The brain is wider than the sky

The Brain – is wider than the Sky
For – put them side by side –
The one the other will contain
With ease – and You – beside  

Emily Dickinson

The American poet Emily Dickinson wrote this insightful poem in 1862. In other words, more than 160 years ago – when she was 32 years old. Emily was neither an astrologer nor a neuroscientist. But an educated woman who already then understood that the brain and mind is so much more powerful than we are still to discover.

Despite 150 years of research, we still don’t know more than – at best – 1,5% according to the experts. Some might say perhaps a little more, but not 10%!

All of them however agree that the big challenge of the 21st century is for us to try and map out the brain.

Apart from the fact that the map is missing, I think that is very exciting – we have a whole new continent to discover. 

But with that discovery must follow a fundamental shift in how we approach and understand our fellow human beings. Just like the neuroscientists, who are calling for a radical rethink in this area – I want to see a much more holistic approach to neurodivergence. 

A new way of looking at intelligence, talent and capacity, which in turn will lead to a much more tolerant and inclusive society.

What we do know is that every brain has the same organic components – 80 billion neurons, 100 billion glial cells and one million billion synapses. Accordingly, it’s these cells and their interactions that help us take in and respond to the world. And yet – we all process that information in different ways. We call that neurodiversity.

If however, you diverge from the majority, then you are neurodivergent. The term neurodivergent describes a person whose brain differences affect how their brain works. 

And that means they have different strengths as well as challenges than those who don’t have those challenges.

A new way of looking at intelligence, talent and capacity, which in turn will lead to a much more tolerant and inclusive society.

My daughter Annie, who is neurodivergent because of an unusual chromosome deletion, interprets the world in her unique way. She, and so many just like her, have shown us a completely different universe from that which we previously thought of as the universe. It is a universe without boundaries and as endless as the sky. And what’s more – it is just as valid as ‘our’ universe.

Annie possesses so much innate wisdom that the term ‘developmentally disabled’ seems a gross misrepresentation of her capacities and talents.

Sure, she can neither read, write nor count. And that together with her other difficulties amounts to a handicap. Annie is completely at ease with that. However, society isn’t – which to my mind makes society the handicapped one.

For Annie ‘life is full of happiness’.

Emily Dickinson (who died at the age of 56) would probably have been diagnosed with autism in today’s world. She preferred to dress in white, avoided social gatherings and in later years seldom ventured outside of her bedroom.

I want to thank her and Annie – and so many more – for urging us to widen the very narrow ‘norm’ that is the current definition of what it means to be a human being/person. And for pointing us in the direction of that undiscovered continent.

Let us start by focusing on what every child – and every adult – CAN do and not on what they CAN’T do!

Wisdomful Life hacks

I was recently asked for my top three lifehacks after 33 years of life with my daughter Annie, who is more than ‘just’ neurodivergent due to her chromosome deletion.

Well, I had no clue what a ‘lifehack’ was – or is – so I looked it up.

Life hack – a strategy or technique adopted to manage one’s time and daily activities in a more efficient way.

So looking at it strictly from a strategy point of view, here are my top three hard-earned pearls of wisdom:

  • Time – time is of essence. Don’t wait for ‘things to get better’
  • Strength – focus on the strengths, the islands of competence
  • Anger – no point in being angry. Anger is exhausting. Instead, use that extra energy (if you can) to find solutions.
  • Bonus – humor. Sure life is serious, but every now and then you have to take a break and focus on something else.

However, if you ask me how I feel, that is another matter. I am often asked where I get my strength from, and I honestly don’t know. I just doooo.

  • Setting up Mindroom was my way of ‘working with the situation rather than against it’
  • I have never felt ‘why me’ -but always ‘why not me’. It is simply the randomness of life.
  • Human rights – is what drives me. Every single person that is born, has the right to a dignified life.

Ok – so how do I feel?

  • Annie’s vulnerability scares me. Her innocence and her inability to understand consequences may put her in danger. I am in constant protection mode.
  • I do get angry. When people stare at Annie in the street I want to punch them.
  • Proud. I am very proud of Annie and the person that she is.

Kind regards,
Sophie Dow,  Edinburgh April 2024


About Sophie Dow:

  • Mother of Annie and Founder of Salvesen Mindroom, a charity that champions all forms of neurodiversity and supports all kinds of minds. Their mission is to be a leading center for change in how we live, work and learn. They achieve that through support, education, advocacy and research.
  • Sophie will be speaking in Storkyrkan (Stockholm Cathedral) in Stockholm, May 27, 18.00 – 19.00
  • Sophie was a ‘Sommarpratare’ in 2007 and published her much-acclaimed book ‘När livet inte följer manus’ (‘When life doesn’t follow script’) by Volante, in Sweden in 2018
  • She was awarded King Carl XVI Gustaf’s Medal of the 8th Order for ‘substantial contributions to society’ on 21st Feb 2023.
  • For more information on Mindroom
  • For more information on Sophie and her work

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