Reflections on the Gift of Neurodiversity

Author: The Rev. Elizabeth McCord

Published Date: 6/1/2023

Categories: F1RST Magazine Spiritual Life

For Christ and Learning is the English translation of “Christo et Litteris,” Carroll University’s motto

For Christ and Learning

"I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made"
– Psalm 139:13a

Elizabeth McCord
The Rev. Elizabeth McCord
At Carroll’s 2022 Commencement, keynote speaker Dr. Robert Ballard didn’t focus on his legendary discovery of the Titanic. He didn’t pontificate on his extensive contributions to marine geology and made only passing references to his academic scholarship and ongoing oceanography research. Instead, he reflected on his experience with dyslexia. This stood out to me because as such a notable scholar and almost cultic figure, Ballard could have easily passed over this aspect of his life, but instead he chose to honor the fullness of his journey.

I suppose Ballard’s address also caught my attention because I, too, journey with dyslexia. As a child I believed I was stupid. I was restricted to remedial reading courses and struggled desperately with reading comprehension, spelling and any standardized test. Well into high school my mother still read many of my homework assignments aloud to me, and to this day I frequently mix up where, were and we’re. When I was young, I felt tremendous shame as a student that I couldn’t keep up academically with my friends, and frustration to find my academic labors often felt fruitless. When I was finally diagnosed with “a learning disability akin to dyslexia” in middle school, I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe I wasn’t stupid after all. Maybe, given access to the right tools and support, I could actually live into my potential.

As I have learned more about the strengths-based approach to neurodiversity, I have continued to rethink my own identity. I have now come to understand that those of us who are dyslexic (or are people with dyslexia, depending on your preferred language) are often highly empathetic and creative thinkers. We tend to have unique skills in problem solving and a strong talent for communication. Our way of thinking builds connections easily and allows us to see the big picture and how many moving parts exist within a whole. Perhaps these attributes are actually God-given gifts rather than part of a disability, as society has labeled it. Maybe many expressions of neurodivergence aren’t flaws or mistakes in our being but rather reflections of a bold, incomprehensible God who has made humanity
in God’s own image. 

Always seeking to expand the vibrancy of life at Carroll, our university’s calling to celebrate neurodiversity invites each of us to plumb the depths of our own ways of being, reimagining the frameworks we have constructed for our identities. It challenges us to be voyagers like Ballard, eager to explore new ways of thinking and see the world like no one else. It emboldens us to practice greater humility with others, as well as more gentleness for ourselves. At its best, opening our hearts and our campus to greater neurodiversity expresses gratitude to God, in whose image and with all our diversity we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Panoramic View of campus