17 days ago

A High-Functioning Neurodivergent Introvert’s Journey of Learning

Link: https://theknowledgeeconomy.wordpress.com/2023/09/15/a-high-functioning-neurodivergent-introverts-journey-of-learning/

My personal journey of learning has been a continuous exploration, characterised by my identity as an introvert and a high-functioning neurodivergent individual. This distinctive perspective has influenced my experiences throughout my life.

As I reflect upon my early years, I find that my memories from that time are somewhat hazy, yet there are certain key milestones that stand out. I embarked on my formal education at an exceptionally young age in the UK, a period marked by curiosity and an innate thirst for knowledge. However, life took a significant turn when my family migrated to Australia when I was just five years old, leading me into the Victorian School System.

It was here, in these early years of formal education, that I began to grapple with a challenge that many neurodivergent individuals face – the feeling of being out of sync with the pace of the classroom. I vividly remember the sensation of boredom creeping in as I encountered schoolwork that I had already mastered. It was a disheartening experience, as my mind hungered for intellectual stimulation beyond the standard curriculum.

In many ways, school was academically straightforward for me. The material came easily, yet I soon grasped the social dynamics at play. I understood that excelling academically drew attention, often unwelcome, from my peers. In the eyes of my classmates, I became a beacon of expertise, a role I neither sought nor embraced. Consequently, I learned to navigate the educational landscape by adopting a strategy of staying under the radar. My introverted nature found solace in the shadows, allowing me to focus on learning without the added complexity of social scrutiny.

Books became my steadfast companions and an essential refuge from the challenges of social interaction. The love for books was a precious inheritance from my parents, both avid readers themselves. Fictional works provided an escape into alternate realities, offering respite from the social complexities of my school environment. In contrast, nonfictional books served as portals to uncharted territories, enabling me to explore places and ideas beyond the confines of my physical world. Books were not merely sources of information; they were vessels for my intense curiosity, allowing me to ask “what if” and “why,” nourishing my insatiable hunger for understanding the world and the vast cosmos it inhabits.

My natural inclination toward numbers and patterns was an ever-present trait, a constant companion throughout my educational journey. In my secondary school years, an opportunity arose to harness these skills as I operated the school weather station. This experience allowed me to collect copious amounts of data, meticulously analyze it, make predictions, and compare them to real-world outcomes. It was a deeply satisfying endeavor, one that allowed me to indulge in my passion for analysis and precision. Yet, even in this realm, I grappled with an inner conflict – a reluctance to fully unleash my academic potential, driven by my desire to avoid standing out conspicuously among my peers.

Throughout my educational journey, there were select teachers who stood as beacons of inspiration. A math teacher, a physics teacher, and an English teacher in my secondary school all played pivotal roles in nurturing my love for knowledge and encouraging me to express myself.

Upon entering the realm of university, I encountered a newfound sense of freedom and exploration. Here, I had the opportunity to delve deeper into subjects such as mathematics, chemistry, physics, and computer science. Nevertheless, it was a single subject, one focused on formal logic and structured language, during my final year that left an indelible mark on my perspective. This experience, coupled with my explorations of Thomas Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” radically reshaped how I perceived the world and its paradigms.

Upon completing my university education, I ventured into the professional world, embarking on a career as a Computer Operator. This was an era when programs were written in COBOL on punched cards, and the physical labor of loading systems with decks of cards and managing substantial, removable 10Mb hard disk platters was a demanding task. Remarkably, during the job interview, I chose not to disclose my academic degree. I recognised that the company was seeking someone without prior experience, and a tertiary qualification could be perceived as an obstacle.

While the work was intriguing, it didn’t always provide the level of challenge I sought. Consequently, when the opportunity presented itself after a few months to pursue a Diploma in Education in Perth, despite my Melbourne base, I eagerly seized the chance.

Teaching emerged as a calling that resonated deeply with my introverted and neurodivergent sensibilities. Educating and mentoring others, unlocking their potential, and witnessing their growth became a profoundly fulfilling endeavor. For the next 12 years, I dedicated myself to teaching mathematics, science, and computer science to students of all skill levels, finding solace in the act of imparting knowledge and fostering intellectual growth.

However, as my career evolved, so did my responsibilities. I took on the role of Head of Computing at a prestigious private school, overseeing not only teaching but also the management of Business, Library, and Education Administration systems. Over time, administrative demands began to eclipse my direct interaction with students, diminishing the satisfaction I derived from those face-to-face moments of teaching. It was at this juncture that I made the difficult decision to transition into what was commonly referred to as the ‘IT industry.’

This shift, while professionally fulfilling, left a void that lingered. Over a span of 30 years, I collaborated with over 30 different organisations across diverse industry sectors, both in permanent and contract roles. Throughout this journey, I remained steadfast in my commitment to avoiding specialisation. While specialisation often beckoned, I resisted, driven by a desire to maintain a breadth of knowledge. I mastered multiple disciplines but regarded myself as a generalist, embodying the notion of “Jack of all Trades, but Master of None” to some degree.

I internalised the wisdom of the French scientist and philosopher Sudie Back: “Be curious always! For knowledge will not acquire you; you must acquire it.” This maxim became a guiding principle, fueling my unrelenting curiosity and propelling me to acquire knowledge continuously.

In each role I undertook, whether as a programmer or eventually an Enterprise Architect, my desire to bring out the best in others remained a central focus. My management style, which I termed ‘leading from behind,’ was rooted in the idea of subtly influencing those I led. I aimed to empower them to take ownership of their decisions, ensuring that they received full credit for successful outcomes.

Moreover, the works of graphic designer M.C. Escher resonated with me on a profound level. His intricate and often surreal designs served as a perpetual reminder of the distinction between artistic vision and the practical constraints of reality. This awareness fostered in me a relentless drive to question the status quo and conceive innovative solutions that could be realised in the tangible world. It was a mindset that permeated my approach to problem-solving and innovation, shaped by my unique perspective as an introverted, high-functioning neurodivergent individual.