Susan Golubock is neurodiverse. And she wants to flip how we think about and support neurodiverse people on its head. In her view, it’s all about focusing on the positives.

When she was young, Susan recalls feeling different but not knowing she was on the “autism spectrum.” As a child, Susan didn’t like to be touched, hugged or cuddled. Instead, she could be found banging her head against the crib and playing with clothes pins alone, rather than playing with her siblings. “I was never much of a presence because I lived in a world of my own,” says Susan.” The world of other people was too confusing and overwhelming.

I purposefully tried to keep a low profile so no one would place expectations on me. I just wanted to be left alone. I taught myself what I felt I had to learn to meet the expectations of other people, to be expressive and to pay attention to nonverbal tones and cues that seemed to come so effortlessly to others.”

Susan went to public school for grades K-4. “My parents knew that I would be teased because of my differences. So, they enrolled me in religious schools from grades 5-12.” Susan eventually attended college to become an occupational therapist.

Later, after learning about “High Functioning Autism,” she decided to get diagnosed and learned, in her 50s, that she is on the spectrum.

Susan recalls feeling misunderstood, not fitting in with society’s expectations and wishing she could change those expectations rather than conform to them. Compelled by her own experiences and over the course of many years working with her clients, Susan developed the Neuro-Strength Based Approach (NSBAA).

Susan points out that current approaches to assessment and therapeutic prescriptions focus on what an autistic person is unable to do, then treatment strategies are selected to teach them to do what they currently can’t do.

Susan is convinced that it is time to shift the focus from remediating deficits to building on strengths. She believes we need to focus on understanding what motivates people with autism and that we can best assess this by observing nonverbal behaviors, identifying what is meaningful to them, and taking time to understand them. Much like we say at Inclusive Fitness, Susan encourages us to “meet neurodiverse people where they are” to drive a strengths-based approach.

Today, Susan is refining her NSBAA framework, applying it to a broadening circle of clients, and developing tools to make it a reliable methodology that others can use with their clients.

When asked what motivates her, Susan says “I like putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. To make things make sense and then to be able to explain it.” This must be why she is such a wonderful teacher and mentor to others in the field.

Susan says, “if neurotypical people take time to educate neurodiverse people on things that are intuitive to them, we can grow and change and learn.” She says it is important to address fundamental questions, like “Why?” for people with autism and to be empathetic and patient while explaining. What comes naturally to a neurotypical person is often inexplicable, illogical and/or seemingly unnecessary to someone who is neurodiverse.

By the same token, it is important for neurotypical people to open up to what they can learn from those who are neurodiverse. Through understanding, we can adapt to and help each other in new and creative ways.

To parents of neurodiverse children, Susan says, “Do not underestimate your child’s ability to grow and mature and change. Teach to their strengths and empower them to work outside of their comfort zone.

“It’s okay to provide a safety net, but not a hammock. Our brains work hard, and we often need to rest. But if you let us lie down too often, we will. You have to challenge and support us to become the person we are supposed to be.”

We at Inclusive Fitness are inspired and guided by the way she sees the world and aim to have our approach reflect the same positive focus on motivation and strength.

(Susan’s poem titled “Different On The Inside” is published in a book along with the musings of other women on the spectrum called Women From Another Planet by Jean Kearns Miller.)