An Approach and a Movement in a Word: Neurodiversity

Perhaps you are familiar with the concept of "neurodiversity" that has been floating around in the world of intellectual and developmental disabilities for several years. If you are, that's great, but to a good many this approach and movement is a relative mystery. Here is an opportunity to improve your basic understanding of this concept so that the next time neurodiversity comes up, you will be in the know.

John Elder Robison, a scholar in residence and a co-chair of the Neurodiversity Working Group at the College of William and Mary writes, “neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome.” Furthermore, the 2011 National Symposium on Neurodiversity at Syracuse University asserts that these neurological differences should be recognized and respected as any other type of human variation. That is where the movement component comes into play. Neurodiversity can be experienced as a social movement that advocates for viewing certain neurological conditions as variations in human wiring and not diseases.

This is a huge concept about which there has been much critical analysis and review, but one of the main reasons it comes up so frequently relates to employment. See, it probably won't surprise you to learn that people with disabilities frequently face discrimination when it comes to employment (often right from the start during the hiring process). That being the case, the Harvard Business Review recently published an article (link below) that describes neurodiversity as a "competitive advantage."

The article acknowledges that "neurodiverse people frequently need workplace accommodations, such as headphones to prevent auditory overstimulation, to activate or maximally leverage their abilities. Sometimes they exhibit challenging eccentricities. In many cases the accommodations and challenges are manageable and the potential returns are great. But to realize the benefits, most companies would have to adjust their recruitment, selection, and career development policies to reflect a broader definition of talent." That being said, the article highlights a number of companies that have made these adjustments, such as Microsoft, SAP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Ford and many more. A Walgreens distribution center in Anderson, S.C. made an effort and in 2008 roughly 40% of their workforce of 700 identified as having a disability.

The employment aspect is just one component of a much larger social movement. The point is that now you hopefully have a better (or brand new) understanding of neurodiversity. And, perhaps, the next time you interact with a neurodiverse individual you might perceive them differently; seeing them for their inherent abilities and skills.

The Harvard Business Review article can be found at the following website:

It's the Simple Things

Volunteer Lori has been helping out at Hi-Hope for years, but in recent years she was being recruited to help with administrative projects. For all intents and purposes this was fine, but a few weeks ago she was helping out with a mailing in the Development Office and overheard Nick - Volunteer Coordinator - talking with a current crafting volunteer. Lori mentioned that she was interested in doing that type of activity. Hit the brakes! In fairly short order Nick explained that he would love to have Lori doing something with the individuals we support and while her administrative help was greatly appreciated, working with our folks is certainly the priority.

Nick and Lori had a short conversation about her interests and hobbies and discovered that she is a bit of a painter. After taking Lori through a trial session and orientation, they created a new type of art volunteer - one that works one-on-one with our individuals who are interested in art or who have art-related goals to complete pieces over the course of a couple hours. Lori comes in once a week and rotates so that ultimately all interested parties will have a chance to spend the morning with her tackling a painting project. This type of service is fantastic because we manage to catch two fish with one worm. First, our individuals get to accomplish a personal or programmatic goal, which is always a plus because it demonstrates forward progress. Second, the one-on-one, several hour interaction allows both parties - Lori and whoever she is working with - really get to know each other; to build bonds and learn about one another.

The lesson here is simple: you don't need to think of some cutting edge, avant-garde volunteer activity to really have an impact (although we certainly won't turn that away). Our folks have many of the same hobbies as you so if you are going to do them with someone, why not Steve or Patsy or Howard or any one of the kind and talented people we support. You will create connections, forge friendships, explore your passions and make a difference all at the same time. It's these simple, straight forward types of volunteerism and connection that often make the biggest impact.

If you are interested in even just exploring the idea of volunteering with us, please visit and fill out the short online application. It will get the ball rolling and, hey, if it's not for you, that's ok. That being said, we bet you'll have a blast!

Just Up from Florida

Last week, Hi-Hope was visited by a group of teenagers from Florida who were taking part in a service program called Alive in You. Described as being "part conference, part service camp, 100% Catholic," the program involves teenagers coming together in select cities around the country and, among other things, doing service work for local organizations. This year Hi-Hope was selected to receive a group of kids from a church located in Oviedo, Florida. For three days they commuted out to Lawrenceville from their camp in Atlanta to do service work for our organization. They expected to do similar activities to the other groups: painting, landscaping, cleaning, building, etc. However, at Hi-Hope we are all about interaction; about getting to know each other.

After a short orientation and introduction to our organization they got to "work" playing board games, shooting hoops, painting, walking, talking, and - believe it or not - doing some fairly advanced puppetry. While all the kids were great, one young man named Pablo definitely stole the show with his puppetry talent. Every day he brought along Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear puppets that delighted several of our folks. Not only was Pablo skilled at manipulating the puppets movements, he also did voices and improvised comedic routines. 

On the last day, one of the chaperones pulled me Nick aside and said, "just so you know, we might want to wrap things up a little early today. Your people definitely touched some hearts and minds in our group and I think they are going to be emotional. There might be a few tears." She was right. It was hard to get the kids together on the last day - they simply didn't want to leave. They asked us to track down everyone they had met so they could say "goodbye" in person. When we thanked them for their service as they left, the same chaperone said, "no...thank you. This experience has helped us grow so much and we will never forget it." 

Staff Spotlight: The amazing Reanna Singh

Reanna Singh is, for many people, the first person they met when they came to Hi-Hope. For the last 11 years she has been a constant here at Hi-Hope, starting as Alice's administrative assistant and later serving as Susan's executive assistant. Her days involve helping out at the front desk, answering phones, working in our database, putting together thank you letters, mentally storing our donor history and a plethora of other things that are needed to make the wheels turn. Over the years she has witnessed many changes, but feels like the individuals we support remain pretty constant. Tammy Chapman stands out for her because she seems to always be around when Reanna needs a big, bright, beautiful personality to turn her day around [authors note: Bobby Chapman is similarly skilled at making you feel good about yourself].

So what do we know about Reanna that isn't Hi-Hope? Well, she was born in southern Trinidad to a Hindu family. After she finished high school, she went to cosmetology school until one day her mom decided she wanted Reanna to live with her uncle in The Bronx, NY. And bold Reanna said, "OK, I'll go." She worked for one day in a store (where she met her future husband) before going back to further her studies. After completing business school, she accepted a job with the Board of Education, serving as an administrative assistant to the assistant superintendent. After 14 years in New York, she and her husband, a native of the South American country of Guyana, decided they wanted a change of pace and set out for Georgia. The move wasn't completely straight forward as they had to convince their daughter to relocate. In order to gain her willingness, they had to promise to get her a puppy in Georgia

This is where Scooby comes in to the picture. If you know Reanna, you know that she has a dog upon which she lavishes a good deal of attention. Scooby is her and her husband's "baby." Scobby wears outfits. Scooby has a seat at the dinner table and only eats chicken breasts. Scooby will NOT walk outside so he has to be carried. Scooby thinks he is a person and a pretty glamorous one at that. They got Scooby 12 years ago as a puppy at Petsmart and ever since this diminutive Maltese Shih Tzu has been her other child.

Reanna's daughter, Arianna, now goes to Gwinnett Tech and is an Assistant Manager at the Del Rio Mexican Grill in Dacula. She looks like her mom so if you ever stop there, definitely say "hi."

Other than that, Reanna is an avid traveler going to Trinidad to visit her brother and sister roughly every three years. She has also gone to Aruba, Turks and Caicos, The Bahamas, Canada, Guyana, Curacao, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. She loves to cook and makes a mean traditional Trinidadian Christmas cake that involves soaking dried fruit in rum for a full year, mixing it in with the cake batter, and then baking the mixture before dousing it in more rum [author's note: do not eat cake and drive].

That last things we can say about Reanna is that she genuinely loves her job and loves working with Susan and the Development team. She also loves her family and is a firm believer in prayers. She says this a lot. One of the first things she every told this author was that after 27 years, she and her husband are still madly in love and are always by each other's side. Perhaps that's why she fits in at Hi-Hope so well - because we are a big family here. We love her and she loves us. Not a bad fit at all.


Capital City Mechanical & Electrical, Inc. Lunch & Learn

At first blush, Capital City Mechanical & Electrical, Inc. might seem like an odd choice for an outing. This company has offices in an industrial park from which they dispatch employees who install and repair HVAC and electrical systems, usually on large scale projects. When we first asked if we could visit, our contact at the company - Holli Ingles - didn't know what a two hour visit would look like, but she was open to the idea and so we scheduled it. Two months after the initial contact with Holli at a Gwinnett Chamber Business After Hours at Medieval Times a group of 11 people from Hi-Hope showed up at Capital City's main office in Norcross and a marvelous experience began. We got a full tour of the facility, a demonstration on how HVAC and electrical systems work, some safety advice with regard to things like fuse boxes and then everyone sat down for a fantastic lunch from Panera Bread provided by Capital City. We wrapped things up with a quick game of Bingo to win some Capital City swag.

The outing wasn't complicated or difficult to plan, but it made a difference. In a small way it broadened some horizons, developed some new relationships and imparted a few lessons. That is what matters. To quote Laura Ingalls Wilder, "it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all."