Peter Ampe: “We should aim for a neuro-inclusive workplace”

The Chief Creative Officer at FamousGrey in Belgium discusses his positive book about neurodiversity, “Great Minds Think Unalike”.

by Mark Tungate , AdForum

 

Peter Ampe always knew he was different, but his 10-year-old son provided the key to his condition. When his son was diagnosed, Peter found himself reading the list of symptoms – and recognizing them. He realized he’d been living, for years, with autism spectrum disorder and clear traits of ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder).

“I think a lot of parents must get a shock when their children are diagnosed,” he suggests. “Our generation just had to fit into the school system. Maybe we felt different to the others, but we didn’t know why. Today, schools pay much more attention to the individual, so children are diagnosed earlier.”

As in Peter’s case, the child’s diagnosis can also become the parent’s. “First it was a shock, but then it was a relief, because I suddenly understood a lot of things much better. I understood why I’m not such a social guy. But I also understood that my creativity will never go away. It’s a permanent condition.”

His literal ability to “think unalike” has aided his career, he says. Indeed, he knows that people with neuropsychological conditions can thrive in creative environments. “But only if you’re surrounded by the right people. This is a key part of the book. Besides helping people to reframe their differences as strengths, it shows them how to find the right colleagues and partners – and how to create a neuro-inclusive workplace.”

 

Awareness is an advantage

 

Peter says he’s been lucky to work at agencies where his difference was valued. He wasn’t forced to be social; he could focus on developing ideas. “But I’ve also worked in places where I was put into situations I was uncomfortable with. And I just imploded there.”

The shift into creative leadership was hard, too, because he had to become a manager. “If you know what you’re dealing with up front, it’s easier. I had to learn over time that you need people around you who are social, who can compensate for your weaknesses.”

His moment of revelation following his son’s diagnosis sparked the idea for the book. “I realized that there must be loads of people out there like me: they’ve felt awkward or different for a large part of their lives, but they haven’t found out why. I wanted to write a book that would give them hope and put their difference in a positive light.”

He tested the idea in an article, and from the reaction he could tell he’d struck a chord. Writing an entire book was a challenge, however, particularly given his ADHD. Finally, he asked his wife to help.

“Luckily she hates unfinished work. Thanks to her, the book grew from 50 pages to 200. She called people up, she organized interviews. Because my interest was in ADHD and autism, she wrote the section on dyslexia.”

 

Evolving attitudes

 

A Flemish publisher snapped up the idea immediately. “They understood that neurodiversity was about to become a prominent subject. When the first edition came out, we were at the tipping point of the moment when more people began to share their stories and talk about neurodivergent minds.”

The reaction to the book has been heart-warming, says Peter. “Lots of mails from people saying, ‘Finally I understand why I’ve felt different all this time. Now I can do something about it and I’m already embracing it.’ It’s been wonderful.”

In the time since he began working on the book, the discourse on neurodiversity has evolved. Autism is no longer “Rain Man”. Attitudes have become more nuanced and empathetic.

“If you think about our bodies, we don’t segment people into those who have, say, big feet or prominent noses. We accept that everyone is shaped differently. In the same way, we all have different brains. So why are we saying that 80% of people are ‘normal’ and the rest deviate from the norm? Our differences are the richness of humanity.”

Encouraging children with neuropsychological conditions is vitally important, he adds. He’d love to see a school system focused on individual talents, rather than rote learning. “Quintilian, the ancient Roman educator, believed you should concentrate on people’s strengths and make them even better. People with attention disorders and dyslexia struggle through school, but they can thrive when they’ve left the system.”

Observe and support your child’s specific skills and passions, he says. “Because one day, in the right environment, they’ll be able to go for it.”

Great Minds Think Unalike: The Benefits of ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia and OCD