I go to the… I don't see the nuance in it because of the activism, I'm going, I can't lie on a form. So I'm not able to get over the hill of going, “It's not lying”. It's form doesn't express the experience and view of my child. Therefore, how do I demonstrate that? So that co-occurrence piece is that we still segment it into boxes, which I find really difficult because we have one brain, I put two things up there, but we have one brain, we have one brain, but we have many brain cells.
And this idea and concept we fit people into this box of ADHD or whatever is wrong, right? It's wrong because it doesn't fully express and explain what's going on in the human brain. And therefore my daughter that puts up barriers to the diagnosis, but we need the diagnosis to get the support because her mental health and well-being is being significantly impacted, even at the age of four and five.
She's now 10. Yeah. And so you're in this desperate situation of having to accept labels put upon you. And other people's medical terminology and stuff that defines you and other people's views of, of being slower cognitively to develop and what have you, when, when really like that is a measure that's put upon us by other people.
So when we, when we put people through exams, what are we doing? We're measuring the intellect and the capability based on a number of factors. If they fail that measurement, then cognitively they're developing slower. But why is it that developing cognitively slower in that idea and concept is a bad thing?
It's not. It's something that's enforced upon us by society, by this idea that we need to progress at a particular time in space. Whereas you look at different countries in the world. Sometimes they don't send their kids to school until they're six, if we look in the Nordics. Sometimes they send their kids to school at four.
The evidence is there in some respects, it's not in others. So, and then it's how we receive and interpret the evidence to make the decisions that we make. So, you know, to come back to the answer to your question, yes, for me, going to university at that point was the right time for me. And yes, meeting my life partner who I met in my second year of the degree was the right time to meet her because if she, she's academically brilliant, if she met me when I was still smoking and still taking drugs and still drinking and fighting and doing all the things that I would have a negative impact on my mental health and wellbeing, she met me at that point.
We would not have even gone anywhere, we would not have been in the same space, place, connected, right? That doesn't mean that on a human level we cannot connect, it's just where I was at that point in my life wouldn't allow me to be with her where she was at that point in her life. What do you think about as human beings, that means I should never be with her. That means I should never go to university. You could see where we can go with this.
Clare Kumar: Oh my gosh. Yeah. And I'm feeling like that was not the right question and was not well phrased. I'm thinking, I guess it's finding the systems and places and environments that invite this diversity of brain to function.
And I'm thinking back to my sister now in grade nine, brilliant, creative person, the most wild sculptor, painter, dancer. She was told, you know, we think you should go into remedial math. She came like second in the school on the math contest. She had a different way of coming at things. That the normal classroom couldn't see, she'd get to the answer a different way.
She would have perceived to be unsuccessful, invited to be in a, you know, lower challenge per se. Brilliant, brilliant mind. So yeah, so I think I retract my question because I really don't like it now, but I think that is a perception that's out there and I think maybe what I wanted to do in raising that question was perhaps invite, not to look at the system as it's designed, go to high school or first to sixth form, I think in the UK, and then do your exams and then go off to school. Maybe take the time to find the place you can thrive and go for that. So look for ways you can be successful, places you can be successful.
Theo Smith: So absolutely right the problem and challenge that we have is. When you exist within an education system that doesn't fit your needs, when you were told by other people that your thinking is not correct, it's not accurate, it's not in line, it's not the way that it should be. When you were told that enough, it's really, really difficult then to know who you are, how you should feel, how you should take the mask off or keep them out, like that, it is confusing.
So when you have young people coming out of education, may not have the academic qualifications of others. Therefore their choices are already limited. They don't come out of school or college going, wow, I've got all these choices. When I came out, it was like I had to take whatever job was available, and often they were toxic companies. Toxic cultures, and they were toxic jobs. I had no choice. I had to be able to feed myself, so I couldn't go. I don't want to work for that particular sales type of organization that's selling these things that I don't. I needed a job and I need it now.
And the problem we've got, if we think about 85% approximately of people who are autistic with a diagnosis in the UK, it out of work, that's government data and stats, those, that those statistics are replicated in places like Canada, in the US. And COVID has not been helpful. So if you're looking at people who've already been marginalized, already been system impacted.
They may have PhDs coming out of their years, right? Or they may not. But the reality is they've got all these barriers that meant they couldn't select the environment that they wanted. They couldn't select the job they wanted. Therefore, they don't have the time to make the right decisions. And if they make decisions too quickly, they could find themselves in two or three toxic environments.
The one damages their self-worth, self respect. Understanding of their value but also it gives them experience that looks awful. So Theo, what if you worked for really terrible companies and terrible jobs and only lasted eight months in each of them, right? That doesn't say much about your capability, and so we're looking at a good proportion of people who've already been marginalized, already been system impacted, already struggled.
Where did they get the time to think where did they get the opportunity to make better decisions and then have those decisions presented to them? And that is why I focus on organizations in the workplace because I've tried government. I've tried looking at the education system. It's painful. It's slow.
It needs to change, but I can go and convince a CEO or HR director tomorrow to change a system or a process that absolutely damages the people that are going through it.
Clare Kumar: So powerful. I'm taking a breath just to let all that land because it brought back a couple of flashbacks in my own career. I spent three days trying to sell shoes. Three days. I couldn't handle standing. And this will be entertaining, it was a clash of styles. In a shoe store, when you go to buy shoes, you generally see the same kind of style of shoe presented with, there's one in brown, here's one in black, here's one in navy, right?
Maybe the hot pink, but you don't see all the four colors split all over the store. Well, the store that I was looking at working in. There was no organization cohesion, nothing. And I was like, first thing I do in a job apparently is create some order so my brain can cope. I don't know if you know my background, I spent a lot of time organizing with people in their homes and in their offices in Canada.
And so I'm known for applying structure. What's interesting is looking at it. More deeply, there's an adaption innovation theory out of the UK, Dr. Michael Kirton. And he talks about our propensity to move towards structure or away from structure. And I always thought because I was so focused on order that, “Oh, I must be, I have such a propensity for order.”
I need it. Uh-uh! I'm this wild thinker on the creative side. It was a coping skill. Order and structure. And I've worked with a lot of clients over the years who have ADHD or the label. And what am I trying to do? I'm running all over the place now. The connection was to a job where I was not going to be successful.
Three days and I was out. My most highly-paid job was in Japan. I lasted three weeks. I left in tears because I couldn't connect to the social construct around work. We were four people in an office. Two Japanese speakers, one North American individual, and me, and it was like being there by myself.
And I thought, I can't do this. I left in tears after three weeks with the highest-paid job I've ever had. This is not set up for my brain to be successful. I'm out. So you're right. We have opportunities. And especially with this amazing sense of noticing and seeing, you know, there's, there's almost moral injury in working for a company that you don't, you're not value-aligned, value alignment is absolutely critical.
And then the conditions of work need to be such that we can sustain our energy. And a lot of times we're just being invited to be exhausted and depleted. And I'm like, no, no, no, no, you don't get to do that anymore. We need to be inviting these options. Right? So awareness and room for people to really work at their best.
So thank you for outlining that somebody coming through being othered, being made to feel different. And when you're a teenager, being different ain't cool. Maybe now, I'm wondering if there's some shifting as TikTok and I'm not on TikTok. Maybe I should try, but I know neurodivergency is a hot topic there.
And what do you think, is there a shift around the messaging people are receiving around being neurodivergent and the potential impact on the shame that I see a lot of people carry and how it affects being able to talk about it.
Theo Smith: Wow. So TikTok has 22 billion views of the hashtag ADHD. 12 months ago, when I looked at that research, when I researched it, it was half that in 12 months, it's gone from 21 billion to 22 billion views of the hashtag ADHD. Autism is, is around 20 billion, so still considerable.
Neurodiversity is like 3 billion and bizarrely, dyslexia is like a billion or two even though, because probably dyslexia is more in the common language already. Now that doesn't mean that it's still not a challenge for individuals around dyslexia, in my view, but it just means the topic's not as hot because it's not as new, right?
It's not the trending topic. Very rarely do topics like trend forever. So these two types of trend, we've got a challenge with both of these, though. Yeah. This week in the UK, or next week is a BBC documentary panorama highlighting the issue that we have with companies making money from the crisis.
And crisis is not people popping up with ADHD. That's not the crisis. The crisis is the lack of support and help. To those not had the support that they needed and especially during and since pandemic where people have been in severe crisis situations and that of their family members, and we're talking about you know, I'm mindful of people listening to this that it, it may trigger something for them, but we're talking about life changing moments here that can take lives, that can take lives of friends and people that they know and that level of impact that we've had since COVID and stuff has destroyed communities and families. And the problem we've got now is there are organizations that are profiting on that don't have individuals best needs at heart.
And this is part of what's happening at the moment so that we've, we've, I think we've got a rocky road here at the moment, but I truly believe. We need to go through this part of the journey because that is where we come to the endpoint, which is beyond the trending topic, beyond all the videos, which I think have been positive because what they've done is they've normalized the conversation, which is really important.
Yeah. When you normalize a conversation, people are not as fearful of having that conversation. And those who probably should be able to have it do. And if we can start to explore these topics and talk about them and think about them and figure out what's right, what's wrong, what we like, what we don't like, and who is profiting that shouldn't be, and how we're going to deal with that.
Then I think all of those things ultimately are for the good of the movement that is going to enable neuroinclusion within organizations, within education, within politics within our built environments which is where we need to get to, right? That is the thing. The reason, you asked me at the beginning, the reason why I do what I do. I skipped a whole piece of my HR and recruiting and leadership experience. The reason why I do what I do is because I already saw that my daughter, I can put it with myself, right? I can kind of see what I have. You know, I've been in dark places and I came out of it. I'm alive. I'm here, right? My daughter, that is the place that I look back and think, “If I am now my daughter, I go back to that place that I was at, I can see and feel and think of places that I was at that were negative”, I'm able to intervene. I'm able to make a difference. And the way that I can make a difference is through organizations. The way that I make a difference is for her, directly, for her, right? That's something I can hyper-focus on. But what is beyond her is a whole world that we live in. It's not good enough to, you know, I fight for the single person that's in my household. That is important.
And hopefully she will go on and fight for others, but there is a bigger world out there. So what really drives me is my daughter and my trauma that I don't want my daughter to have to go through so that she can become more successful, more quickly, irrelevant of how quickly her mind cognitively, cognitively develops or whatever, like you have CEOs who's 16 years of age with ADHD or whatever. It's because they were enabled to be able to do it rather than disabled from being able to work within a society that perhaps doesn't want to enable them because it doesn't, it's too difficult to fit them in. So that is such a big motivator for me and one that I think we can all get involved in. Whatever happens in the media or everything else, we need to ride that storm.
Clare Kumar: Agree with you wholeheartedly. I was just following on LinkedIn this morning, some commentary on Panorama and saying we need this. There are going to be challenging conversations that come out of it, but we need to evolve through this. The awareness, the increase in awareness is very valuable, but voices like yours are helping more people really get a healthy, full perspective on the conversation. I'm going to come to language, which might seem small in the scheme of things, but I'm super curious about language because looking at Judy Singer's work bringing the neurodiversity movement, so to speak, to life in 1998, the word neurodivergent, And there are different interpretations of the word and even reluctance to use the word. And I'm wondering if you could share a little bit, because I value it so much, your perspective on language and how you would like to see it being used out there, this terminology.
Theo Smith: Okay. So I've had people question me on terminology since day one. And what's really interesting is they question me no matter what I say and what I do.
And this is the reality of nature and people will disagree so I used to use the word neurodivergence until I was challenged directly by somebody to say that I shouldn't and why I shouldn't use it, and therefore that may be very mindful the term divergent, for example, holds negative connotations for some and therefore they don't want to use it, right?
Now, they may choose to use a number of other words to be able to identify. I think, for me, what it comes down to is words should not be used to hurt others and that's all, all I really cared about. I'm dyslexic. I don't properly, fully understand words. I can't use grammar. I speak two languages, but I don't understand the grammar of both those languages.
I failed at school, but I was very good at communication. So like the reality is there was some incredible work by Mary Johnson pioneering the field of health psychology. She's an emeritus professor at the University of Aberdeen and she did some work with young people from a low socioeconomic background, on understanding social cues. And the value they put on social cues, and the reality is from research is they put little value on social cues because there was little value in the community for the social, so they didn't abide to the social cues that you and I or anybody else could stand there and go, listen, you're talking to that person and they're showing you that they're not happy with what you're saying, like that young person does not care.
Now, what they did respond to is when instead of social cues, there was money involved because they understood the value of money because they came from a place where there was no money, right? So, like for me, what's really important is when we think about the world and the way that it's made up.
We've got a Mexican tetra blind fish, right? Over 20,000 years, the Mexican tetra first lost its sight and then it lost its eyes. Why? Because it was in a cave environment. And it also had translucent skin. That's 20,000 years of evolution, right? They also did something very fascinating.
Which is they developed cliques and in the different caves, they developed different cliques, different cliquing systems, forms of communication. So in the different caves, they were communicating in a different way. You take one fish out of the other and put it together, the cliques won't resonate, they won't be the same, right?
If you think about global communication, right? In the animal kingdom, they don't have words, they don't have grammar, they're able to communicate. So, for me some people need to anchor on very specific words, grammar. I have an inability to do it because I'm dyslexic and because I didn't come from the privileged place of having a good education, therefore, I still can't hold a pen and write properly.
My 10 year old daughter can spell better than me. So I'm not going to have somebody explain to me that I must communicate and engage in a way that they deem to be accurate. Because I'm going to communicate in a way that I understand, that I appreciate, that I connect with in a way that connects with people who care about me.
However, let me just throw this up in the air, right? Yesterday, or a couple of days ago, I created this video and I showed it to my wife. And my wife has two degrees, three masters. She is, she's top of the class in everything she did. She's academically brilliant. I still don't know why she's with me, right?
Like I said, it was stars aligned, right moment in time something about me connected with her. But she was looking at the video in the writing and it had ain't, I, but I'd said it because I recorded the voice where I said I ain't something or other. And she was like, Oh isn't, in the written text that shows up on a video.
Cause she said, you know, if you're using it professionally, do you really want ain't? And I said to my wife, yes, but I said it like I said it. That's what I said. Why should I change what I have said just for others to feel comfortable that grammatically it fits in. So even though actually my wife is the person I speak to most, whenever somebody challenges me, I turn to her and I go, this is what they said.
This is what they think. Explain to me, what is your view in terms of my perception? And she will always give me the guidance to know whether I need to go back and say to that person, you know, you're right. Or whether actually what I choose to do now, Clare, is I just accept there is a difference of view and opinion and that I don't have the time when I'm trying to do all these other things.
I have this debate with somebody. I'm telling you, this debate, it just happens again and again and again, where somebody's like, Theo, you must use neurodivergent. Theo, you're not right. And it's like, I'm going to go and change the world in the way that I know. I've not got the energy to have an argument with you over a word when my life has been trying to explain why I can't say my name properly, why I can't spell properly. I wrote a hundred and ten thousand award-winning book, right? Who else did that? And it's difficult. I still wake up in the middle of the night struggling with this today. But I have to move forward to my things that I do. So language is complex. Don't hurt anybody with the words you use, except that some people put greater value on it. I don't unless you're hurting somebody and then I'm going to step in and I'm going to take control.
Clare Kumar: Love it. I love that perspective. And it's interesting yet because you have to choose where you're putting your energy and there are bigger challenges. I'll tell you where I did challenge recently, and I'm curious whether this would rate as something I felt it might be damaging. to the neurodivergent community. There was somebody coming to talk to an organization around neurodiversity. And in the opening paragraph, it talked about symptoms of neurodiversity. And in the next line, it talked about therapy and there hadn't been any other preface. And I thought symptoms, therapy, I thought that's your opening to people who don't understand anything about neurodiversity as a whole, the topic.
And my invitation was, can we show some more care for people with, who consider themselves neuroatypical, neurodivergent, not, you know, in the spectrum of neurodiversity, which we all are. And it was changed. The copy was changed because I thought people are going to feel like I've just been othered in a place that I thought was safe.
Theo Smith: But Clare, the clinical evidence, the academic evidence, the research academics have written down that you can go and look at that are three, one or two years ago, all that's in existence, and I've had people who studied PhDs in very narrow areas of the neurodiversity space, and they've validated my experience, which is, it's all negative.
You're the only positive you hear. It's, and it's terrible. It's like, here's the 50 things. You're going to have an issue with, with some autistic. And by the way, they might be a good developer or a good tester. My daughter, I very much doubt, will be either of those. I am not and will never be either of those, right?
So, like, you're giving very little value to very nuanced niche areas. That is completely stripping away any ability, but the problem we have, Clare, is one, that information still exists everywhere. So if you're not you or me or somebody else really gets deep and cares about it. You just go and scrape off the surface.
Yeah, I'm going to go and do talk on your diversity. You're going to scrape off a load of in-through stuff, ChatGPT, inaccurate stuff and therefore you're on the face of it. You can evidence it in terms of this research, these academics, these clever people. But this stuff is already archaic.
We've already moved significantly away from some of these concepts and ideas, but people are still perpetuating this. And this is why I'd say language, I'm not like, let's focus on. What are we doing to support our fellow human beings? What are we doing to elevate them? But the other thing we've got, so I need to mention this, Clare, which is, people who've been surrounded, like, whether you like, superheroes, whatever, right?
The people who've been surrounded by kryptonite, or needles, or whatever horrible thing, or fire, or burning rooms, or anything that is, like, the most horrible, intense space that some of us have been, like, that place where is horrendous for us. Right. When we put in those spaces for so long, it's really difficult not to keep putting ourselves in those places and spaces and not to inadvertently surround ourselves by that crip.
And therefore, because people have told us it's good for us, we spoon-feed ourselves it thinking that that's all we have and that we're only thing we're able to have in life. And that when somebody comes along and says, you've got skills and capabilities, whoa, it's like, that person's like, no, I've not.
I've got a disability and I cannot see beyond that. And we see the same with young people who get in a cycle of abuse and, and drugs and they can't get out of that. All they know in their life is that, and when you tell them there could be something else, unless you couldn't physically take them out and show them and let them experience it. Still battling with that, where people with ADHD or autistic going, No, no, no, I am rubbish, no, I am awful, no, I can't do anything. Because that's all I've ever known and all I've ever been, don't come along and tell me I've got strengths. There's no way. So that's what we need to do better as a society to enable them to see what is there, but they may need some support to be able to develop the ability to see and experience what we know is possible.
Clare Kumar: Well, and I think as someone who's in the space, having the conversation, I love your optimism. I love your recognition of strengths. And that's what I demanded be in this invitation to come and understand neurodiversity. I'm like, you can't, you're throwing everybody under the bus from the get-go. I am not having any of that.
Thank you very much. So speaking up for the positioning of the conversation. And this is someone who's going around and talking about this and educating people around it. I'm like, no, no, no, hello! I've got something to say here. So I was very happy that that's changed because I think that's going to hit.
Probably hundreds, if not thousands of people. So little bits, right? So, boy, we chewed up this time so beautifully, it's amazing. I want to come back to something we talked about in the pre-interview or just, just before we came on, sorry. And the fact that there's a bigger issue here, there's a bigger neurodiversity in the context of the world and the economics with the environment, with what's going on.
And I wonder if you'd like to. Before you tell everybody where to find you and all of that good stuff, I wonder if you would like to share something and I'll just let you have the floor to talk about what you observe and share your insights and wisdom here.
Theo Smith: Absolutely. So we talked about a Mexican tetra. If we think about evolution and that kind of evolutionary process, think about this, right? It took the fish 20,000 years to lose its sight, to become competitively advantageous within a cave where there was no light, right? That helped it. Becoming blind helped it survive. So that evolutionary process was important for that fish, right?
The human brain, as we know, it is like 200,000 years, right? The brain, as it probably stands now, 200,000 years, we'll start to develop the new modern brain. So 200,000 years, 20,000 years, the world we live in today is what? 100, 200, 300 years old, if we think about skyscrapers, we think about lights, we think about the advent of the internet, we think about artificial intelligence, we think about powered vehicles, petrol, fuel.
We think about all these things, right? Industrialization. We think about globalization. These things are modern concepts. The human brain is far older than anything that we now know in this modern society. And we wonder why people who are autistic or ADHD or co-occurrence, more than one, we wonder why they struggle when there's only been one, two, three hundred years of opportunity for that brain to be able to adapt to what we now know.
That brain has spent two hundred thousand years. Autistic brain in many other instances is incredible, is wonderful, but now we put it in a chicken coop and we worry about it and wonder why it's struggling to perform in this very sterile environment. So for me, neurodiversity is far bigger than the concept of the human brain.
It is actually about the world that we live in and the risk that we put at the planet when we eliminate certain brain types, certain thinking types out of society, right? These people are going to challenge the status quo. These people are going to challenge politicians. Now, if we take them out, they are not going to, and people may see in a very particular way, it may be a narrow view.
But that narrow view needs to be included in the conversation because if we don't, that is where we put the world at risk and we need this in society. It's not just about the planet, but it's also about the way that we live and the future of the way that we live in this world. And we've got problems with politicians.
We've got problems with health systems. We've got problems with wars. None of this is a critical problem at the moment. None of this is going to be resolved unless we double down on neuro inclusion across all of those different environments. And that, for me, is one of the most important things from an activism perspective and viewpoint.
But that needs to happen in all facets and aspects of life. We all have a part to play. We need it to happen academically. Need it to happen in politics. Need it to happen in business. It needs to happen in all areas because businesses influence far more than they should, but they do. But we need to influence there as well. We all have a part to play.
Clare Kumar: Boom, absolutely. We can't invite this valuable set of voices to burn out and opt-out. We can't, it's a false choice. We need to redesign our world, urban design, shopping centers the transit systems we work on, the education system. There's so much redesign needed to incorporate the variety of minds that are out there and really pay attention to the ones where we're just, we're extinguishing and inviting out.
So, Theo yes, exactly, tell everyone, listeners here, because I'm sure you've been listening to Theo's words. You can hear his insight, his conviction, this combination of insight and being able to speak articulately about it. Theo, what a gift you have. How can people find you and follow you? I know I follow you on LinkedIn all the time. Where else can people find you?
Theo Smith: Yeah, you can find me on LinkedIn, TheosmithUK, if you put TheosmithUK neurodiversity, you'll find me on the social channels. So you'll find me on Twitter, you'll find me on YouTube, you'll find me on Instagram, and also on LinkedIn especially is where I have a lot of advocacy. and where I share a lot of content and information.
Clare Kumar: And a Friday newsletter!
Theo Smith: Friday newsletter, which is actually a combination of all the stuff that I shared to try and have any, and that's what I call out people. So for me, it's about providing a platform for others as well. So the newsletter, I always highlight some of the important comments and they're not the comments that I just like most either ones that are further in the conversation.
So the hope on newsletter is I'm sending stuff out to help or my view or my ideas. And then people are commenting back and then I'm utilizing that to try and help others make sense of topics because I do not hold the key to this. We hold the key to this. And you know, that bit of our languages is okay.
It's okay. Whatever it is that helps you live the life that you need to live and support others, that's the path that you need to take. So, there's that, and Amanda and I now do a LinkedIn live that goes across all of the platforms, UK time, 10 a.m. every Friday, and again, that is to talk to people in the community to get them engaging and talking on the key topics that often we don't talk enough about in the round.
Clare Kumar: Brilliant. So you heard it here. Go find Theo, tune in. If you can make that UK one, I would be sleeping around that time, but I'm dying to join you for a cup of tea at some point. If I'm ever coming over, I'm going to look you up for sure.
Theo Smith: We'll disrupt it and we'll do a later time at some point and maybe shift them around so that other parts of the world can get involved as well for sure.
Clare Kumar: Fantastic. Thanks so much for being part of this Theo. It's been great to have you.
Theo Smith: Lovely. Thank you. Really appreciate it.
Clare Kumar: Thank you so much for listening. You can find all of the Happy Space Podcast episodes over at happyspacepod.com. I love learning what resonates with you. So please leave a comment about this episode over social media, or even better, post a review wherever you tune in. And if you have an idea for a topic to explore or an inclusive action to celebrate, I would love to know more about it. It might even appear in an upcoming episode or an issue of the Happy Space newsletter. Please help me spread the word about people doing great things. After all, doesn't everyone deserve a Happy Space?