This "inclusive advocacy" is part of the organization's mission in creating a positive, constructive space where people of all types, from professionals to parents, from autism to Alzheimers, can share resources, compare notes, share stories, share research, and explore common challenges they face.
Every day, there is a parent getting the news that their child may have what some would call a "different brain." In that situation it's tough to find a way forward, especially in this "one size fits all" world in which we live. That is the situation in which orthopedic surgeon Dr. Harold "Hackie" Reitman found himself when his toddler daughter, Rebecca, only four at the time, was diagnosed with 23 vascular tumors in her brain and a seizure disorder, and had to undergo two life-threatening surgeries. Right there in the surgical waiting room, Dr. Reitman decided to fight. He promised that if Rebecca would come out of this alive and do well, he would go back into the boxing ring.
You see, while a first year student at Boston University School of Medicine in 1971, Dr. Hackie Reitman had won the New England Golden Gloves Heavyweight boxing championship and was then offered a $100,000 contract to fight professionally if he quit medical school, which he did not. With this fighting nature, and inspired by Rebecca's challenges, Dr. Reitman returned to the ring as a professional heavyweight boxer, in addition to his day job running his own orthopedic surgery practice. He donated all the purses from his 26 pro fights to children's charities until his last fight at the age of 52. He also found time to serve as the chairman and president of The Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County (Florida), a board on which he still is on today.
a board on which he still is on today. With a lot of hard work, and the support of her mom and dad who took turns commuting from home in Florida to see her every two weeks, Rebecca graduated from prestigious Georgia Tech in 2009 with a degree in Discrete Mathematics. Afterwards, her father wrote a screenplay, then produced and co-directed the movie The Square Root of 2 based upon Rebecca's challenging college experiences. But it was not until the film was finished that Rebecca was belatedly also diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome – and a new fight began.
Her indefatigable father, dismayed about how little he knew about Asperger's and autism despite being an M.D., embarked on a quest to learn all he could about it. His years of research culminated in the 2015 publication of his book Aspertools: The Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger's, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Neurodiversity, which looks at Asperger's from the parent's, child's, and teacher's perspectives. One of its conclusions is a direct quote from Rebecca: "Brains are like Different Brains snowflakes – no two are alike" – which would become a basic tenet of Different Brains. This led to the creation of DifferentBrains two years ago, which is now transitioning into DifferentBrains.org for the 501C3 not-for-profit organization Reitman has founded.
You see, by the time he had finished researching and writing the Aspertools book, Dr. Reitman had figured out that it was not just about Asperger's and autism. All of our brains are different in one way or another. It was all about neurodiversity. It was all about "Different Brains." To this end, Dr. Reitman forged the organization's philosophy of inclusive advocacy. Society needs to understand and embrace Neurodiversity for the benefit of ALL of us.
Different Brains is a neurodiversity resource site that welcomes everyone – regardless of condition or philosophy. Its goal is to build a community of advocates for people whose brains think a little bit differently, a space for the respectful sharing of ideas and stories, and a resource for anyone seeking knowledge and support so that no one feels like the "Lone Ranger."
WHAT IS NEURODIVERSITY?The concept of neurodiversity simply implies that there is diversity in the different brains of human beings, just as there is with gender, race, and so many other categories. In fact, neurodiversity may be the next great human and civil rights issue, as people with "different brains" strive to overcome the prejudices of a neurotypical world. This diversity includes intellectual and developmental differences such as autism, dyslexia, ADHD and Down syndrome; neurological conditions such as epilepsy, Alzheimer's, concussions and Parkinson's; and mental health challenges such as PTSD, bipolar, schizophrenia, depression and anxiety, to name but a few. Different Brains is the ONLY organization that addresses all forms of brain variations— developmental or intellectual disabilities, neurological conditions, mental health challenges, and more. This "inclusive advocacy" is part of the organization's mission in creating a positive, constructive space where people of all types, from professionals to parents, from autism to Alzheimers, can share resources, compare notes, share stories, share research, and explore common challenges they face.
ENDING THE STIGMAThe number of people with these different brain conditions is truly staggering, and is growing rapidly. 1 in 68 children are being diagnosed with autism. 17% of school-age children have dyslexia. 1 in 10 kids are affected by ADHD. 1 in 26 people develop epilepsy at some point. 1 in 10 people will have at least one seizure. Every year – in the USA alone - 5.3 million people are diagnosed with Alzheimer's, 3.8 million get a sports-related concussion, 1.7 million receive a Traumatic Brain Injury (or TBI), 3.2 million are diagnosed with schizophrenia, 16 million develop severe depression, and 40 million develop an anxiety disorder. The list goes on and on, and they all have aspects in common. A mere glance at these numbers leads to the stunning conclusion that just about every human being on the planet has some connection to neurodiversity, whether through friends, family or their own personal challenges. And yet, a stigma is still attached to being diagnosed with having a different brain or seeking treatment for it. To increase awareness, understanding,
and acceptence of neurodiversity while offering resources and platform to highlight the stories and work of other individuals and organizations, Different Brains operates the website Differentbrains.com (soon to become Differentbrains.org). From its offices and studios in Ft. Lauderadale, Fla.. the company trains and mentors individuals in the creation of all forms of web content. The company also reaches out to businesses, schools, and other organizations to suggest how to best utilize those with different brains, and empower them to attain their maximum potential. Different Brains wants every individual to have the tools to maximize his or her potential for safety, health, happiness, independence and productivity.
The differentbrains.com website offers FREE blogs, news articles, videos, podcasts and transcripts of interviews. The site's "Exploring Different Brains" interview series is hosted by Dr. Reitman and consists of interviews that convey the ideas and experiences of some of the most interesting minds in the neurodiversity arena. Interviewees have included clinicians, researchers, educators, policy makers, judges, heads of various organizations, as well as parents and neurodiverse themselves. As of this article, 89 episodes have already been published."The Week in Neurodiversity" is another series, currently with 74 episodes, presenting inspirational stories and positive news items about neurodiverse individuals as well as the communities that support them.
"Spectrumly Speaking" is an audio-only podcast by and for women who are on the autism spectrum. Hosted by Becca Lory (who herself is on the spectrum) and Dr. Katherine Cody (a clinician specializing in autism), the show, through interviews and tips, provides insights to this growing but underserved segment of the community.
BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS OF DISPARATE ORGANIZATIONS
Whenever neurodiversity is discussed, one topic that invariably comes up is infighting. Well-meaning organizations often find themselves at odds with each other despite having common goals, whether that involves debates over causation, or disagreements about terminology. Such conflicts— in addition to fostering the stigma society has attached to those with different brains— can also lead to those whom these very organizations were formed to assist being inadvertently underserved. Furthermore, organizations have finite resources, and the lack of collaboration leads to higher costs which tend to impede progress socially and medically. Likewise researcher, doctors, and dedicated specialists find themselves in different silos. So many tools work for ALL of us whose brains are a bit different, yet the system has us in different groups.
THE SWEET SCIENCE: Dr. Harold "Hackie" Reitman with daughter Rebecca. With his fighting nature, and inspired by Rebecca's challenges, Dr. Reitman returned to the ring as a professional heavyweight boxer, in addition to his day job running his own orthopedic surgery practice.
To this end, Different Brains is currently working on their first annual Neurodiversity Conference. The conference will be the first of many events geared towards pulling together these philosophically aligned groups into a single space to share ideas and pool together resources.
Additionally, Dr. Reitman has, been, and will continue speaking to other organizations around the country to spread this message of unifying for the good of those of us with different brains. Recent speaking engagements include presenting at the US Autism & Asperger Association (USAAA) World Conference alongside other neurodiversity advocates including Temple Grandin, speaking at the 2016 AspenBrainLab hosted by the Aspen Institute, delivering a keynote presentation at Neurodiversity the Leadership Conference, hosted by AASCEND and San Francisco State University, and presenting for Florida Atlantic University's CARD Autism Speaker Series. He also gave the keynote address with Tim Shriver at the Special Olympics in L.A. for the American Academy Developmental Medicine and Dentistry (AADMD) – an organization Dr. Reitman has presented to multiple times and, under the guidance of Dr. Steve Perlman and Dr. Rick Rader, have shown a massive amount of support for the Different Brains mission.
MAXIMIZING THE POTENTIAL OF THE NEURODIVERSEDifferent Brains confronts these issues by facilitating the collaboration of organizations, researchers, and individuals through conferences and webinars, as well as networking and one-on-one interactions. For instance, Different Brains, in conjunction with a leading university, plans on hosting in 2018 the first all-inclusive conference featuring leading experts on every neurodiverse condition.At its office and studios, Different Brains gives neurodiverse individuals the opportunity to learn the basics of media production while developing the social skills that so many in their universe are missing. Through mentoring and internships, the company trains young people with autism, ADHD, TBI, OCD, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and other "different brains" to create web content. This not only provides them with real-world skills but also gives them a platform for telling their own stories.The organization also believes that many institutions in the worlds of education and business should be doing a better job of utilizing neurodiverse individuals—if nothing less, to improve their own bottom line. Using live presentations, Different Brains has introduced CEOs, managers, educators, and administrators to the concept of different brains, and has helped businesses and institutions realize the potential of an untapped workforce – one with a different and valuable perspective. This is another part of Different Brains' mission to help neurodiverse individuals live happy, healthy, productive lives. •
Visit DifferentBrains.com, and soon DifferentBrains.org. Check out twitter @diffbrains and Facebook at facebook.com/different.brains. Society must understand and embrace neurodiversity for the benefit of ALL of us.
IN YOUR CORNER: Dr. Reitman donated all the purses from his 26 pro fights to children's charities until his last fight at the age of 52.
JOIN THE CAUSE OF DIFFERENT BRAINS
If you are one of the overwhelming majority of individuals that has a brain that may be a little bit different, Different Brains is fighting for you. Are you the parent, friend, coach, relative, teacher, caregiver of someone with autism, dyslexia, ADHD, Down syndrome, bipolar disorder, seizures, stroke or any of the other conditions affecting the functioning of the brain? Different Brains is also fighting for you. Or, maybe you're a researcher, doctor, nurse, educator, or employer trying to make a personal difference in the lives of the neurodiverse. Different Brains is fighting for you, too. Share YOUR story. Different Brains wants to highlight your organizations and journeys and ideas. There is no better way to fight the stigma of neurodiversity than through showing the realities of those it touches. There is no greater way to unite organizations than through highlighting their work and showing the vast common ground. And, there is no better way to harness a person's potential than by empowering them as individuals to advocate for themselves and own who they are.