Waiting 30 years to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, did not help Shawn Smith get off to a strong start in life. But the counsellor and entrepreneur is now using his experience to help others.
Fredericton-based Smith is the founder and CEO of Don’t dis-my-ability Consultation Services, a company specializing in the emerging field of neurodiversity.
Neurodiversity is an approach to learning and life that believes that neurological conditions, such as ADHD and autism, are part of normal human diversity and should be respected as such.
“I am helping people who have been marginalized…I want to move society forward,” said Smith.
The Fredericton native started his company in 2014. Most of his clients so far have been entrepreneurs and parents of neuro-diverse youth.
“Parents are often overwhelmed by their children’s behavioral issues,” Smith said.
“I was diagnosed late in life so I have insight into what it’s like to be that kid that’s not able to do anything right.”
It took Smith 32 attempts to earn the 18 credits required to graduate high school. His problems included failing Grade 10 math four times.
He said that when he was finally diagnosed and put on medication at age 30 it made a huge difference. He felt as if his brain had been “jump started”.
“As a child, I found it impossible to focus in class,” he said. “There were too many stimuli. I got good at looking busy. If I looked as if I was paying attention, teachers were less likely to question me. I was anxious and depressed because I was one question away from being caught out.”
In 2010, he was accepted onto the Master of Education in Counseling Psychology program at the University of New Brunswick on academic probation. He graduated in 2011 at the top of his class.
He has recently taken part in the B4Change accelerator for social ventures at the Pond-Deshpande Centre in Fredericton.
Social ventures are for-profit ventures that benefit society or the environment.
Smith said the Pond-Deshpande Centre helped him grow and feel part of the entrepreneurial community.
“I felt people there ‘got’ me and my confidence started to rise. I was able to tap into catalyst funding to create my new website. It was huge.”
Smith also gained exposure and encouragement from being nominated as the 2016 Startup Canada Atlantic Region Nominee for the Resilient Entrepreneur Award. The award goes to an entrepreneur with a visible or non-visible disability who has shown exemplary activity and leadership.
“I didn’t win, but being nominated was a huge compliment,” he said.
Smith now works out of Fredericton’s community education hub, the Ville Cooperative, where he also volunteers his time. His volunteer roles include being New Brunswick’s ambassador for the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.
He has become skilled at spreading the word about himself and his work, especially on social media.
“I wasn’t busy making money so I had to find ways to get my message out,” he said.
His videos on the subject of neurodiversity were noticed by training and consulting group Picasso Einstein. He spoke at the group’s conference about ways to create employment opportunities for neuro-diverse people.
“I was part of a panel on startups. After that, people started referencing me.”
He now has 2,600 Twitter followers. In September, he will be interviewed for a podcast on creating job opportunities for neuro-diverse people. Well-known autism advocate, innovator and author Dr. Temple Grandin, will also be interviewed.
Smith is currently writing two books: one for parents and the other for neuro-diverse entrepreneurs.
“I’m sharing my experience of failing and learning in order to help people expedite what they are doing so they don’t have to meander around as I did,” he said. “I was living in a haze for 30 years of my life.”